A jazz pianist moonlights as a thief in an extended comic riff on double lives and fakery.
Ross Clifton, the hero of the fourth novel by Fitch (Senseless, 2001, etc.), isn’t a world-class piano player, but he’s talented enough to get steady gigs around the country in places where he’s not forced into his imagined worst-case scenario: playing “Moondance” for crowds of jazz-hating louts. After the gigs are over, he either seduces one of the readily available women at the club, slyly replacing the diamonds on their fingers with lesser stones as they sleep, or steals BMWs. In an earlier life Ross lived extravagantly off his larceny, but as the book opens he’s acquired a Zen-like disinterest in worldly things, giving away his money to charities or the needy. Fitch uses this Robin Hood–ish lead to explore how a cheater can live with integrity, but the author approaches the subject with a light touch: The story is full of hijinks, thanks to Ross’ teenage nephew Cray, who joins the pianist on the road and unsettles his routines, drinks too much and takes an unhealthy interest in the fine art of stealing. Further prompting Ross to reconsider his behavior is Marianne, a jazz singer whose own scam backfires badly. The array of smoky clubs and late-night conversations gives the novel an appealingly noir-ish feel, and Fitch writes beautifully about music, capturing how a performance can transform the mindsets of a musician and an audience alike. But merging dusky, jazzy moods with comedic set pieces is an inherently unstable mix, and though Fitch has a firm grip on his characters and the story, the dueling tones can make the reader question how seriously to take particular plot turns.
A sharp and entertaining hybrid with a few bum notes.