The Devil’s Violin Reviewed By Steve Moore of Bookpleasures

I’ll have to admit that this pleasant but rough gem about musical history, violin making, and suspense first attracted my attention because of the author’s background. I’d not heard of Art Johnson before (and I’m a fan of many musical genres, from classical to jazz and pop), but I figured that a person who’s toured with artists like Lena Horne, Barbra Streisand, and Luciano Pavarotti; won a Grammy and Academy Award; and recorded eight CDs knows enough about music and music history to make the story interesting.

The Devil of the title is Paganini. Classical music fans know him as the composer of those devilish pieces for violin only playable by him. Like Einstein’s General Theory, though, others have managed to understand and dominate the pieces after Paganini composed them, although they still remain the quintessential challenge for violinists. But, again referring to the title, this story’s main character isn’t Paganini’s opus but his violin—the authentic one. That there existed a fake, ordered by the Devil himself, complicates the search for the real one that is the theme of this story. That only the real one’s case contains something secret hidden inside adds more to the mystery.

This novel reminded me of the Preston and Child tour de force, Brimstone, which also contains a theme about violins and violin making. I like Paganini’s violin better, and I enjoyed Mr. Johnson’s walk down musicology lane more, but I found Mr. Johnson’s plot lacking—there’s just not enough tension. The characters are also a bit two-dimensional, there are too many of them (e.g. numerous FBI agents traipsing around Europe), and the author seems to think every man must have his woman. The author manages settings and dialogue very well, though, yet the reader is left dangling in the denouement (this often means the author is planning a sequel). There are also a few copy-editing issues I caught on my second read.

Part of the unresolved mystery corresponds to the secret contents of the violin case and two main characters. I don’t risk a spoiler because I never understood what was going on with them. The parts of the book associated with the secret contents seemed almost superfluous. Moreover, the reader never is told the reason behind the search for the violin beyond those secret contents.

I liked the daughter of the violin maker and her accomplice, a petty snatch-and-grab thief who is tamed by the daughter. Maybe we’ll hear more about them in a sequel? Their role in the denouement ends satisfactorily enough to make this novel a stand-alone. Everything else fails in this respect, so maybe there are content-editing issues too.

A pleasant story that doesn’t quite make it, this book is worth a read, if only for the musical history. I’ll look for more stories from this writer. He has an unusual background that allowed him to create something different.

Steve Moore

Reviewer Steve Moore: Steve is a full-time writer and ex-scientist. Besides his many technical publications, he has written six sci-fi thrillers (one a novel for young adults), many short stories, and frequent comments on writing and the digital revolution in publishing. His interests also include physics, mathematics, genetics, robotics, forensics, and scientific ethics. Follow Here for his WEBSITE.

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