Spotlight Review: THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb

From the publisher:

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music. 

When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad … before it’s too late.

With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.


This was such a good read! I can’t stop thinking about this book, even though I’ve read a few books since I finished it. This is a debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what this talented author does next!

The main character, Ray, is unforgettable. He loves music so much that he keeps practicing and studying despite the lack of support from his mother, his teacher, and his family. The only one who supports his efforts is his grandmother. Her grandfather, PopPop, also played the violin, and she is thrilled that finally someone in the family is showing an interest. She tells Ray that he can have her grandfather’s violin, if he can find it. It’s buried somewhere in the attic. It takes a while, but he eventually uncovers it and it is in very bad shape. Ray gets an early brush with racism when he takes it to the mall to have it repaired. They do a crappy job, charge him too much money, but at least he now has his own instrument instead of relying on the school rental.

Ray progresses in his music, gets a full ride to college with a wonderful teacher, a Black woman who understands where he comes from and more importantly, where he could go. He is very talented but even more hardworking, pushing that talent until it takes him to the world stage. Ray needs a better violin than the old one he got from his grandmother, but understanding its sentimental value, his teacher helps him take it to a good repair shop where he finds out it is a very valuable violin. From there, they go to New York to one of the premier violin shops in the world. Sure enough, several thousand dollars later, his old violin is completely restored and proved to be a Stradivarius worth about $10 million.

PopPop was a slave and he played that violin for his slaver, and was rewarded with his freedom and the violin. Finding a Stradivarius makes the news, and all of a sudden the slaver’s family has decided they want their violin back and accuse PopPop of having stolen it. Then Ray’s family decides they want him to sell it and give them the money. But Ray is determined to keep the instrument and keep playing it. Eventually, he hires a lawyer and tries to work out the lawsuits.

Meanwhile, he has been accepted to compete in the International Tchaikovsky Competition, the “Olympics” of music competition where Americans are rarely accepted and none has won a gold medal since the 1970s. But shortly before the competition, his violin is stolen and ransomed for $5 million. Devastated, Ray buys another violin to use for the competition, but he is determined to get his violin back.

While this book is marketed as a thriller, it is more a coming of age story, a story about racism in America and in particular, in the classical musical field. The mystery of the missing violin is a plot device that helps moves the story along, but it goes beyond that. I was so invested in Ray and his career that I couldn’t put this book down. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the music terminology, but it didn’t matter. I loved being immersed in Ray’s world and was desperate for him to get his violin back and see his career rocket. According to the author’s note at the end, this is a bit of a bildungsroman as he is a Black man and a classical violinist.

This book was truly such a gift, and I am most grateful for it. It is sure to make my best books of the year (and I don’t say that lightly as it is only March!) Don’t miss it.

3/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY by Brendan Slocumb. Anchor (February 1, 2022). ISBN: 978-0593315415. 352p.




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