A musical scholar meets his ragtime idol and solves a tangled murder with help from the past.
Elderly Alan Chandler is battling cancer in Seattle, but playing the piano lifts his spirits, especially when it’s a Scott Joplin tune. His old friend Mickey Potash has discovered some notebooks written by Joplin and sends him a sample of the music. An invigorated Alan decides on a road trip across the country to Sedalia, Missouri, to meet up with Mickey and investigate Joplin further. His wife, Miriam, is worried about his health, but his grandson, Tom, accompanies him. Standing in Joplin’s beloved Maple Leaf Club is a surreal experience for Alan, made even more so when he wakes up in the middle of the night and finds that he's been transported from 2016 back to 1899. He’s overjoyed to meet Joplin himself. After this dreamlike episode, Alan goes back to sleep; the next morning, Tom goes to Mickey’s house and finds him murdered in his bed, strangled by a length of piano wire. Tom recounts his gruesome discovery as Alan unsuccessfully attempts to explain his apparent time travel. Nevertheless, Alan’s eager to help Tom investigate. He shares his story with righteous Detective Parks while Tom breaks the news of Mickey’s death to his pal JJ Jackson. Alan feels betrayed when Parks arrests JJ for the murder. Using time travel as an unlikely aid, Alan and Tom crack the case.
The fourth Ragtime Mystery (The Ragtime Fool, 2010, etc.) is filled with warmth and wonder and interesting music trivia, buoyed by the relationship between the two sleuths, which may well echo that between the late Larry Karp and his son, who finished this final installment after his death.