Book Review: The Farringford Cadenza, by Robert D. Sutherland
review by Aaron Lazar
Author: Robert D. Sutherland
Publisher: The Pikestaff Press
Genre: Mystery, 523 pages
Publisher's Address: PO Box 127, Normal, Illinois 61761
ISBN number: 978-0-936044-08-8
Publisher website address: http://www.pikestaffpress.com/
Author’s personal website: http://www.robertdsutherland.com
Mystery-writing blog: http://mystery-writing-vergil.blogspot.com/
“October 18, 1947
As the train slows to a crawl for its scheduled stop at Bristow,Pennsylvania, its cars glide like dark coffins past the lights spaced evenly on poles along the station platform. Eight coaches back from the locomotive, the window of a particular sleeping compartment presents a blank and staring eye to the lights as they tick rhythmically past. Each, in its turn, briefly illuminates the table just inside the window—the highball glasses and overflowing ashtray— the formal dress-suit, with tailed coat, hanging on the wall— the rumpled bed—the body on the bed.
When the train has chuffed to a halt with a rumbling shudder and hissing of steam, a light-pole stands directly opposite the window. Should anyone look in—that porter, say, trundling past with his baggage cart—he’d see, starkly displayed among the tangled bedclothes, a man of middle-age—lean, angular, face-up and stretched full-length in striped pajamas. Left arm bent across the chest; right flung far aside to hang in space. Dark chestnut hair just slightly streaked with gray. Face like putty, gone to sag; backward tilted, mouth agape; eyes slitted upward with a jellied stare.
A closer look: the pajama shirt is wrongly buttoned, the trousers twisted awkwardly askew and backside front.”
The Farringford Cadenza is evocative of a deliciously complex British mystery, underpinned with American sass and laced with luscious musical themes. When a rare six-minute piano composition by musical genius Charles Philip Farringford disappears, a nut and shell game extraordinaire begins. After decades of mystery, like a leaf flitting on a playful breeze, the cadenza appears in a piano bench in a dusty old shop, only to be stolen, re-stolen, diverted, hidden, passed around, stolen again, and disappeared, time and time again. Just when you think you know which shell the cadenza is under, the scales tip and the hunt begins anew.
When American composer Charles Farringford dies in bed on a train bound for New York City in 1947, he’s discovered dressed with his pajama pants on backwards and his top buttoned wrong. This untimely death follows three rare performances of the hand-written piano cadenza, integral to the fourth movement of Farringford’s Fifth Concerto. Performed only to three audiences whose lives were literally changed by the legendary music, powerful enough to bestow stallion-like powers on the impotent, to haunt the lives of those affected, to cause rare collectors to salivate and offer millions for its return, the music disappears on the day the beloved composer dies, only to turn up over thirty-four years later in Baltimore.
With the press agog and musicians stirred up all over the world, music lovers prepare to be thrilled by the cadenza. This life-changing music that propelled listeners to states of rapture when first heard in 1947 is scheduled to be delivered to Lunner and Dinch, the publishers of the original Concerto. The music went to press without the cadenza, but was performed by pianists who’ve written their own interpretation of the missing movement. But the mystical music is not yet to be heard by the public, for bodies begin to drop with an alarming rate and the cadenza once again disappears.
Detective N. F. Trntl (yes, there are no vowels in her last name), a tough, clever, persistent investigator who can foil the worst villain, is hired by Farringford’s family and Lunner and Dinch to find the cadenza and bring it home. She and her assistant, Carol, begin a series of misadventures that have them bouncing between Baltimore and New York, pursued by the Mob and rubbing shoulders with the elite, including spunky and talented pianist Rosamond Foxe, who is lusted after by the rich and powerful Victor Zyzynski and who also is intricately and intimately woven into this delightful mystery. I’ll not spoil the plot, but the finale of this masterful novel spirals to a page turning end, moving from St. Croix to New York City, and kept this reviewer up into the wee hours of the morning.
Sutherland’s style is professional and polished, his wit delightful, but what I found most intriguing were his character descriptions. For example:
“He was a wizened gnome, extremely short, with an exceedingly thin and pointed nose, the skin of his face cross-hatched with deep lines and creases. Behind rimless lenses, steel-blue eyes stared unblinking; the sphincter of his mouth was a tight pucker. On the table before him, his hands rested plump and pawlike, corrugated with prominent blue veins and freckled with age spots. His nails glistened as if painted with clear lacquer.”
“Fingers was a squat, burly man with large ears, ponderous jowls road-mapped with crimson capillaries, and restless belly-button eyes.”
If you like twists and turns, if you’ve ever been emotionally stirred by music, if you love an intellectual chuckle, or if you’re a fan of page-turning chase scenes, you’ll find The Farringford Cadenza a delightful read.
Robert D. Sutherland
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.