4 out of 4 stars
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The Substitute Soloist by D. R. Ransdell is a cosy/amateur sleuth mystery novel. It is the fourth book in the Andy Veracruz Mystery Book series. It begins in Tucson, Arizona, with our main character starting a job with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Almost late to his first concert, Andy is amused by the vocal disagreement between the concertmaster (the lead violinist) and the head of the symphony board. During the concert, the concertmaster breaks a violin string and walks off the stage. Andy, familiar with the violin solo from his college days, takes over her part and receives thunderous applause. At the end of the concert, the head of the symphony board is discovered backstage with a knife in his chest, and the concertmaster is nowhere to be found. Andy reluctantly aids the conductor in his search for the missing lead violinist. The eventful trail includes the Netherlands, France, and Mexico.
Andy is the former leader of a Mariachi band back in California. Events of earlier books have left him jobless and looking for work in a new city. He is now living with his girlfriend, Rachel, and has accepted a job with the Tucson Orchestra as part of the first violin section. The story is mostly focused on Andy and his misadventures in his relationship and as an orchestra member. The mystery almost takes a back seat until near the end of the book. This is done in a natural and interesting way, nevertheless. Even though this wasn’t a meticulous, clue dropping thriller, I was always interested in what was going to happen next. I read the book quickly and enjoyed it thoroughly. You do not need to read the first three books to appreciate this one. After finishing this novel you may, like me, be very tempted to go back and start at the beginning of the series.
There is a lot of time spent on Andy and his efforts to fit in as a Mariachi violinist within an orchestra. For me, this was a really enjoyable aspect of the book. All of the music terms were explained within the story in a natural way. I was never left wondering what a specific expression meant but it also in no way felt like I was getting a lecture. The story was told with an acerbic wit that had our hero seeing things with a clear eye and not taking himself too seriously. He mentally pokes fun at his fellow musicians noting that, “they adjusted their music stands, a quarter of an inch this way, a third of an inch that way, as if the height of the stand would make a difference in performance.”
D.S. Ransdell writes our main character as a regular person. Although his actions were occasionally frustrating, I really enjoyed Andy’s story and the fact that he was not perfect. I like a good “Mission Impossible” superhero type of story as much as the next person. However, I also really enjoy books with easily relatable characters. It would have been nice to learn more about Andy’s girlfriend, Rachel, and her perspective. Apparently she may have her own book, but a bit more information in this one would have been appreciated.
I rate The Substitute Soloist by D. R. Ransdell 4 out of 4 stars. It was well edited, the text and plot flowed smoothly, explanations were included effortlessly and the story was very interesting and entertaining. There are some words that would be considered profane, but they are few and far between. There is a reference to sex but nothing further than that is described. This book is suitable for all readers, including young adults. This may not be the first choice for those who prefer a thriller or police procedural type of mystery. It is an enjoyable read for anyone that likes life stories and cosy, amateur sleuth mysteries. Those who are curious about life as a member of an orchestra will likely enjoy this excellent novel.
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