A chilling real-life back story haunts this otherwise quirky murder mystery, Raymond’s debut.
In 1942, Nazi Germany unleashed a diabolic plan to counter the whispered rumors that they were operating concentration/extermination camps. In the occupied Czechoslovakian city of Terezin, where the Nazis had already been operating a prison/concentration camp, they created the facade of a “model” Jewish city and renamed it Theresienstadt. Jewish musicians and artists, especially those with international reputations, who had been rounded up in the Nazi purges were brought to Theresienstadt. Here, the talented, starving prisoners were forced cheerfully to perform for visiting Red Cross inspectors. Veiled, however, was the fact that the city of Terezin was actually a transit center for train rides to the better known extermination camps. In her debut novel, Raymond uses modern-day protagonist Emily Thurgood, associate professor on a hectic track for tenure in the music history department at the University of Wisconsin, to reveal an extraordinary, unanticipated consequence of the Terezin deception: the creation of beautiful, inspirational music that incorporated coded messages of hope and defiance. Emily’s research into this musical legacy embroils her in the murder of the school’s music librarian, compromises her relationship with her boyfriend, Brian, and exposes her to the questionable intentions of exciting new classical composer Henry Cramer. Emily may be a bit too work-obsessed for some readers, and the plot sometimes feels too contrived. But all can be forgiven because Raymond has done readers a real service by bringing to the forefront an oft-overlooked chapter of the Holocaust. Though she appears directly in only a few intermittent pages, the secondary heroine, young Theresienstadt detainee Anna Katz, is perhaps the narrative’s most viscerally drawn character. The complicated coding method embedded into Anna’s compositions will not be easily understood by those who haven’t studied music, but the general concept rings clear.
Monumental history wrapped in a poppy whodunit; the well-employed device makes for a provocative tale readers won’t soon forget.