Writing: 3/5 Plot: 4/5 Characters: 4/5
This is the second book in a new series from mother-daughter writing team, “P.J. Tracy,” and my first Tracy book ever. LAPD detective Margaret Nolan is about to enter a dangerous liaison at the swanky Hotel Bel-Air bar when she discovers the body of a wealthy man just below the surface of the hotel’s Swan Lake. In the meantime, a young woman and her daughter are desperate to escape a well-heeled religious community offering redemption retreats to the rich and famous in Death Valley. These two threads slowly merge with the help of the Russian mafia, some lovely ex-cons, and a decades old adoption ring.
Fast pacing, surprising plot twists, and just enough tension to make it interesting, but not enough to stress me out (very important!). Plenty of interesting characters, one of which was the suspect (obviously cleared) from the previous novel. I liked that the bad guys had as much depth as the good guys — they were definitely bad guys but you got a sense of their motivations and emotional state.
No need to have read the first book to fully enjoy this one (although I’ll probably go back and read it now).
Thank you to St Martin’s Press and Net Galley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on January 18th, 2022.
Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 4.5/5
Captivating novel about the lifespan of an antique (circa 1905) upright Blüthner piano and the two women whose lives are inextricably bound to it across place, time, and culture. Katya grows up in Leningrad. She inherits the piano at a young age from the blind pianist in the building with the note: “Even a blind man could see the music beating in your heart.” She devotes her life to music and the Blüthner until she is ripped from everything that she loves by her husband’s unilateral decision to leave Russia for a better life in the U.S. (~1980). Life is not easy for Soviet Jews in that time period (well, any time period in Russia, really).
Clara is a mechanic. Born to academic parents in Santa Monica, she loses everything in a fire when she is twelve. Only the Blüthner piano that her father gave her a week before he died is saved, having been in the shop for repairs at the time. She is insistently self-reliant, having learned long ago the heartbreaking loss when someone you depended on disappears abruptly. She grows up with an Aunt and Uncle in Bakersfield, and while she never develops any musical skills, the Blüthner is her prized possession. When a professional photographer offers to rent her piano for a series of desert shots in Death Valley, she is reluctant, but persuaded by the large sum on offer. She impulsively follows the piano on its journey and ends up discovering more than she ever imagined about her own history and approach to living.
Told through alternating narratives, the story is intricate and riveting. I loved the descriptions of music and the myriad ways it affected different people. Katya’s favorite piece, and one which threads through both narratives, is Scriabin’s Prelude #14 in E flat minor. Clara’s father’s attempt at characterization: “It’s poetry and color and imagination. In any of the languages I know, I can’t find the right words for it.” The depictions of Death Valley and the piano-centered photographic essay process make for both an inspiring travelogue and a photography primer for the uninformed (that would be me) — worth the price of admission all on its own.
As one narrative proceeds from bittersweet to utterly heartbreaking, the other narrative flows towards understanding, growth, and release. A full and satisfying read full of characters with depth for whom we cannot help but have great empathy.