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by Paul Adam
St Martin's Minotaur, February 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 031235004X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Gianni Castiglione has played string quartets with the same group of men each month for 15 years, and the bonds between them are deep. One evening after their session, one of their number, Tomaso Rainaldi, is murdered in his violin-making studio.

Tomaso had dropped a few hints that he was on the trail of something big, but hadn't confided the details of his quest to anyone. The cellist in the group, Antonio Guastafeste, is also a cop and an investigator assigned to the case. Because Gianni is a well-known expert on rare historic violins as well as a master luthier in his own right, Guastafeste enlists Gianni's help in the investigation.

From Tomaso's widow Clara they learn that the violin Tomaso was looking for was called The Messiah's Sister, which was created by Stradivarius in the early 1700s. To complicate matters further, it is unknown whether this legendary violin ever actually existed.

The pair sift through the dead man's diary and phone logs and begin to retrace the territory Tomaso covered before his death. They travel to Venice to visit a very rich old man who lives in a decaying house on a canal with his collection of rare and precious violins. As Guastafeste and Gianni try to piece together their next step, Forlani is murdered and one of his violins is stolen.

Gianni and Guastafeste cover a lot of ground in their tireless search for the clues to Tomaso's murder. Their trips take them to Milano, Venice, the English moors, and the Po River valley. Along the way we learn quite a lot about the history of Stradivarius's time, the art and craft of violin making, and the complexities involved in collecting and trading rare musical instruments. We witness the debut recital of a promising young violinist who happens to be the granddaughter of the dead man, sort through crumbling letters and documents, observe paintings for their hidden clues and even confront the guilty in a graveyard at midnight.

All of this comes to us in the context of a very well-crafted mystery, which, through careful plotting and exquisite detail, brings to life a rich musical world. Even better, it makes us privy to the inner life of a man very much worth knowing, for the real success of this book is the creation of its main character.

Gianni is a warm, sensitive man, now entering old age, with a deep love for his family, friends, work and garden. When we learn that he, too, harbors a secret in his own past, we are eager to cheer him on as he tries to put things right without harming anyone else.

Reading THE RAINALDI QUARTET is very much like listening to a favorite piece of classical music. The more closely you observe it, the more beautiful it becomes. If you like reading Ian Pears' combinations of mystery and art history, I think you'll enjoy Paul Adam's absorbing offering.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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