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Book Club: Tune in to ‘The Violin Conspiracy’

Author Brendan Slocumb and the book cover of "The Violin Conspiracy."
(Vintage / Glenn Fry)

Bestselling novelist Brendan Slocumb brings ‘The Violin Conspiracy’ to the L.A. Times Book Club Feb. 23.

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Good morning, and welcome to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

Michael Connelly’s long-running L.A. crime series showcases an intriguing extra: legendary cop Harry Bosch’s passion for jazz. The detective’s favorite music, from Art Pepper’s “High Jingo” to Wynton Marsalis’ “The Majesty of the Blues,” pulses through the Hollywood Hills in every Bosch novel. And yes, he still spins vinyl.

Like Connelly, novelist Brendan Slocumb makes music a vital part of his debut mystery, “The Violin Conspiracy,” our February read. But for Slocumb, it’s classical music, and it isn’t just a pastime. It is essential to both his protagonist’s life and the heist at the heart of his 2022 bestseller.

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The novelist takes readers inside the rarefied world of Ray McMillian, a Black musician whose priceless family Stradivarius is stolen shortly before the world’s most prestigious classical music competition. “The Violin Conspiracy” moves between Ray’s present and his enslaved great-great-grandfather’s past with the fiddle as the young musician struggles to reclaim his precious violin and prove himself.

It’s a world Slocumb — a violinist, performer and music teacher — knows inside and out.

“Slocumb imbues his character’s life with so much authenticity in the details, details that anyone who has played a stringed instrument, or played in a professional ensemble, will recognize,” says reviewer Bethanne Patrick at NPR. “You get moments of glory on stages, but you also have to spend hours practicing scales and phrases.”

“Even for readers unfamiliar with the music so vividly described, the outcome of the contest, the fate of Ray’s violin and the conspiracy behind its theft will provide more than enough top-shelf entertainment,” says Times reviewer Paula L. Woods. “The book also serves as an important affirmation that Black classical musicians matter.”

On Feb. 23, Slocumb will join the L.A. Times Book Club for a virtual conversation with classical music critic Mark Swed starting at 6 p.m. PT. Sign up on Eventbrite for tickets and copies of “The Violin Conspiracy” with autographed bookplates.

On his website, Slocumb shares a playlist of favorite pieces he discovered while starting out as a violinist.

“In ‘The Violin Conspiracy,’ the protagonist, Ray, also learns these pieces and falls in love with them,” Slocumb says. “As he progresses through his musical studies, he learns more advanced pieces — like the Bruch Concerto and the Mendelssohn Concerto.”

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Slocumb adds: “I’m also very proud I could include a bit of old school hip hop. Both Ray and I are total hip hop heads.”

Keep reading

10 books for February: This month’s list includes a tribute to deep friendship, a modern stylist’s reboot of a bawdy tale and a sharp history of a Silicon Valley city that changed the world. Reviewer Bethanne Patrick also shares new work from novelist Salman Rushdie and young climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Book prizes: “Dr. No” author Percival Everett, our November book club guest, is among the finalists for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Awards. In addition to six subject categories — autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction and poetry — finalists were announced for the John Leonard Prize, given to an author for the best first book in any genre. One strong contender is Los Angeles author Tess Gunty, whose debut novel, “The Rabbit Hutch,” has already won the National Book Award for fiction. Here’s the rest.

Book banning wars: Once a comforting presence at story circles and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, bullied and drawn into battles over censorship as school and library boards face intensifying pressure to ban books exploring racial and LGBTQ themes. “Librarians came from a climate of being so appreciated to hearing this message that we’re reviled,” school librarian and Freadom Fighters co-founder Carolyn Foote tells Times reporter Jeffrey Fleishman. “It was an astonishing turn of events.” A lot of librarians are asking themselves whether they want to remain in the profession, she adds. “At least five people I know have retired early.”

Commentary: “I fought for Black studies at UCLA. The College Board just erased U.S. history,” writes author Marcus Anthony Hunter.

Barnes & Noble rebounds: It wasn’t long ago that Barnes & Noble seemed near death. Now, the chain is expecting to open about 30 stores this year. What changed? Columnist Michael Hiltzik explains.

Who knew? Columnist Mary McNamara shows why the hottest red carpet in Hollywood is the ... American Legion.

Notes from the future: “The Terraformers,” the new novel from science journalist and science fiction novelist Annalee Newitz, is an “ingenious, galaxy-brain book.”

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Fun gig alert: The Festival of Books returns to the USC campus on Saturday, April 22 and Sunday, April 23 and needs more book lovers to volunteer that weekend and help with author panels.

Meet Tracy Kidder

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder joined us on Jan. 26 to discuss his new book, “Rough Sleepers,” with columnist Steve Lopez.

The author of “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Kidder talked about the five years he spent riding with Dr. Jim O’Connell and the street team that navigates Boston at night, providing medical care and wellness checks, socks and soup to the city’s unhoused population. “You must make sure you don’t just come around and take care of people for a little while and abandon them,” he says about the team’s focus on “continuity of care.”

Lopez, author of “The Soloist” and “Independence Day,” talked about the homeless count underway in Los Angeles.

Both Kidder and Lopez responded to questions from readers who asked about the best ways to help homeless neighbors in need.

If you missed it, you’ll want to watch now.

Last word

“Doctoring and writing are parallel; they are both about the truth in people’s lives,” says California doctor-turned-author Abraham Verghese as he prepares to release a second novel, “The Covenant of Water.”

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