The Violin Conspiracy is an absolutely wonderful debut novel by Brendan Slocumb. Slocumb, who is Black, brings the world of his own experience to bare in this book that combines both the mystery behind the theft of a rare violin, along with the racism that our protagonist Ray McMillian suffers throughout his upbringing and into the world of classical music.
Ray is definitely a child prodigy, but only has a rented school violin to practice and perform with, and on top that he gets absolutely no support from his mother who continually refers to the music as “Trash.” Despite this Ray overcomes and eventually makes the high school regional orchestra where he is “discovered” by a college professor who is both his savior, his mentor and his guide through the world of classical music. But before we even get to these parts of the story, the book begins with the theft of Ray’s rare Stradivarius violin, a violin that had been in his family since his great-great grandfather was given his freedom by his white slave-holding master, and with his freedom he also was given a used fiddle – nobody knew it was a rare violin.
As we follow the hunt for the stolen violin, we also get into Ray’s background and his career in music. We see the prejudice he encounters when he plays at weddings, the assumption that his success is only due to being black and being chosen for advancement in order to fill a racial quota. Things are no better once he becomes a solo violin performer. He is arrested in Baton Rouge, conductors change music on him at the last minute and the litany continues chapter after chapter. But Ray is supremely talented, as well as being patient and proud and eventually he ends up on the stage in Moscow as part of the world famous Tchaikovsky competition.
This is a book to be savored for the perseverance of one man, a man who has had to overcome his families denigration of classical music, a deck that many times is stacked against Black artists in the world of classical music where minorities comprise only 1.88% of all orchestra members. Will the thief be found, the violin recovered, and more importantly will the barriers in the world of classical music begin to come down. An important read, and one that will affect every thoughtful reader who will root for Ray McMillian as he attempts to conquer the world of classical music and racial prejudice, and recover his rare violin.