Fall 2005 CSANews Issue 56  |  Posted date : May 23, 2007.Back to list

Swing is a delicious, historical thriller, set in 1940, during the very heart of the big band era, and at a time of troubled peace in the U.S.
Author Rupert Holmes has created an exotic locale. It's the Golden Gate Exposition on the newly created Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Treasure Island is described as a "sprawling, walled city whose architecture seemed to be an amalgam of the Aztecan, Abyssinian and Acropolism."

The breath-taking Exposition included lavish gardens, twin Mayan pyramids and a gilt phoenix on top of the island's tallest tower.

Holmes' tortured protagonist is jazz saxophonist and arranger Ray Sherwood, who tours with the Jack Donovan Orchestra.

Shortly after the band checks in at the aristocratic Hotel Claremont, Sherwood is contacted by Gail Prentice, a beautiful and talented Berkeley student. Gail wants Ray to help her orchestrate Swing, her prize-winning composition, which is to premiere in the Pavilion of Japan at the Exposition. They agree to meet at Treasure Island.

This musical mystery is truly a multimedia book. Holmes has included not only marvelous Exposition photos, but also a map, musical scores and a CD of original songs. A knowledgeable reader may even find clues to the mysteries of Swing in the music. I had the disc playing in the background as I read Swing. Rupert Holmes singing his own composition of Beef Lo Mein is in itself worth the price of the book.

The meeting of Sherwood and the attractive student comes to a horrifying climax when a woman apparently leaps to her death from The Tower of the Sun. The body lands literally at the feet of Jack and Gail. From then on, we are swept along in a beautifully scripted tale of intrigue that involves something more sinister than murders.

Holmes manages to evoke the innocence and optimism of 1940, as well as the jolt of world events. He captures the sights, flavours and sounds with snappy dialogue and witty, self-deprecating humour, i.e. "An albacore tuna in a net had more freedom of choice than I did, at this point."

It's wonderfully nostalgic to smell his Rexall drugstore: "The toasty aroma of powdered malt in open bins, and the sweet fragrance of frosty smoke hovering over the chromium tins of ice cream."

Holmes also shares a professional musician's view of the big bands of the era. "Paul Whiteman billed himself as the King of Jazz...but his sound was rinky-tink dance music with a few real jazz soloists like Bix Beiderbeck and Joe Venuti riddling the blandness like chopped walnuts in a cream-cheese sandwich." Benny Goodman, on the other hand, was hailed as the King of Swing, and "his swing was real jazz."

Author Rupert Holmes is not only a two-time Edgar Award winner and arranger/conductor for Barbra Streisand, he is also creator of the Tony Award-winning musical whodunit, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

In Swing, Holmes proves that he can turn a clever phrase as easily as he can encrypt clues. Swing is a sophisticated novel that is a pleasure to read, to listen to, look at and puzzle out. Enjoy!