A review of Shattered Rhythms, by Phyllis Knight

READ JULY 2013

Online Blurb: Portland, “Maine, private detective Lil Ritchie, a frustrated guitarist, loves the idea of guarding Andre Ledoux, a great jazzman, when his life is threatened, but the fun and the music stop with a sudden murder.” My plot summary(since the online is pretty skimpy: lesbian PI Lil Ritchie, a former musician herself, is hired to find an old friend, André Ledoux, who is a well-known jazz guitarist. The scene quickly shifts from Lil’s Maine home to Montréal, where André is to perform at the Jazz Festival. Once she finds her friend, and idol she finds his live is in danger.

My review: There are a lot of things I really liked about Phyllis Knight‘s Shattered Rhythms. A few are personal, so they may not apply to all potential readers. They’re essential to the story, though, and might help some people relate to a book they wouldn‘t otherwise read.

First, as a one-time musician myself, I loved the musical connection of the book, and liked what Knight, via protagonist Lillian Ritchie, had to say about music. I’m not a jazz fan like Lil, but I believe that, on some level, music is music, so I can relate to how Lil feels about the character who is murdered, a great jazz guitarist. and what the loss of his music means, to her, and the world., too. Like Lil, I feel as though Jimi and Janis should still be playing today, helping us deal with life, if only by listening to their pain. (Since this was written in ‘94, I have to add Curt to the list. And, hell,  just imagine how much phenomenal music the world was denied when Mozart died at only 35 and Schubert just shy of 32.)

I minored in French, and very much enjoyed the French connection (apologies to Popeye Doyle,) as much of the action takes place in Montréal. Years ago, I had an email friend who lived in Sherbrooke, Québec, and I really liked the vivid description of Lil’s trip from Maine to Montréal via the Eastern Townships, too. There’s little dialogue in French, but I appreciated Knight’s spelling the language as it’s spoken rather than written, e.g., “C’t un” for “C’est un” or “Y ont” for “Ils ont.” It’s a pretty minor thing, but greatly adds to the realism, if you are familiar enough with the language.

Also, not many lead characters talk freely about their acid-dropping days, or smoke dope during the course of the story, as does Lil. Makes her more human, more relatable.

The writing is very capable mechanically, always a key issue with me. The narrative flows easily, though there’s not an awful lot of physical action. In the slower, more introspective passages, it’s Knight’s skill for depicting sharp detail and human emotion which keeps things moving. Knight presents us with, in addition to Lil and BFF Molly, a wealth of truly memorable characters, especially considering the briefness of the book. If you’re not familiar with Knight, but are reasonably conversant with lesbian mysteries, I’d say her easy-going narrative style is a lot like Kate Calloway or maybe Randye Lordon.

A quibble or two: I don’t think the actual murderer’s name is even mentioned until nine-tenths of the way through the book. While I suspected his accomplice’s identity from his/her first appearance, withholding the main villainn’s presence until so near the conclusion feels like a major cheat. Also, having the bad guy be a Bible-thumping TV evangelist seems a little trite.

Aside from those two somewhat minor faults, Shattered Rhythms is a very satisfying and well-crafted mystery novel, with some very pleasant side roads along the way.

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