Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars 
Duration: 12:04:00
Published: February 2022

The Violin Conspiracy is Brendan Slocumb’s debut novel categorized as a mystery thriller. It opens as the main character, Ray, realizes his family heirloom and primary method of making money has been stolen with a demand for ransom to secure its return. The item in question — an 18th century Stradivarius violin, given to his enslaved great-great-grandfather by his former white owner after he was freed, literally worth millions of dollars. Shortly after this explosive beginning, the reader is taken back to Ray’s high school years as an untrained violinist and gradually brought up to present day as Ray prepares, now a classically-trained musician, for the renowned Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. But without his violin, that has become something of a security blanket, can he play and win? Can he raise the funds to pay the ransom for his stolen heirloom? And can he fend off the descendants of the white family that enslaved his ancestors for ownership of the violin? 

As it might seem from my summary (or the one provided for the publisher), there’s a lot going on in this book. On top of the myriad of plot elements, Ray is also dealing with an unsupportive family. I selected this book on recommendation of my online book club — The Book Club — and specifically in audiobook format. And I will say from a musical perpsective, it was a delight to listen to the musical excerpts played by the author himself. However, the narrator was a huge turnoff for me. The voice acting of many of the characters was overdone and portrayed in a stereotypical way. Additionally, I found most of the characters were written with an overabundance of characters flaws while Ray was written as mostly the perfect victim. I had hoped the characters would have been a little more nuanced, but it was like the author took the worst of every character and amplified it. The angry Black woman trope given to Ray’s mother. The overt racist uncle during a wedding scene as well as the white man at the instrument repair store were written in such a way that their behavior was almost unbelievable for the time period, which I suspect is 2020-something as bitcoin is mentioned early on in the book. Having said this, the author did participate in a Zoom session with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club and he mentioned that the book is somewhat autobiographical. So, perhaps the situations in this book reflect his life (albeit at a different time since he appears to be at least in his late 40s). We write what we know and I don’t deny this is his experience. However, I do think writers have a responsibility to the message disseminated, especially when writing using such polarizing prose. In addition to the stereotypes, I wasn’t a fan of the profanity, finding most of it unnecessary, and I thought this book was a little too long. The best part of the book was the author’s note and playing at the end. 

There are a lot of books out there. As a former musician, I might have picked up this book on my own. However, I was more motivated to read and complete this selection as a result of book club. Having finished it, I might have invested my time in a different selection. 

Recommendation: Not every book is for every person, and this book was not for me. This could have been a beautiful and distinct story, but I just found it to be a character playing the victim instead of truly overcoming. I doubt I will read another book by Slocumb, but I could certainly listen to him play for hours and I wish him the best of luck in his writing career! 

Until next time ... Read on!

Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.


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