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by Paul Adam
Little, Brown, October 2004
320 pages
ISBN: 0316724335

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

On a pleasant June evening, four men gather at a comfortable rural home outside Cremona, Italy, for their monthly indulgence in the playing of string quartets. They are very old friends: a priest, a policeman and two luthiers (it is Cremona, after all, where the building of stringed instruments has a very distinguished history). They share wine, laughter, music and stories, then contentedly disperse. A few hours later, one of the luthiers is found murdered in his workshop, stabbed with one of his own chisels.

The shop has been searched, not violently but thoroughly, yet nothing seems to be missing. The luthier was a well-liked elderly man, and his murder is extremely puzzling. The only clue is that he seems to have been recently wrapped up in the quest for a rare, and quite possibly apocryphal, violin. The policeman calls in the second luthier for consultation and together they set out on a trail that takes them to Milan, Venice and even the north of England.

I enjoy a mystery that introduces me to a new area of expertise. Adam immerses us in the world of fine violins, giving a wealth of specialized information without ever appearing to lecture, or straying from the story. Everything fits.

Our narrator -- the investigating luthier -- is an extremely likeable man, intelligent, warm-hearted, with strengths and flaws that combine to show him very human. We are on his side from the beginning; we feel his distress and confusion at the loss of his old friend, and we glimpse older pains, some self-inflicted, as well as the joys and satisfactions of a life well lived. The other characters, too, are interesting and mostly well-presented, though I did feel that one or two were pretty sketchy, considering their ultimate importance to the plot.

The atmosphere, especially in Venice, is nicely done and the story moves along well. I found the narrator's solution to his dilemma quite neat and amusing. There is also a deftly underplayed small romance, which works very well. A satisfying read; recommended.

Reviewed by Diana Sandberg, November 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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