The Violin Conspiracy is a book that I picked up based upon the recommendation of a friend. She loved it so I knew at the very least I would really enjoy it. Due to the subject matter, I am not sure if I would have otherwise picked it up.
A Black classical musician’s desperate quest to recover his lost family heirloom violin on the eve of the most prestigious musical competition in the world.
Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music.
When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad… before it’s too late.
With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.
While the synopsis highlights that The Violin Conspiracy is a mystery, I found the book to center much more on the life of the protagonist, Ray. There is a mystery at the book’s core, but I would hesitate to describe the book as primarily a mystery or crime novel. I did not have an issue with this, but I think it may be a let down for those who are expecting a theft to drive the plot.
What you will find is that The Violin Conspiracy is a novel about perseverance, passion, and music. The majority of the book is focused on how Ray develops as a musician and the origins of Ray’s violin. The story highlights how important those who support us are and the ever-present racism that exists today, particularly in the world of classical music.
Brendan Slocumb’s writing was lyrical and descriptive. I found it to be pleasant to read and never felt bogged down in descriptions. I particularly thought Slocumb’s descriptions of how Ray connects and feels the music to be fascinating. Slocumb also gives the violin itself a bit of personality that makes its loss truly felt by the reader. Futhermore, I easily connected with Ray and was devastated by the racism he faced. (I ended up more upset after reading the author’s note that made it clear that these were things he had experienced and that when he told these stories to others, they did not believe him.)
Where The Violin Conspiracy fell a bit short for me was the actual mystery and theft. The book begins with the theft and ends with the theft; however, the majority of the story (the middle) is not focused on the theft. Organizing the story like this really let the mystery fall flat. It was very quickly solved in the end without real tension building around the theft. If told chronologically, I think the book would have been a bit more powerful. In addition, the epilogue felt a bit unnecessary.
Overall, I quite enjoyed The Violin Conspiracy and think it is a great story. I definitely recommend it, but I suggest that you go in knowing that this book is more literary fiction than a mystery.
The Violin Conspiracy
February 1, 2022