Instrument meets musician, the way boy often meets girl, in this debut novel of passion, jealousy, integrity, and fate. In 1951, Sgt. Martin Luther Cole finds a Stradivarius violin hidden in a Korean farmhouse. Despite his wounds, Luther forces himself to survive in order to safekeep the precious instrument. Italicized interludes trace the history of the violin from its creation in Cremona, Italy, in 1685 to its arrival in Korea (through Paris, Brussels, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk). Luther returns with the violin to a cabin in rural West Virginia. Many years later, in 1980, Luther meets his six-year-old nephew, Ailey Barkwood. Ailey has been living with his schoolteacher, Iris Bentley, since his grandfather died several months earlier. The boy is smart, principled, and a budding, completely self-taught virtuoso violinist. When Ailey is 11, Iris and Luther, realizing that he needs a music teacher, arrange to have him audition for Maestro Joachim Everade, a master teacher in Bronxville, N.Y. Ailey is accepted to Everade's select school, where he meets Lucienne Ysayâ, a violinist his age with whom he immediately falls in love. Ailey passes six happy years in Bronxville. Then Luther finally feels the time is right for him to pass the Stradivarius on to Ailey- -which is when they discover that the violin had once belonged to Lucienne's great-grandfather and that Lucienne's father wants it returned to him. They finally agree to let a sagacious rabbi--who has befriended the two young musicians and has everybody's trust--mediate: Ailey will use the violin in his lifetime, after which it will be returned to the Ysayâ family heirs. Of course, since Ailey and Lucienne plan to marry, the conclusion could not be more satisfying. Ladew manages to convey the sense of destiny so well that the story's contrivances seem natural and necessary. The characters, however, are all too achingly good to be believed. Only the maestro, who in fits of anger hurls insults like ``jazz musician'' at Ailey, has any spark. Hokey, but touching.