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I -PRELUDE AND FUGUE

This look at how music features as a soundtrack to many crime fiction novels will ignore works which simply have song titles or lyrics as chapter headings, or books which mention various popular songs merely as a device to establish the authenticity of the era in which the action takes place. Also, we will largely leave alone the police procedurals of the maverick Detective Inspector type where the cop in question wears his musical taste not perhaps on his sleeve but certainly on the pages of the narrative. Much to the distaste of most of his colleagues, Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne has a penchant for country music, particularly the lonesome heartbreak of Hank Williams, while his Yorkshire counterpart Alan Banks veers in the more sophisticated direction of niche blues and jazz. Neither of these performs music, however, except perhaps humming along to something on the car music player.

While everyone is familiar with dear old Endeavour Morse, particularly in his John Thaw personification, glumly consoling himself with his precious recordings of Mozart and Wagner, he squeezes in as a performer of music only because of the TV adaptations. In the novel The Dead of Jericho (1981) he meets the soon-to-be-murdered Anne Scott at a party, but the TV version has them both as members of an Oxford choir.

Death and the MaidenColin Dexter’s stories of the wonderful curmudgeon are among the widest read in the last quarter of the 20th century, but less well known are the Vienna-set novels of Frank Tallis featuring policemanĀ Oskar Rheinhardt and his young pyschiatrist friend Dr Max Liebermann. The younger man often plays piano for Rheinhardt melodic baritone as they seek solace from the stresses and strains of catching murderers.

Not only are the pair devotees of their sublime fellow townsman Schubert, but Death And The Maiden (2011) actually features a walk-on part by none other than Gustave Mahler, as Liebermann and Rheinhardt track down the killer of a diva from The State Opera. Among other police officers and investigators who can do rather more than knock out a tune we must include James Patterson’s prolific profiler Alex Cross who, when the mood takes him, plays a mean jazz piano. The violin offers our own Sherlock Holmes a more healthy alternative stimulus to one, two or even three pipes of his favourite tobacco, or a syringe full of his opiate of choice. In A Study In Scarlet we learn:

“His powers upon the violin were very remarkable, but as eccentric as all his other accomplishments. When left to himself he would seldom produce any music or attempt any recognised air ….he would scrape carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee.”

In the next movement we will hear of the embittered intelligence operative who not only plays a mean Fender Stratocaster, but also owns a jazz/blues club in London.

Holmes Violin

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