Cover Image: The Violin Conspiracy

The Violin Conspiracy

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Ray, a Black classical musician, is gifted the violin that belonged to his great-great-grandfather. He is a world-class musician who is competing in the Tchaikovsky Competition. He realizes that the dusty old "violin" he thought was a fiddle is actually a valuable Stadivarius. It follows him around everywhere and is rarely out of sight. When Ray's violin is stolen just before the competition, he must put together the evidence and figure out who to trust and who not to trust in the wild quest for his violin. A unique voice in the mystery genre that will make you cheer for the underdog.
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The Violin Conspiracy tells the story of Rayquan McMillan - an inspiring classical violinist who has to fight racism and his own family for a place in classical music. Ray's mom wants him to get a GED and get a reliable job at Popeye's or the hospital cafeteria. Most of Ray's family does not encourage his love of music, and desire to make it his career. Only his grandmother, who tells him about her grandfather's violin, and then gives the instrument to Ray. When Ray enters a regional competition and earns a scholarship spot at a college and finds a mentor who believes in him. When Ray begins to play professionally he finds out the violin his grandmother gave him is actually a rare Stradivarius. The family that owned Ray's great grandfather as a slave demands the return of the violin - Ray's own family turns against him and sues him for ownership. However, Ray's real troubles begin when the violin is stolen and a $5 million ransom is demanded. All this happens when Ray is preparing to compete in a world class competition in Moscow. Ray is trying to solve the mystery of his stolen violin and somehow win the competition. A great description of the cutthroat nature of classical competitions and also the racism that Ray faced in his career. The racial descriptions are even more impactful when you read the author's notes and find out they are taken from his own life experiences.  My only complaints are the implausibility of finding a Stradivarius in the attic and the way the mystery was solved and who it was.
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Thanks to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing for this suspenseful, riveting ebook in return for an honest review. I was hesitant to start this book when I learned it was set in the world of classical music, a subject where I know next to nothing. Once I started reading, I found the story emotional, gripping, and difficult to put aside. My trepidation was due to being tone-deaf and unable to fully appreciate and enjoy music. Reading this powerful, sensitive story was like being transported and immersed in a new and different culture. Since I enjoyed this book so much, I think any lover of music should be enthusiastic about this enthralling story.

 Ray McMillan, a Black man, grew up in North Carolina. As a child, he was determined to become a world-class violinist. He was dissuaded because a Black boy was thought to lack the talent to succeed in the world of classical music. He practiced enthusiastically on an old violin but knew he needed a better instrument for his talents to flourish. He cannot afford one, nor afford music lessons. His family is far from supportive. His mother constantly and harshly ordered him to stop the noise, and to get a minimum wage job. His extended family sided with his mother and regarded Ray's love for music as a worthless hobby. He found solace in the love and support of his grandmother.

 When he is a teenager, a friend asks him to play concerts with a group. Ray is overjoyed but meets a harsh reality when doors are shut on him because of his colour and he becomes the target of racial slurs. The author is an African-American classical musician who is writing from experience. Some of the incidents of racism encountered by Ray are taken from the author's own personal setbacks and his being targeted by prejudice and stereotyping.

 Ray's beloved and supportive grandmother gives him an old, musty, beaten-up fiddle that belonged to her grandfather who was once a slave on a plantation. His master was a terrible man who inflicted horrifying atrocities on his slaves. He enjoyed the distraction of the young man playing the fiddle for himself and other slaves. It was believed he was also the boy's biological father. When his master was dying he freed the young man and gave him the fiddle. This freed slave's granddaughter is Ray's elderly grandmother who had stored the old fiddle in her attic.

 After much restoration of the old musical instrument, it is appraised and discovered to be an authentic, priceless Stradivarius violin, worth perhaps 11 million dollars. Ray loves the violin, not for its fabulous value, but because of its heritage, and when playing it his talent soars. He has gained the confidence to enter the world of classical music despite the racial prejudice inherent there. After much training and traveling to perform in concerts, Ray feels he is now ready to enter the prestigious and renowned Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He has a girlfriend, is making good money, and with his Stradivarius in hand, he feels he has a good chance to win if the judges fairly evaluate his musical talent, and disregard any racial bigotry.

 His life is not without problems. His family incessantly demands most of his earnings, and the descendants of the slave master have a lawsuit demanding that the violin is rightfully theirs. They claim that Ray's great-great-great-grandfather stole the violin and insist it be returned to their family. These worries do not come up to the level of the disaster that Ray encounters a week before going to the competition in Moscow. His priceless violin is stolen and a ransom of 5 million dollars is demanded for its return. There are a number of suspects. His own greedy family, the descendants of the slave master, and the chambermaid in the hotel where he and his girlfriend stayed. Now he learns that his main rival for the top violin award is a Serbian man, and coincidently a black market violin has surfaced in Serbia.  Is his rival behind the theft, hoping that will cause Ray to drop out of the contest?

 The mystery was intriguing, and the characters were well developed and resounded on an emotional level.
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Ray, a Black classical musician, is given his great-great-grandfather's violin.  He is determined to become a world class musician and,  in the Tchaikovsky Competition.  He discovers that the dusty old "fiddle" is really a priceless Stadivarius.  It goes with him everywhere and is hardly ever out of his site.  When it is stolen before the competition, Ray must piece together the clues, learn who to trust or not trust, in the wild search to retrieve his violin.  A fresh new voice in the mystery genre that has you rooting for the underdog.
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Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for the e-ARC of this book. Though I had much of it figured out early on in the book,  I really enjoyed this read. It was very detailed, and a plausible depiction of the classical music world, and what it is like for a black classical musician. I look forward to more by this author.
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After reading this book I feel like I have an inkling of what it is like to play an instrument at a high level.  Unique premise, fun thriller.  Can't wait to read his next book.
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Thank you to Anchor Books for my ARC of The Violin Conspiracy!

Pub date: Feb 1, 2022
Genre: fiction, mystery, ownvoices
In one sentence: Black violinist Ray McMillian is set to compete in the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition when his treasured Stradivarius is stolen…

Did I request this book based on the cover? Yes. Is it so much more than the cover? Without a doubt, yes.

I love when talented professionals turn to writing and bring the reader deep into their professional world. Brendan Slocumb is a violinist, and his passion for music is so evident in his writing. I loved the way he described Ray's journey through the music world, including finding a mentor who believed in him, developing his stage presence, and finally pushing his technique to the limit to prepare for the biggest competition of his life. I'm not a classical music buff, but I loved the descriptions of the pieces Ray played. I felt so immersed in the story from the beginning - I just had to keep reading to see where Ray would end up.

Slocumb not only depicts Ray's musical talent, but also shows the reader how difficult it is for people of color to succeed in white-washed professions. It stings to read the insults thrown at Ray - but we cannot turn away from this harsh reality, and we must take this anger and channel it into making our spaces accessible and welcoming to all, rather than requiring minorities to work twice as hard for half the payoff.

There's something for everyone in this book: music, mystery, coming of age, and social commentary, and I hope it reaches a wide audience.
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I enjoyed reading this book and rate it 4 stars. It is more of a story of the world of classical musicians than a mystery. Ray McMillian is a poor black teenager who dreams of becoming a professional musician. The book has a somewhat improbable premise of a beat up family violin turns out to be an authentic Stradivarius. Ray's violin is stolen and the thief wants $5 million.
The mystery of who stole the violin is solved.
More enlightening is the reality of the all too real racism present in the classical music world. The author is a professional musician and some of the racist experiences are his. I also enjoyed the descriptions of his music.
One quote:
"The melody started slow, in the night, a plucking of strings, snowflakes falling dreamily, one flame at a time; and then a burst of food and poured down on them, and flakes eddied, biting in the chill, the north wine course through the living room."
Thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing and Brendan Slocum for sending me this eARC through NetGalley.
#TheViolinConspiracy #NetGalley
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I was hoping to love this book, a thriller about a black violinist whose violin is stolen, but sadly I had a lot of issues with both the writing and the story. I prefer to find my heavy messaging in memoir and nonfiction, and when a novel is oversaturated with a message (in this case, the racial injustice in the classical music world in particular), it's usually at the expense of character development and plot. I would love to read Slocumb's memoir if he writes one, and I was truly horrified, sickened, and saddened at the scenes his protagonist experienced, which Slocumb said came from his own experiences. But Ray's character was one-dimensional and not very credible (no matter how talented you are, you will not ever be sought out to give masterclasses immediately after having 4 total years of private lessons in your life at an undergraduate level). The mystery part of the book was laughably easy to figure out, and I kept feeling jarred and off-kilter by the musical elements, most of which would be boringly technical if I tried to describe them (if you're interested, for example, I never think of playing in flat keys as being in half position, and I would never, ever have my go-to warm-up scale be F Major on violin, or even on viola!). Yes, I even tried putting a shoe in my own viola case and I definitely noticed that there was a shoe in there and *not* my viola! I think this would have been better leaving out the thriller/mystery element altogether. Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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This book started off with a bang. I inhaled the first few chapters. The author's voice, while uneven at times, pulled me in with lovely word choice. The pacing and tension worked well through most of the story, although I figured out who stole the violin very early in the book. It's Ray's story, a unique underdog tale, that gives the story life, not the mystery. There were a few sections that dragged or seemed out of place from the rest of the book, and the rascism can be a bit heavy handed at times. However, there are some really amazing scenes that show the author's talent for making music come alive on a page . Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it. 

I'm thankful to the author, publisher, and netgalley for the ARC.
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A Black classical musician who has discovered his great-grandfather’s fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius! Ray loves playing the violin. Sure, he could get a regular job but music is his love and the violin is his instrument.

And he is good. As he gets more and more successful, someone from his great-grandfather’s past demands the violin be returned to him. Claiming to be the owner. And just before the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the violin disappears.

Ray will do anything to get it back, but will he? I did not know the world of classical music was quite as cutthroat and racist. It was similar to The Queen’s Gambit in that way. I enjoyed the story and didn’t see that end!

NetGalley/ February 1st, 2022 by Anchor Books
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Ray McMillan is determined to have a different life than the one his family plans for him. He is determined to fight the racism in the classical music world and be a success. This book made me read far into the night. The passion for music that Brandon Slocum infuses in his writing rings true. As it should, since he has been a musician and teacher for more than 25 years. Many of Ray’s experiences with prejudice and racism are Slocum’s own. If you are not a fan of classical music, you will still be drawn to the mystery of the stolen violin. This book is a wake up call for the lack of diversity in classical musicians. Music is a necessary part of life. #MusicSavesLives

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a really interesting book. The main character Ray is a musician of color, fighting to make it in the classical music scene.  The book documents the struggles he faces trying to compete in the cutthroat classical music world, and the challenges his own family present to him succeeding.  In addition to those struggles, his priceless violin is stolen and held for ransom while he is preparing for a very prestigious competition, and throughout the book many suspects are revealed who are likely to have taken it from him.  I came to really care about Ray as the story went on, and was deeply invested in watching him try to succeed and get his violin back. I can honestly say that I was shocked at the ending to the book, I did not see it coming. This was a very thought provoking book. I received an ARC from netgalley, and this is my honest review.
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i looked up brendan slocumb on instagram before reading and he’s a beautiful, surprisingly jacked classical violinist. but he’s also a damn good writer. i found the mystery here to be really well sown, surprising without coming out of nowhere. oh to be multitalented
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This is story of  Ray McMilian and his determination to be a violinist with his love of music. Beautifully and lyrically written, the plot goes back through time to give us the background of Ray.
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The violin conspiracy/ Brendan Slocumb.  An African-American violinist has his violin stolen.  But the most interesting part of the book is the story of his rise to fame, as he inherits a violin which turns out to be a Stradivarius and has to protect his claim to the violin from other family members and other claimants as well.  An absorbing story.
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QUICK TAKE: a bit emotionally manipulative, but ultimately a really propulsive mystery with a great emotional backbone. The ending wasn't 100% satisfying, but overall I really enjoyed this one.
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I periodically try reading first time authors. Unfortunately, this one was a mistake. While the plot premise was interesting, the author’s writing style and actual storyline left a great deal to be desired. The main character’s whining during the first third of the book became very boring very quickly. The attempt to use this book as an explanation of racial injustice was weak. Finally, it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out who done it. I figured it out in the first chapter. While the author and book did not resonate with me, other reviews are writing raves about it. So my recommendation is to check it out from your local library when it is published before deciding on a purchase.

I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook and my nonfiction book review blog.
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I was drawn to both the premise and promise of this book. While it was an enjoyable read ( I definitely wanted to find out if/how/when Ray was going to recover his priceless, heirloom violin), I felt the book was totally predictable, and relied heavily on stereotypes to create tension.  Ray's mother wants him to get a job at Popeye's so she can buy a 66" TV and have her nails done, instead of going to college? Really? Not to mention the aunts and uncles who join against him. On the other side, we have the entitled, former slave holders. The worst part of these portrayals is that both fade from view once Ray wins the competition and recovers the stolen violin. I didn't find myself surprised when the thief was revealed either. This could have been such a powerful story of commitment and overcoming the very real prejudices classical musicians of color face.
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I received an advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my review. 

I loved The Violin Conspiracy from the opening pages through the epilogue and even the author notes. 

The story follows Ray McMillian, a talented violinist, from the moments after his beloved violin has been stolen, back into formative experiences in childhood and his family history before his birth, and then forward through the search for the violin and other events swirling around him. There is a strong mystery element to the story that keeps the reader guessing and turning pages, but it is author Brendan Slocumb’s treatment of the music itself and the interior world of a world-class musician that makes this book sing. 

This story considers issues of race, privilege, determination, luck (good and bad), and social ties, in the guise of a fast-moving whodunnit steeped in humanity and arousing empathy and understanding in the reader. Passages about music are lovingly finessed, resulting in a lush and tactile reading experience. The characters, particularly Ray, experience frustrations, hurt, and pain, but the book leaves the reader with hope and a sense of opportunity. 

I am not a musician, but this story was enhanced by the musician’s perspective even for the uninitiated. My assumption is that readers with their own musical background would find the story even more personal and engaging.

I can’t wait to read another book by this author.
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