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by Rupert Holmes
Random House, March 2005
384 pages
ISBN: 140006158X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Rupert Holmes's SWING is absolute, pure class and one of the most charming crime novels you will read all year. And no, that doesn't mean it's a cosy over-run with cats or recipes.

Instead, it's a book about the big band era, set in 1940 San Francisco. Ray Sherwood is a saxophonist and arranger for the Jack Donovan Orchestra. It's not exactly Glenn Miller class, but they're doing OK and Ray, as with several of his bandmates, has his own reasons for wanting to stay away from the bright lights and keep to the backroads of Buttsville, Montana, and the like.

He's approached by a beautiful college student, Gail Prentice, who wants him to help her orchestrate a prize-winning piece of hers called Swing Around the Sun. It's going to get its premiere at the hands of a Japanese band at the Golden Gate Exposition on the new Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.

Of course we know that nothing will be straightforward. Gail's family are odd, to put it mildly -- the kind of people you don't want to dine with -- and minutes after meeting Gail, Ray witnesses Marie Prasquier, a young Frenchwoman who had just propositioned him falling to her death from a tower on the island. And from then on things get increasingly dicey for Ray, who realises he's in over his musical head.

Author Rupert Holmes is a true Renaissance man. Aside from writing novels (this is his second, and the first is going to be made into a film with Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth in), he's also written -- and won awards for -- his theatre writing and music, his TV scriptwriting and musical conducting and arrangements. Gah! We'd hate him if he weren't so infernally talented and his book so delightful! Class will always out, mind you . . .

The book is accompanied by a CD of original big band music created by Holmes that provides an alert listener with extra clues. Not that it was much help to my cloth ears, but hey, the music's got swing!

The storytelling in SWING is divine, the plotting pin-sharp (there's a scary denouement with a horrible preview of what was to come historically) and the dialogue polished and witty. Ray's a thoroughly likeable leading man, and one who's welcome to return anytime for an encore.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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