A big-band musician on the run from the ruins of his happy marriage gets tangled up in Big Events at the 1940 San Francisco World’s Fair.
The Big Events have to do with the coming cataclysm of WWII, but alto saxophonist and talented arranger Ray Sherwood, already badly wounded by his young daughter’s accidental death, seems largely unaware of international tensions. Playing with a touring band at a swell hotel in Oakland, Sherwood has received an invitation to meet and work with ambitious young composer Gail Prentice. The two rendezvous on the San Francisco Bay island created for the Golden Gate World Exposition. Just as he is getting acquainted with the very attractive young composer, who is eking out her college fees with work as a carilloneuse at the fair, Sherwood is an unhappy witness to the apparent suicide of a Frenchwoman who, earlier, had appealed to him to rescue her from deportation. In the small world of pre-boom California (as before—in Where The Truth Lies, 2003—Holmes’s feel for mid-century America is exceptional), it’s easy enough for the reader to accept the many coincidences and connections that tie the dead woman to events surrounding Gail and Ray as they hammer out an orchestration for “Swing,” Gail’s prizewinning piano composition that’s to be played by a Japanese band before the fair closes. One of the coincidental connections has to do with Ray’s nearby ex-wife, Nancy, now business manager for fan dancer and fair attraction Sally Rand. Nancy’s presence takes the edge off Ray’s feelings for Gail, feelings that become an embarrassment after Gail’s gloomy mother suggests that she and Sherwood have a past. Everything comes to a boil when “Swing” finally gets a hearing.
Novelist, playwright, composer Holmes has nostalgia down pat—though he’s got some work to do on tension. (CD bound in with music from the book)