Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Danse Macabre” is the theme song to Jonathan Creek, one of my favorite TV murder mystery series. It’s a beautiful song that evokes skeletons and goblins waltzing around a dark, velvet curtained ballroom lit by candelabras, draped in cobwebs. My heart soars when I hear the song out of context as well, evoking these similar images.
The connection between the song and the television show—about a genius who makes magician tricks and solves locked room murders—made me think about other mysteries, preferably murder mysteries, that have music as a part of it. Here’s a list of six mysteries books/series that have classical music as their central theme.
MURDER IN G MAJOR BY ALEXIA GORDON
After talking about “Danse Macabre,” it seems appropriate that I start with the Gethsemane Brown series. Now with five books, the series focuses on African American violinist and arts educator Gethsemane Brown, who has moved to Ireland to help a boy’s school. She’s hoping to help the boys’ orchestra to win a music competition to improve her chances at getting gigs in the U.S. She rents a small cabin that was the home of her favorite composer before his murder-suicide of he and his wife. However, she soon discovers that the composer hasn’t left the premises and wants her to prove that he is innocent of the crime. Brown is a wonderful character who hears Beethoven’s “Pathétique” as a warning of bad events or recites Negro Baseball Statistics to herself when she’s nervous.
BELLWEATHER RHAPSODY BY KATE RACCULIA
The Bellweather Hotel is the site of the annual Stateside festival where musically talented high schoolers converge for a weekend to learn, perform, and possibly get seen by agents and college/university recruiters. But the hotel is also known for a murder-suicide in a room witnessed by a young bridesmaid 15 years prior. During the festival, young singer Alice Hatmaker finds her roommate hanging dead in the very same room. However, when she gets help, the body is now missing. Alice and her brother Rabbit have to join forces with adults along the way to figure out what happened in this strange, mysterious hotel. It kinda feels a bit like Fame meets The Shining meets The Grand Budapest Hotel.
THE CASE OF THE ORPHANED BASSOONISTS: A CASSANDRA REILLY MYSTERY BY BARBARA WILSON AND BARBARA SJOHOLM
This is the fourth book in the Cassandra Reilly series but I didn’t feel that I lost too much having not read books 1–3. You can dive right in. Cassandra Reilly is called to Venice to help her best friend Nicky Gibbons who has been accused of stealing a valuable bassoon that went missing while Gibbons napped. Gibbons had come to Venice to learn about Vivaldi and the orphan girls that Vivaldi taught music, known as Ospedali. Reilly arrives to find out that Gibbons has also disappeared and a host of suspects emerge who might want to put Gibbons out of the way. Can Reilly clear her friend’s name while also uncovering the secret of the Ospedali?
DEATH OF A BARITONE: A MUSIC LOVER’S MYSTERY BY KAREN STURGES
This is the first in A Music Lover’s Mystery series. When Phoebe Mullins finds a job at an opera school led by opera diva Anna Varovna, she doesn’t expect to find so much non-theatrical drama. But when a baritone Frank Palermo is found dead from poison and holding a score with the word Amadeus scratched out, Mullins has to uncover the killer before anyone else is quieted for good.
DEATH AT LA FENICE BY DONNA LEON
(Trigger warning: child abuse) This is the first book in the Commissario Brunetti series. When famous conductor Maestro Helmut Wellauer is found dead from arsenic in the intermission of an opera at La Fenice, the opera house in Venice, Commissario Brunetti is on the trail to find out who would kill the conductor. He soon learns that the conductor had a sordid past. While the series is not about music and murder, each subsequent books feature epigraphs from popular operas
. Brunetti is one of my favorite current detectives and I eagerly await a new book each spring.
THE STRINGS OF MURDER BY OSCAR DE MURIEL
This is the first in the Frey & McGray series. When a violinist is found murdered in a locked room covered with dark symbols around the room with reports from the maid of a trio playing inside, Inspector Frey is sent to investigate this locked room mystery. Frey doesn’t believe that this is a murder of dark magic, but his boss Detective McGray does. Will they figure out this strange murder while dealing with McGray’s tragic past?