Reviews by L. J. Roberts

BRENDAN SLOCUMB – The Violin Conspiracy. Anchor, February 2022.

First Sentence: On the morning of the worst, most earth-shattering day of Ray McMillian’s life, he ordered room service: scrambled eggs for two, one side of regular bacon (for Nicole), one side of vegan sausage (for him), one coffee (for Nicole), one orange juice (for him)

   Ray McMillian is black and a classical violinist. He has overcome poverty, racism, and the censure of his own mother. Two people have been his principal support; his Grandma Nora who gifted him the violin which had belonged to his once enslaved great-great-grandfather, and his violin teacher, Janice Stevens. After being in New York City with his girlfriend Nicole for several days, he is about to leave for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia when he discovers his beloved violin, confirmed to be a Stradivarius, has been stolen and is being held for a $5 million ransom.

   It is a gripping read when one starts a book at 10 p.m. and reads straight through until 3 a.m. From first page to last, this is a book impossible to put down as it is so much more than a mystery.

   While a crime has been committed, this is a book about racism and greed. But it also shows that with the love and support of just a few people, as well as determination, perseverance, and passion, one can accomplish great things. Still, too, there is a mystery within the mystery. Much of the story’s tension arises from the question of who really owns his $10 million Stradivarius. This becomes a battle between Ray, his family, and the Marks family whose ancestors owned Ray’s “PopPop.”

   An unusual format takes one from the present to Ray’s childhood and progressively forward to the present. One is drawn into Ray’s life. From his experiences with casual and overt racism, from beginning with a school violin to the Strad, one grows as Ray does. However, it is the descriptions of Ray’s playing and performing that are truly transportive. Comparisons to the book/series The Queen’s Gambit about a young, female chess master, are to be expected.

   The Violin Conspiracy is a remarkable debut. It is not a perfect book, yet one really doesn’t care. It is a book that leaves one thinking long after closing the covers and may even draw one back for a second reading.

Rating: Excellent.