The best mysteries in the world of classical music

The Books I Picked & Why

Death at La Fenice

By Donna Leon

Book cover of Death at La Fenice

Why this book?

One of the things I love about a great mystery is the author’s ability to open doors to an unfamiliar world and, within a few pages, make the reader feel right at home in it. Donna Leon is such an author with her Inspector Brunetti series that takes place in contemporary Venice. With a virtuoso’s feel for language, nuance, and pacing, Leon leads the reader on a gondola ride through both the bright lights and murky canals of Venetian society and culture, and into the shadows of the opera world, through the perceptive eyes of her ethical, food- and family-loving protagonist, Inspector Guido Brunetti.

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Neon Panic

By Charles Philipp Martin

Book cover of Neon Panic

Why this book?

The setting is roiling Hong Kong just before the British turnover to China. A musician in the Hong Kong Philharmonic, searching for an unaccountably missing friend and colleague, becomes sucked into the back alleys of organized crime. Martin himself was a veteran professional orchestral string bass player in Hong Kong and has a consummate grasp of the pulse of the city and the vagaries of the music business. This gritty, rough-and-tumble page-turning thriller, with dialogue as spicy as the food and a noire feel, is an under-the-radar gem that in a fair world should be a best-seller. May be hard to find but so worth the effort.

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The Rainaldi Quartet

By Paul Adam

Book cover of The Rainaldi Quartet

Why this book?

Paul Adam takes readers on a tense, insiders journey through the shadowy netherworld of priceless antique violins in search for the holy grail of violins, Stradivari’s “Sister Messiah,” that leaves a trail of dead bodies in its path. The hero, Giovanni Castiglione (like Amadeo Borlotti in my Daniel Jacobus mystery, Playing With Fire) is an under-the-radar violin forger with a conscience. As a professional violinist for a half-century, I can attest that The Rainaldi Quartet is absolutely true to life from start to finish. I was unable to put it down. Adam hits the nail on the head in this gripping tale of byzantine intrigue. A virtuoso tour de force!

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Canone Inverso

By Paolo Maurensig

Book cover of Canone Inverso

Why this book?

Intense and intricate with complex human interactions subjected to the forces of history and destiny, Canone Inverso is both literary fiction and mystery. This gripping tale of evolving relationships centers around the field of classical music and a particular violin. With the setting in Germany, Austria, and Hungary during the turbulent 1930s and ’40s, a brilliant, working-class young violinist is secluded in a prison-like music conservatory with an aristocratic boy who befriends him. Gradually, their bond is severely tested. What is genius? What is friendship? What is the price paid for beauty and greatness? These are some of the issues we’re confronted with in this riveting novel.

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The Murder of Figaro

By Susan Larson

Book cover of The Murder of Figaro

Why this book?

If Canone Inverso is your main course, The Murder of Figaro is the perfect dessert. It is light, frothy, and witty as a Mozart comic opera. As it should be, since the main characters are Mozart and his wife Constanze. Together, the frolicking pair must speedily solve the backstage murder of the government censor; otherwise, Mozart’s new opera, The Marriage of Figaro, will never see the light of day. Larson herself was an accomplished opera singer and has thorough insight into the opera world: the music, the business, and the backstage backstabbing. Written as a delightful opera buffa, this book is an absolutely fun read.

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