BookBrowse Reviews The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

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The Strings of Murder

by Oscar de Muriel

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel X
The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 412 pages

    May 2017, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book



A violinist's murder takes a displaced London detective and his Scottish fellow cop through the lovely streets of Victorian Edinburgh.

As Jack the Ripper eludes the police at Scotland Yard in London and all efforts to catch the most terrifying serial killer of the Victorian Age come to nothing, heads must roll. Inspector Ian Frey is minor casualty in the subsequent political upheaval within the metropolitan police force. He fears he will lose his job entirely, but instead finds himself shipped north to Edinburgh to investigate the murder of a violinist. The crime scene suggests that a copycat killer might be emulating the infamous Ripper and there is concern at the highest level of government that widespread panic will ensue — unless the mystery is promptly solved.

A punctilious and slightly foppish Englishman, Frey reacts badly to Edinburgh ways and Edinburgh weather. He finds himself paired with a gruff, plain-speaking Scotsman, Nine Nails McGray, who is as unimpressed with Frey as Frey is with him. Nevertheless, this ill-assorted pair must work together to solve the mystery of Guilleum Fontaine's death — a mystery compounded by the facts that the violinist's badly mutilated body has been discovered, marked with satanic symbols, in a locked room.

At first the two detectives have more questions than answers. In his will, Fontaine had bequeathed several violins to fellow musicians. One of these instruments was said to have belonged to Antonio Stradivari and used as a model for the violins he became famous for making. This legendary violin is called the Amati Maladetto: Amati being the name of the family who made it and Maladetto, an Italian word which means cursed or damned. When the man inheriting it also dies, the detectives, particularly McGray, fear that there may be truth in the old stories about this violin being cursed.

The sparkling dialog and the relationship between the two detectives, really elevate this murder mystery. Great wit and humor are on display as the cops gradually learn to appreciate each other's skills and intelligence, all the while sparring with great gusto. A humorous mixture of name-calling and sarcasm provides much entertainment. McGray calls Frey a lassie — the Scottish name for a girl — while Frey questions McGray's approach to interviewing and his belief in the occult.

Frey and McGray are both enjoyable characters with very different flaws and foibles. McGray has a personal connection to an inmate of the Edinburgh Insane Asylum and dark secrets in his family's past. Frey, on the other hand, tries to avoid eating haggis and is fighting for his career and the approval of his family. Frey cannot afford for this investigation to fail. Added to this mix is an entertaining cast of minor characters — Frey's housekeeper Joan, the young pathologist Dr Reed and the mysterious gypsy, Katerina.

The other star in this entertaining novel is the city of Edinburgh. De Muriel vividly and accurately captures the sights and smells of the Scottish capital in 1888 as McGray and Frey race from the historic neoclassical New Town area to the medieval Old Town (see 'Beyond the Book'), from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyrood, and from the docks at the Port of Leith to the heathery hills of Arthur's Seat.

With such a colorful background, intriguing characters and a satisfyingly twisting plot, The Strings of Murder is a pleasure to read.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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