three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
17-July-Aug-2005
user_rating: 
0

A Mystery

A-SwingAt the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, tenor saxman and music arranger Ray Sherwood, recovering from personal tragedy, is on the road with a popular orchestra. He meets and falls for a beguiling young Berkeley composer, Gail Prentice, who asks him to orchestrate her musical composition, "Swing," a symbol of world peace at the fair. Soon after, a French showgirl dies at his feet. Ray becomes involved in a deadly mystery that plays out against an approaching World War II, the Japanese threat, and the era when swing was king.
Random House. 384 pages. $24.95.
ISBN: 140006158X

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"The story pulses ahead a bit like an orchestration itself, with odd harmonies, varying tempos, witty exchanges (sometimes only innuendo), and a poignant leitmotif of parental loss and guilt." Roderick Nordell

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Two sets of clues—some clever, some sorrowful—are woven throughout … [this] brainy new mystery novel. One set is aimed at the genre’s usual pursuit, unraveling a crime. The other hints at a far more dangerous pursuit for the author, nothing less than a grieving father’s attempt to find solace in his art while entertaining his readers."
Julie Salamon

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Seizing on the California exposition as a symbol of America at its most optimistic (and unguarded), Holmes recreates a moment when people still lived in a state of innocence, sipping sodas in Rexall’s, dancing to the big bands at the Claremont, strolling the Gayway on Treasure Island. But there are also French Jews being deported to occupied France and a German music professor begging for work." Marilyn Stasio

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s tough, classy and smart, like so many of its characters. Modeled somewhat after the greats, such as Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the story is compelling and atmospheric." Eric J. Blommel

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Swing is a wonderfully deceptive novel—a breezily written, at times almost gentle story with very little violence, even less sex, and no profanity." Oline H. Cogdill

Orlando Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"Humphrey Bogart meets Harry James in Swing, Rupert Holmes’s noirish re-creation of the excitement, danger, and allure of the 1940s jazz and prewar era." Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"… diverting but disposable. …. [W]hat distinguishes Swing most, especially for a Bay Area readership, isn’t its depth of feeling or complexity of plot, but its loving re-creation of Treasure Island and the East Bay just before the war."
David Kipen

Critical Summary

Holmes’s Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for which he wrote the book, lyrics, and score, won five Tony Awards. Strangely, no fuss was made that he was also the, um, genius behind the pop hit "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." Since then, he’s tried his hand at fiction—and won two Edgars. He dedicates Swing to his young daughter, who died in 1986. Despite its lightweight veneer (supplemented with a CD of Big Band-style music, written and orchestrated by Holmes), the novel touches on themes of guilt, loss, and wartime tragedies. Critics found great beauty in the novel’s nostalgic evocation of 1940s Bay Area culture. The mystery itself is clever, if a little flat; clues that emerged through songs eluded some critics. Still, readers who appreciate a good period mystery "won’t regret taking Holmes’s latest novel for a Swing" (Rocky Mountain News).