Monday, January 25, 2010

Paganini's Ghost

First, a shout out to Mark who wrote me expressing that he felt my reading list was hard to read and that there was no way to link to easily find past reviews. I agreed wholeheartedly but felt that the sidebar widgets were too restrictive. Mark sent me some code which I finagled and stuck in and voila, a much more accessible reading list (I also changed the link colors throughout the site). Thanks for your input and code, Mark!

On to the review. I'm a sucker in a lot of ways. Pretty women. Turkey Hill ice cream feature flavors. Seriously, with the exception of Egg Nog (which is right there with mushrooms as things I will not consume), I'll try whatever Turkey Hill puts out. Rancid Squirrel? Hey, why not? Let's give it a shot. Chocolate Squid Delight? It's a feature flavor for a reason, right?

Then you have the more cerebral ways of influencing me. This book for instance. Slap Paganini's name on it and I'm all over it. Granted, the writing could be Rancid Squirrelesque but I'll give it a shot.

With Paul Adam's book, I am very glad I did. I sort of grew out of mystery novels in my twenties. None ever seemed quite right. Either the author kept things hidden and then revealed it all at the end which I found terribly unsatisfying (I want to try and solve it, too) or too much was revealed and it was just too simple to figure out whodunit. Also, I never much enjoyed reading about police solving crimes. Give me Sherlock Holmes or Rabbi David Small. Ratiocination outside of the legal system, that's what I liked!

And that's one of the reasons why I liked Paganini's Ghost. The hero of the story is luthier (violin maker) Gianni Castiglione. Gianni is a widower in his sixties and is regarded as one of the better violin repairers. The story begins with a a fleet of cars bearing down on Gianni's home. Yevgeny Ivanov, a young Russian violinist who just recently won the Premio Paganini contest in Cremona, is there to have Gianni fix Paganini's famed Il Cannone violin. Performing on the violin is one of the prizes the winner of the Premio receives and the concert he is to play it in is that evening. Gianni fixes the violin and a grateful Ivanov invites him to attend the reception following the concert.

At the reception we meet almost all the other characters in the story including Gianni's police friend and fellow quartet member, Antonio. The action then picks up. An art dealer is murdered and in his possession is found a box made out of gold with an unusual lock. Yevgeny disappears. The art dealer's partner is found murdered. Antonio and Gianni discover that the gold box belonged to Paganini and that a priceless jeweled violin once was held by it but is not there now.

Gianni and Antonio roam Europe trying to fit the pieces together. The novel is fast-paced. The characters are incredibly developed and human (Gianni is constantly worrying about whether Antonio is eating enough, for example) but the details are well blended into the story.

As for the ability for the reader to solve it, Adam does a pretty good job with that as well. I figured out the secret to the lock as soon as it was described and even predicted the twist when Gianni and Antonio think they solved it but do not. There is a good deal of predictability but the end has an interesting turn and the true mystery extends over hundreds of years.

Huge amount of historic detail as well. Adam does a great job at taking what is known about Paganini and putting in some fictions to make an interesting new story without altering the truth about Paganini.

Despite my enjoyment, I can't quite bring myself to rate it two stars. At no point did I ever say "Wow! This is the best mystery I've read". I enjoyed it immensely but I only rate 6-8 books a year two stars and this just didn't fit into what I consider a two star book. If you enjoy mysteries, you might disagree. It's certainly worth a read, especially if you have any interest in music.

Oh, and my streak of non-American books continues (deliberately). Adam is a British author.

No comments: