A young man’s obsession with ragtime leads him to his idol Scott Joplin, and into the middle of a murder puzzle.
In turn-of-the-century Oklahoma City, teenager Brun Campbell hears a ragtime piano playing in the Armstrong-Byrd Music Store and immediately falls in love with the lively melody. Learning that the tune is “Maple Leaf Rag,” by one Scott Joplin of Sedalia, Mo., Brun runs away from home, leaving a note for his parents. On the journey, he literally trips over the body of a young woman. He realizes she’s dead, but his quest isn’t slowed. Arriving in Sedalia the next day, he gets Joplin to take him on as a pupil, though it’s a bit odd for the Negro composer to have a Caucasian protégé. Brun gets a job at the Stark sheet music store, placing himself in the right place at the right time when old Mr. Stark’s son Will decides to launch a music publishing business. He also gets a night job playing in a saloon, accelerating his education and his passage to maturity. His sexual and musical awakenings go hand-in-hand. Pulsing beneath Brun’s coming-of-age story is the search first for Sallie Randolph, the girl whose corpse he discovered, and later for her killer.
Karp (First, Do No Harm, 2005, etc.) succeeds admirably in making both ragtime and Joplin more compelling than his mystery.