Review 2080: Death on the Down Beat

Conductor Sir Noel Grampion is shot in the heart during a concert. Because of the angle of the shot, most of the orchestra members are suspects. Since Sir Noel was disliked by most of them and known as a womanizer, the list of suspects is a long one.

D. I. Alan Hope is assigned the case. Possibly wanting to try something new, Sebastian Farr tells the story in letters from Hope to his wife. Aside from the ethical and legal considerations of a husband telling everything about the ongoing case to his wife, let alone in writing, the device is an unfortunate one, for in trying to make the letters seem real, Farr expands the novel to include all kinds of unnecessary information, even things that don’t make sense. For example, he includes a long description of the house he was staying in before the murder. Since he writes to his wife at least once a day, surely he would have done that at the beginning of his visit, especially as the place has nothing to do with the murder.

Next, we’re subjected to maps of the orchestra and a complete list of players. No doubt about it, this is a puzzle mystery, in which readers are swamped with information, even some pages of the score.

Unbelievably, not a single member of the orchestra is interviewed by the police. Instead, Hope asks them to write about themselves. So we have to read page after page of mostly colorless letters that all say, “I don’t know nuttin’,” which in itself is hard to believe. Farr seems to think that musicians are either looking at the score or the conductor. The reality is that they are usually looking at both at the same time, so it’s hard to believe that no one could have seen who shot him. These letters start around page 90 and before that, we have no details about any of the suspects, although we have read several concert reviews to little purpose. After the letters, Hope goes back through one by one and makes comments on the individuals, forcing us to flip back and forth if we care to pair up the letters with Hope’s remarks. I didn’t.

When the second set of letters began, because Hope/Farr hasn’t eliminated more than a few of the many (about 60) suspects, nor do most of them have anything about them that distinguishes them from anyone else, I threw up my hands and skipped 50 pages to the last letter. There I read the identity of the killer and the name meant nothing to me. I started to read the explanation, and I got so bored I just quit reading.

I understand Sebastian Farr is a pen name for a renowned music critic of the time. I commend the novel in a small way for originality but believe he should have stuck to reviews.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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4 thoughts on “Review 2080: Death on the Down Beat

  1. Jane December 9, 2022 / 12:48 pm

    oh dear, I’m reading a really boring one at the moment too, I see you’ve just finished it!

  2. FictionFan December 9, 2022 / 7:39 pm

    Hahaha, I love when a book affects two different readers so differently! I absolutely get what you mean about this one, but despite it all I loved it! I guess my brain just accepted early on that it was totally unrealistic, so I found it an entertaining if impossible puzzle. Normally quirky novels like this don’t work for me, but I enjoyed all the music stuff, especially the war of words between the critics!

    • whatmeread December 9, 2022 / 8:16 pm

      I did like some of the music stuff. In fact, I realized right away that players doubling each other meant that one of them could have stopped and done the job. However, having the entire orchestra as suspects was too many to keep any kind of track of, and he didn’t even give us any characteristics to hold onto. Also, the not interviewing them just drove me crazy.

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