Swing: A Mystery

David Rickert By

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Rupert Holmes
Swing: A Mystery
Random House
ISBN: 1-4000-6158-X
372 pages

Rupert Holmes has written award-winning Broadway musicals and popular television programs, and arranged and conducted a Striesand album. Oh yeah, and he's a terrific mystery writer, too, as his new book Swing demonstrates.

Swing is set in the heart of the Big Band Era at the 1940 San Francisco World's Fair and centers around Ray Sherwood, an arranger for a popular big band of the day. He is approached by a beguiling young co-ed to orchestrate her award-winning composition for a performance at the fair, and witnesses the gruesome death of a woman shortly thereafter. Sherwood then begins an adventure that involves several puzzles and breathtaking encounters, all set against the backdrop of life as a member of a touring orchestra.

The world of San Francisco is rendered in exquisite detail through writing and period photographs without giving in to long passages of description. Holmes keeps the action light and breezy, with plenty of choice dialogue and short chapters. His Broadway background certainly has helped in sketching out memorable characters with a few telling details and, for once, a detective has a tormented past that actually adds logically to the narrative. People who devoured The Da Vinci Code and The Rule Of Four will find Swing a similar exercise in a fast-paced unlocking of puzzles. Jazz fans will enjoy the depth that Holmes takes us into the world of life as a musician.

As an extra bonus, Swing comes with a CD of big band music mentioned in the story, all written and orchestrated (and occasionally sung) by Holmes, including "Swing Around the Sun, the unusual piece that Sherwood orchestrated. By listening closely to the CD while reading, one can uncover additional musical clues to solving the mystery (however, you can still solve it without the music.) Although Holmes's work is more Broadway than authentic big band, it nevertheless is an entertaining way to add an addition bit of fun to the book. It's not likely to replace any Goodman in your collection, but as an experiment in multimedia storytelling, it works quite well.


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