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Death at the Podium by Robert Barclay

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Reviewed by Alex Binkley

Hitting the right notes

Orchestra conductors are dying in dramatic fashion on podiums around the world and Jonathan Rycroft, the oboe player, Kate Heinricks and his violinist girlfriend, with the assistance of a university researcher, set out to piece together what’s causing of the murders of the maestros.

In Death at the Podium, Robert Barclay’s ode to musicians and classical music, leading conductors around the world are clutching their chests and toppling over dead in the middle of performances, shocking musicians and audiences. The bizarre events even keep some conductors from performances as the search for the cause baffles police and experts in many countries.

For Jonathan and Kate, there are lots of twists to follow to find the source of the strange energy that's striking down conductors in mid swing of the baton. Picture an orchestra conductor, dressed in a tuxedo, flailing his arms and cueing different musicians with a nod of his head as he tries to unite all the instruments into a fitting rendition of a timeless piece of music. We’ve seen the scene live, in the movies or on television many times. Most of us would never think of the conductor facing any dangers other than boos or catcalls although recent research has suggested maestros are not in the healthiest line of work.

It’s a position that requires skill and expertise, but one where the biggest threat to continued employment would likely be coughing patrons, poor ticket sales and inattentive players. However, the rash of mysterious deaths is making the podium look like a spot best avoided.

In addition to the romance and science fiction elements in the story, Barclay brings the reader an inside look at the rivalries, petty jealousies and touchy egos that a conductor has to bring under control to produce the melodies that audiences want.

The author is also an accomplished horn maker and player, which has given him an insight into the inner workings of symphony orchestras.

Death at the Podium is published by Loose Cannon Press of Ottawa.

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