Symphony of Secrets

Anchor. Apr. 2023. 448p. ISBN 9780593315446. $28. M
In 1936, composer Frederick Delaney’s reputation is in tatters after the premiere of RED, last in a cycle of operas inspired by the five colored circles in the Olympics flag. Why were his earlier pieces so eloquent and this one so bad? A lifetime later, musicologist Bern Hendricks receives an email from the Delaney Foundation (which has supported hundreds of poor children with musical talent, including him), asking Bern to work on a newly discovered manuscript of RED, richer and fuller than the hack version presented in 1936. He is to prepare it for performance. But Delaney’s notation system is indecipherable. (Devotees call the symbols Delaney Doodles.) On top of pages are letters as well: JaR. What do they stand for? Aided by computer whiz Eboni, Bern cracks the code, and they’re off on a wild ride. By the end, it’s a case of murder and the systematic erasure of the musical contribution of a Black woman who almost certainly authored the music Delaney claimed as his.
VERDICT Slocumb’s second novel (following The Violin Conspiracy) is an improbable but fun mystery that will attract fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (a lot of readers, in other words).
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