A mystery novel from Allen (Rocky Point Road, 2016, etc.), set in late-1990s New York City, about the death of a famous harpsichordist.
Hugo Miller is a middle-aged New Yorker who works in public relations, and who’s successful enough to have an apartment right in Times Square. Fred Glamorgan, a music professor at UCLA and an old friend of Hugo’s, comes into town to visit and the two go out for a night at the Metropolitan Opera. Before the show, they visit one of Fred’s friends, the well-known harpsichordist Hubert Fulmer, who offers Hugo a hit of hashish. From there, things get hazy: the hash is spiked, leading to Hugo getting kicked out of the opera for appearing drop-dead drunk, and, more ominously, causing Hubert to jump out of his apartment’s window to his death. Or was he pushed? That’s the mystery that Hugo attempts to solve, driven by the fact that he, too, could’ve easily met the same end. Assisting him in this endeavor are his friend Ruth Jensen and his roommate Carlos, an ex-cop. Mike di Saronno, the detective assigned to the case, is also on hand to give official assistance to the three amateur sleuths. As they start to piece together the events of Hubert’s fatal night, the possible murder seems linked to a lost manuscript of an opera by the 17th-century Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, which may or may not exist, and which Hubert may or may not have had in his possession. More worryingly, Hugo starts noticing that people are following him around the city, suggesting that more sinister forces may be involved in the search. Things get even stranger—and more dangerous—as Hugo investigates further. Allen certainly appears to have a love for Manhattan and its environs, as he adoringly writes of the many buildings and restaurants that his characters visit. Sometimes, though, he gets bogged down in details—recounting exactly what Hugo eats at every stop, for instance, or the many benefits of first-class air travel. Hugo narrates the story in a light, easygoing way, but without much urgency, which deflates the intrigue of the plot; as a result, the stakes never seem to be that high. Hugo’s fluid sexuality—he’s a divorced father who also has an eye for men—is the most engaging part of his character, and the story shows some heart when this element becomes more central to the plot. However, it’s not quite enough to save this meandering mystery.
A whodunit that starts off with an intriguing premise but makes its way to an unsatisfying conclusion.