Ragtime music and racial tensions rise and clash in the 1950s, leading to murder.
Scott Joplin died on April Fool’s Day, 1917, but his legacy blazes brightly within Brun Campbell, once known as The Ragtime Kid and working, 34 years later, as a barber in Venice, Calif. A fan letter from Alan Chandler, an aspiring young musician in New Jersey, leads to a mutually satisfying correspondence as well as a parallel plotline. Meanwhile, in the middle of the country—Sedalia, Mo., to be exact—ragtime aficionado Charlie Bancroft plans a ragtime museum and a celebration to honor Joplin and, not incidentally, promote tourism to the city. A woman named Bess Vinson visits Campbell’s shop with the surprising news that she is Joplin’s daughter. More, she has a journal from her father that would allow Campbell to complete a lifelong dream: a definitive biography of his mentor and idol. (Campbell bitterly blames rival Rudi Blesh for stealing his thunder by beating him to the punch with a Joplin biography.) In the midst of all this intrigue, Campbell’s drunk client and pal Roscoe Spanner takes a fatal tumble down a flight of stairs. Campbell assumes his death was an accident. Dogged detective Bob Magnus isn’t so sure.
In the final volume of his Ragtime trilogy (The King of Ragtime, 2008, etc.), Karp seamlessly weaves real people like Campbell into an interesting historical yarn with a whodunit kicker.