England, 1923. A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold. On the eve of his revolutionary new operas premier, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera which Shepherd has helped to write. But as Shepherd renders the composers life from his neophyte years as a composer to his ultimate ghastly demise a shadow is soon cast on Shepherds role in the tragic events. This ambitiously intricate novel is set against a turbulent moment in music history, when atonal sounds first reverberated through the concert halls of Europe, just as the continent readied itself for war. What if Jessolds opera was not only a betrayal of Shepherd, but of England as well?
Wesley Stace has crafted a dazzling story of counter-melodies and counter-narratives that will keep you guessing to the end.
"Starred Review. Stace's versatility makes this one just about irresistible." - Kirkus
"Wesley Stace's tale of music and murder is a baroque intellectual thriller, wittily erudite and psychologically astute." - Alex Ross, author of The Rest is Noise
"This is one of the few novels I have read that is truly musical. Wesley Stace is a brilliant and intensely original writer and this is his most unusual book yet." - Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
"This clever, entertaining novel will appeal to music and opera buffs and literary-historical fiction fans." - Library Journal
"Stace (Misfortune) succinctly explores obsession and the relationship between art and life in this satisfying historical." - Publishers Weekly
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Rated of 5
William E. (Honolulu, HI)
I thought that it would be an interesting read devoted to art music of the late 19th and early 20th century with a mystery thrown in. How could you lose? The book is a parallel to an actual murder by the composer Carlo Gesualdo; an interesting premise. For me the book bogs down in needless didacticism of the period and I found myself skipping portions of the book to "get to the plot." Engagement in the book and the characters never came and was actually relieved when I finished it. Perhaps it wasn't the right read for the time for me.
Rated of 5
Dona N. (San Rafael, CA)
Murder, Music and Mystery
This is a rare combination which makes for an intelligent work of historical fiction. Well developed characters, sharp dialog, and an exciting plot result in a well-paced story. An intriguing and unique mystery in a musical setting.
Rated of 5
Elaine Denise J. (Midland, TX)
Atonal As the Music Jessold Composed
Following the dress rehearsal of Jessold's opera Little Musgrave, Charles Jessold, is found shot dead beside a bed in which his soprano wife and her lover lie dead. Jessold's new opera was based on a folk song about a lord who slays his wife and her lover when he returns from the hunt and finds them in bed. Two other love triangles are intertwined within the novel: Carlo Gesualdo is an historical Italian composer who slew his wife in similar circumstances and the legend of King Mark, Tristan, and Isolde.
The story of Jessold's murder/suicide is told by a music critic and Jessold's long-time friend Leslie Shepherd. Sheperd and Jessold have spent time collecting folk songs where Jessold found the tale of Little Musgrave—the topic of his later opera. This is Stace's third novel and involves the atonal discordant music of the beginning of the Twentieth Century.
Too often, I felt that a stronger knowledge of music would have enhanced my appreciation of and understanding of the novel. Stace never made me believe, or feel, that Jessold was a composer of note. The friendship between Jessold and Sheperd seemed tenuous and I had to keep telling myself that they were supposed to have a strong friendship. I did not like any of the characters in this novel. Wesley Stace is a clever, polished writer and many of his sentences are gems. Stace also has a great sense of humor that shines in the writing, so I wish I could give a higher review of this title.
Rated of 5
Carole A. (Denver, CO)
An intimate view of music, murder and the creative life
Literature frequently offers a chance to voyeur through the lives of others. Wesley Stace certainly offers that activity throughout this novel. The initial chapter offers great promise. Several ensuring chapters are somewhat tedious; however, having read Misfortune, the promise of a good writer remained. If you slug through the Jessold novel does pick up and is its own reward.
Stace’s participation and knowledge of the musical world brings a vivid picture of the intrinsic ups and downs. The introspection and descriptions by the narrator are enlightening. The use of language, somewhat forgotten by many authors, is delightful and charming.
Not a mindless read for sure, but a thoughtful read that offered even more on the second reading. There is a plethora of research and avenues to offer a serious book club.
Rated of 5
Rachel B. (Waynetown, IN)
Descriptive, rich and enjoyable. A touch slow in pace
I was immediately drawn into the question of whether this was a story about HOW the event described in the first pages came to pass, or if it was about how that event did not happen as described. Along the way, I enjoyed the passion for music that the author shared through his characters, as well as the subtle wit and humor throughout. The only thing that bothered me was that very often I found that the narrator's excessive descriptions and musings tended to bog down the rhythm and take me out of the story fairly often. A little streamlining would push this story from a 4 to a 5 for me.
Rated of 5
Julie B. (Menomonee Falls, WI)
As much as I wanted to like this book, I really did not. The language was hard to understand unless without being an expert in opera. The plot was very slow, and the characters were unlikable and flat. I did finish the book, but would not recommend it to anyone who is not intimately acquainted with the nuances of music, particularly opera.
Educated at Cambridge, Wesley Stace (also known as John Wesley Harding) cut short his Ph.D. studies to pursue a music career. He has released 8 solo albums and toured as the opening act for The Mighty Lemon Drops, Michelle Shocked, and Bruce Springsteen. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.
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