Christmas 1992 brings blind violinist Daniel Jacobus (Death and Transfiguration, 2012, etc.) a mystery that creeps ever nearer his Berkshires retreat.
Even celebrants less Grinch-like than Jacobus aren’t eager to have their yuletide festivities disrupted, so it’s perfectly understandable that the crusty violinist puts off Amadeo Borlotti, a violin repairer in nearby Egremont Falls, when he pleads an urgent but unspecified reason to venture out in the snow to meet Jacobus. Instead, Jacobus asks Borlotti to come the following day and goes back to playing trios with his cellist friend, Nathaniel Williams, and his protégé, Yumi Shinagawa. Next day, predictably, is too late; on Christmas night, Borlotti’s house burns to the ground, and he vanishes. The blaze is as suspicious as the disappearance, since authorities combing the rubble find no sign of any stringed instruments in Borlotti's shop, indicating that they must have been removed from the scene before the fire. By the time Borlotti’s corpse makes an appearance in a floridly dramatic scene, it’s become clear that he’s been involved in creating fake documents authenticating Stradivariuses that aren’t—and maybe even crafting a few of the phony fiddles himself. The investigation will take Jacobus, who assembles jigsaw puzzles by touch alone, on a whirlwind trip to Italy, bring him up against some wholly unconvincing professional criminals, and give the mysterious arsonist a much more prominent role in his life before he’s finally able to move on.
Readers who aren’t unduly put off by the hero, whose fictional ancestors include both Sherlock Holmes and Ebenezer Scrooge, will enjoy a most unseasonal fable of the little insurance fraud that grew and grew. Merry Christmas.