The King of Ragtime
Poisoned Pen, Oct 2008, $24.95
In 1916 in Manhattan a dying Scott Joplin knows he is running out of time to insure his wife Lottie is financially set and to gain his place in the music pantheon. It deeply disturbs him that he believes Irving Berlin cheated him from credit for some work stolen from him; still he has written a musical that he hopes Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder Music Publishers will want to use. Piano student Martin Niederhoffer offers to bring the two men together as he takes lessons from Joplin and works for Berlin.
The meeting proves futile as Joplin accuses Berlin of stealing his work. Soon afterward Martin finds Joplin holding a straight razor while standing over the murdered body of Martin's peer Sid Altman.. Joplin claims his innocence and Martin needs to believe him. Nell Stanley, daughter of a former Joplin publisher, hides him while the cops want him for questioning. Martin hires hit man Footsie Vinny to pressure Berlin into giving up the musical play Joplin says he left with him, but Berlin denies it. Things turn uglier when thugs kidnap Martin’s girlfriend.
The second Joplin historical mystery (see THE RAGTIME KID) is a fascinating look at the Manhattan music world during WWI. The story line is a bit loose, but readers will enjoy the wild ride anyway as real figures like Joplin and Berlin come to life beyond the legend. The amateur sleuthing is fun to follow but it is the obsessed with insuring for Lottie’s future and how history recalls him Joplin who turns this whodunit into a concerto performance.