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The Violin Conspiracy

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Member Reviews

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my review copy!  
What a powerful debut novel!  I flew through this novel, wanting to know more of Ray's struggles, successes, and of course to solve the mystery.  As a Black man growing up in North Carolina, Ray finds passion in playing violin, yet struggles with less opportunity than his orchestral peers.  In a sense, that changes when it is discovered that the old fiddle from PopPop is actually a Stradivarius, one of the most beautiful and rare instruments in the world.  When it is taken for a ransom, several people become suspects...who is it?
Truly hard to believe this is a debut novel, and I would highly recommend it!  Just the right amount of heartbreak, intrigue, and teachable moments from the perspective of a Black man.
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The Violin Conspiracy is a wonderful book! It’s a mystery, yes (Who stole Ray’s valuable violin?), but it’s more a coming-of-age story that takes you on a deep dive into the world of classical music and classical music competitions, seen through the eyes of a young Black man from North Carolina. You could really feel the author’s love for and deep knowledge of classical music and the world of classical music performance - everything you have to give up so that you can devote hours and hours to practice, travel and so forth, all while dealing with the subtle and not-so-subtle racism in the classical music world and in the world at large. Adding to this is the non-supportive attitude of most of Ray’s extended family, with the exception of his Grandma Nora and Aunt Rochelle. Even when he was just playing on a school-supplied violin, Ray’s mother discouraged him, telling him to give it up and get a “real job” at Popeye’s! I had a hard time fathoming this attitude, to be honest, having been born into a family who prized both educational and cultural pursuits. I realize they needed the money, but even when Ray earned good money by playing at weddings and other gigs, his mother’s attitude never changed. She called his music “noise”.

While reading this book, I really wished for an accompanying soundtrack so I could hear what Slocumb so eloquently described. In fact, I wish the book had an appendix with the names of all the pieces highlighted in the book. (I read an advance reader copy so perhaps this is available in the published version? I hope so.)

Thank you to NetGalley and Anchor Books / Knopf Doubleday for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
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this book had it all- mystery, history, love, music. Well written and so very readable I just loved it. I will look forward to more from this author.
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I received this book as an ARC through Net Galley and this is my honest opinion.

This will be an eye opener for a few of us. I never thought about race playing (no pun intended) into the experience of classical musicians. The indignity that Ray is subjected to (even from his own family) throughout his journey, from a teen playing a rented a violin was staggering. When his grandmother gives him an old violin that he can call his own, Ray begins to flourish as a musician. The elitism he continues to be confronted with from the music store where he goes for a repair, the police and societal prejudices; well suffice it to say I certainly felt outrage on behalf of Ray.

I did figure out who took the violin pretty early but that part of the story became secondary. While theft of the violin was a plot device that helps to move the story along the violin theft is not as compelling as the depictions of the pressure Ray feels when he performs. I was on the edge of my seat during the Tchaikovsky competition. The narrative offers a insightful glimpse of the classical music world which, sadly, has its own prejudices and privilege.
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This was an incredible book.
I loved the opening of the novel with the mystery of who stole the violin. Immediately, we were taken in on the action and invested in the plot.
The majority of the story actually showed Ray's history with music, his struggles with his family and how he came into possession of the rare violin. 
The only piece of the story I had a complaint about was the letter hidden in the old alligator skin case. I felt that piece of the puzzle was a little to convenient and should have been "discovered" differently. Also the letter was quite confusing because it was written by his grandmother, Nora, but recapped the horrors her father (his grandfather) faced as a child living on a plantation. It seemed odd a man would tell a nine-year old those stories and it was unclear as to why Nora was writing down all those details at such a young age for no reason.

Anyway, that was the only piece of the book that left me scratching my head. I would love to hear how music lover and players of the violin react to this story. The music is a large feature of the book and I feel like a neat element if you are versed in classical music.
Overall this story was unique, had a surprising ending that I enjoyed and shone a light on social injustice that is such a hot topic in books these days.
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This debut novel from Brendan Slocomb is so much more than the sum of its parts.  On the surface, the novel is a mystery about who stole the Stradivarius belonging to Rayquan McMilllian, a black concert violinist.  But the book also paints a vivid insider's' portrait of the world of professional classical musicians, focusing on the race discrimination that exists within the profession from childhood on, and the origins of this disparity in the horrors of slavery.  I look forward to reading more from this author and appreciate how he has shed a light on racial injustice in this forum.  4.0 out of 5.0 stars.  Highly recommended.   

Thanks to NetGalley and Anchor Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review of this book.
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I adored this book from beginning to end. The music, the gentle teaching about racism in classical music, the central mystery and the way Slocumb spools it out. The entire thing was just incredible. I loved it!
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This book has it all; family drama, suspense, and mystery with racism as a backdrop. I was not surprised by the ending but that did not spoil my view of the book. Very compelling storyline and relatable characters. I enjoyed it very much.
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I struggled with this b book because it was very predictable. From almost the very beginning, I knew who was responsible. The pacing was very slow as well.
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The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb

Ray McMillian, a Black musician, inherits an old violin from his grandmother Nora who loves to hear him play “PopPop’s fiddle.”
The rest of his family, especially his mother, just mocks and criticizes him. 

Ray continues practicing, getting better and setting new goals.  It’s not easy being Black in the music world;  from boyhood to adulthood, the same degrading references are used to demean him, but Ray knows that success is the best way to avenge any naysayers.

Eventually, Ray is encouraged to follow his dream by a Black female mentor. When he discovers that his ratty hand-me-down violin is actually a rare Stradivarius, his life changes. The greedy and needy all want a share of it, and then, it disappears before the performance of a lifetime. 

A somewhat far-fetched yet engaging story, you’ll root for Rayquan (“please call me Ray”) McMillian. A special nod to the author, who is very well versed in music himself, as is evident in this story. 

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Wow. Thank you Knopf and Netgalley for the chance to read this advance copy of this novel.  

I loved this book and I could not put it down! The premise was unique and fascinating, the plot moved quickly and was full of tension, and the protagonist was one I couldn't stop rooting for. 

Ray's grandma gave him her grandfather's fiddle when he was in high school, and it turns out to be a rare Stradivarius from the 1700s. From there he deals with family and strangers trying to get the violin or money out of him, being skyrocketed into the public eye, and all while also dealing with being one of the very few professional Black classical musicians in the United States. Oh and all the whole he's trying to prepare for being in the biggest classical music solo competition in the world. 

The book starts off with the violin being stolen and a ransom note left in its place for $5 million.  The story them interweaves past and present to give the full story of his life as a musician and with the infamous violin.  

The stories of microaggressions and outright racism that Ray goes through are fraught with tension and made me so angry.  

It's a great read and I definitely recommend it.
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A Talented Boy, a Priceless Violin, and a Mystery

Ray McMillan is an unlikely candidate to become a world famous violinist. Growing up in rural North Carolina, his mother thought music was a waste of time. Luckily he had a wonderful grandmother who supported his talent and even gave him an old violin, a family heirloom handed down from the days when his family were slaves. 

Ray blossoms as a musician and when he discovers that the violin he loves is really a Stradivarius his career takes off. However, not all the people in Ray’s circle are good. On the eve of the most important competition of his life, the Tchaikovsky Competition, the violin is stolen. The thief asks for a ransom of five million dollars. Now with the competition hanging over his head, Ray must discover who is responsible and get his violin back.

This is a wonderful story. Ray is determined, talented and kind. His character makes the story. His grandmother is also a delightful character. Her belief and support of Ray is inspirational. However, not all the other characters are as appealing. There are plenty of bad actors including his mother. 

The music background of the story is well done. The author is a musician and it is evident in his ability to portray the classical music world. He highlights the prejudice faced by a black classical musician. There is plenty of jealousy and competitiveness in the music world. The author clearly knows what he is writing about. 

This book is more than a mystery. It is the portrait or a talented young man fighting against the odds to succeed in a career he loves. 

I received this book from Vintage Books and Anchor Books for this review.
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I couldn't put this book down. As soon as I started reading I knew I was going to be hooked. It's about the theft of a violin ... it's about being a black violin player ... or being black in spaces that don't want you there ... it's about complicated relationships with family. Ooh this author had me in thrall - and - the way he describes when Ray was playing - simply beautiful! A+ for the plot and the pacing, A+ for the character development and A+ for the mystery.
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4 stars

Brendan Slocumb's debut novel The Violin Conspiracy is billed both on Goodreads and NetGalley as being a mystery thriller. After reading it, I would say that it is not so much a thriller (although it contains elements of the genre) as a meditation on how racism permeates all aspects of a field that prides itself as being "universal". 

We've heard it all before: music is a universal language, it's the one thing that binds people together, etc. As we see throughout The Violin Conspiracy, that is absolutely not true. As a musician who has been in many institutions similar to the ones that Ray enters, I have seen firsthand how much gatekeeping and discrimination occurs in the name of "preserving the form". You can tell that Slocumb, a musician himself, is incredibly passionate about bringing this issue to people's attention through his precise and poignant writing.

Since I went into this book thinking that it was a thriller, it did take a bit of time for me to adjust those expectations so that I could enjoy the book for what it really was. Throughout the extended flashback sequence that takes up a good half of the book, I kept waiting for us to get back to the present so we could figure out the mystery. I can see why Slocumb used that particular device and I do think that he used it very well, but I wish that I had known going in to expect more literary fiction than mystery. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Anchor for an ARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review!
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I really wanted to love this book but I just could not get there. The premise was interesting, as well as the cover; that was my reason for requesting it. INSTEAD, what you get is a flawed character who whines the entire book about not being realized for his talent and is snubbed by other musicians because he is black. It was hard to know if this book was intended to be a lesson about race, acceptance, perseverance, or something else.

Just ok for me. Yes, the journey Ray had and learning that his violin was actually worth a lot was probably the only interesting point to the story. Still an ok read but I cannot recommend it except for others who play the violin.

Thanks to Netgalley, Brendan Slocumb and Knopf Doubleday Publsihing Group Ancor for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Already available: 2/1/22
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Ray McMillian is a Black violinist who must overcome a whole slew of obstacles in this poignant and beautifully written suspense. It was heartbreaking at times reading about the racism that Ray endures and his constantly needing to prove himself even though his abilities far exceed those of his peers, especially knowing that the racism is far from fictional. This has all the ingredients of an excellent book: well-developed, sympathetic characters; a quick-moving plot and a mystery with lots red herrings to create an abundance of intrigue and suspense. This is ideal for book clubs.

Many thanks to Netgalley, Anchor Books and Brendan Slocumb for my complimentary e-copy ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Ray McMillian is a talented violinist with no formal training. As he is preparing to graduate from high school he is scouted to attend Markham University and given a full scholarship. His teacher helps him learn all the basics that he missed as a young player and uses her contacts to launch him in the music world. 

He excels and makes a name for himself because he is super talented and has a unique story. He is in possession of a very valuable violin that was given to him by his grandmother. She never knew how rare and special the violin was, but for her and Ray the most important thing is that it once belonged to a beloved ancestor.

Ray is a young Black man trying to fit into a world that does not look like him or treat him as an equal. He is constantly looked down on by peers in the music world and often treated as a criminal when he travels for music performances. 

His Stradivarius violin is stolen just before he is entered to compete in an international competition that will be a highlight in his career. As the suspect list grows, he never gives up on finding his precious violin and even competes without it.

The mystery of the stolen violin was blended perfectly with Ray’s life as a young man and as a budding professional violinist. The pacing of this story was excellent and slowly revealed key points at exactly the right time. The time jumps were perfectly balanced to make this a very engaging, fast paced story. I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from Brendan Slocumb in the future.

Recommended for: mystery readers

Content warning: racist slurs, racial profiling, profanity, toxic family

I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy of this book through NetGalley and I must say, I tore through it!  The plot was engaging and fast-paced and I really enjoyed that the mystery and suspense was layered with the coming-of-age story of Ray and her persistence and determination when faced with racial discrimination every step of the way.  I loved learning more about violins and classical music and the ending was exciting.  Chris Bohjalian compared this story to The Queen’s Gambit and I very much agree.
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Okay, this book was great, I enjoyed it a lot. Words aren't going to do this justice. This story really made an impression on me. This is an awesome book as a mystery/thriller and even more amazing and deep as a portrayal of racism. I can't even after reading this book - I mean I know racism is real and I know we all need to do better, but at the same time I can't believe that there are people out there who say and do these things and treat others so poorly just because they're different with the color of their skin - it really is despicable that there are humans that treat other humans as so much less than.
Now onto the rest of the story, this is very well-written and engaging. It kept me hooked and I could not put this down, I almost read this in one sitting - if I didn't have life to live I would have read it all at once. I loved hearing and reading this story with everything in it. I loved hearing about this character, Ray, and his dream to be a violinist and how he went about going to achieve his dreams and succeed despite all those who opposed him or got in his way. I especially enjoyed reading about the family dynamics and about how he came to have his Pop-pop's violin/fiddle that gets stolen. In this story, it illustrates really well that when the chips are down and there are large amounts of money involved you really do find out who's there for you and who's there for the money. The ending made complete sense and at the same time took me by surprise when they found out where the violin was and who had stolen it. I was disappointed and crushed when it was revealed who the thief was in the end.
I highly recommend reading this book. Just as a note though, if you try to avoid profanity, there are some F-bombs in this story.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Anchor for letting me read and review this very amazing and well-written book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Rayquan is an up and coming violin star preparing for the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the encouragement of his Mentor, girlfriend, and well, /some/ of his family. When his multimillion dollar violin goes missing, a random note left behind, his world is turned upside down as he retraces his steps, along with the violin’s history, to bring back something worth much more to him than money.

Exploring themes of racism, overcoming adversity, resilience, and passive restitution, Slocumb builds a beautiful masterpiece of drama, family history, conflicting loyalty, and self-determination culminating in a thrilling underdog story.

Through reading his words, you can’t help but to feel Slocumb’s passion for music, art, and beauty. This beauty, intermixed with heartbreaking realities (though fictionalized, the author states that many stories are based on his experiences), creates a whirlwind of emotions. This book was nearly impossible to put down - I wanted to learn more about Ray, his great great grandfather’s fiddle, and the connections he made throughout the book. This book also has inspired me to pick back up my own fiddle after a several year hiatus due to grad school. While I won’t be soloing with the Philadelphia Orchestra anytime soon, maybe you’ll see me at an open mic night in the area. So thank you Mr Slocumb.
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