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Symphony of Secrets

A novel

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Paperback
$18.00 US
5.15"W x 7.97"H x 0.93"D  
On sale Jan 23, 2024 | 448 Pages | 978-0-593-31545-3
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
A gripping page-turner from the celebrated author of book club favorite The Violin Conspiracy: Music professor Bern Hendricks discovers a shocking secret about the most famous American composer of all time—his music may have been stolen from a Black Jazz Age prodigy named Josephine Reed. Determined to uncover the truth that a powerful organization wants to keep hidden, Bern will stop at nothing to right history's wrongs and give Josephine the recognition she deserves.

“A maestro of musical mystery ... Slocumb’s writing is invigorating, and the detail in his character work makes the main characters in both time periods easy to root for. . . . Thrilling.” —The New York Times

"At once a celebration of music and also a cautionary tale about legacy, privilege, and creative genius." —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid


Bern Hendricks has just received the call of a lifetime. As one of the world’s preeminent experts on the famed twentieth-century composer Frederick Delaney, Bern knows everything there is to know about the man behind the music. When Mallory Roberts, a board member of the distinguished Delaney Foundation and direct descendant of the man himself, asks for Bern’s help authenticating a newly discovered piece, which may be his famous lost opera, RED, he jumps at the chance. With the help of his tech-savvy acquaintance Eboni, Bern soon discovers that the truth is far more complicated than history would have them believe.

In 1920s Manhattan, Josephine Reed is living on the streets and frequenting jazz clubs when she meets the struggling musician Fred Delaney. But where young Delaney struggles, Josephine soars. She’s a natural prodigy who hears beautiful music in the sounds of the world around her. With Josephine as his silent partner, Delaney’s career takes off—but who is the real genius here?

In the present day, Bern and Eboni begin to uncover more clues that indicate Delaney may have had help in composing his most successful work. Armed with more questions than answers and caught in the crosshairs of a powerful organization who will stop at nothing to keep their secret hidden, Bern and Eboni will move heaven and earth in their dogged quest to right history’s wrongs.
© Glenn Fry
Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb was raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and holds a degree in music education (with concentrations in violin and viola) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For more than twenty years he has been a public and private school music educator and has performed with orchestras throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He is currently working on his second novel. View titles by Brendan Slocumb
1

The Extra K

Bern

Professor Bern Hendricks was late to class when the sound of an incoming email pinged in his inbox. He’d put on his favorite blue pinstripe, short-­sleeve, but nobody would notice under his jacket and, wouldn’t you know, there was a wrinkle right under the pocket. The jacket didn’t completely cover it. So he’d had to haul out the ironing board and heat up the iron, and that took longer than it should have. Now he was running a good ten minutes late. But with the Quicksilver symphony flooding his earbuds, how could he hurry? The students could wait a few more minutes.

Maybe he should just skip class altogether, he thought. The Quick­silver was the obvious excuse. ­Delaney’s Quicksilver—­so-­called because of the extraordinary melding of alto and tenor saxes layered over French horns—­was one of Bern’s absolute favorites. Bizet had effectively used an alto sax in his L’Arlésienne Suite, but ­Delaney’s Quicksilver took it to an entirely different level. Every time Bern listened to the allegro moderato movement, it was as if a hole suddenly opened up in his chest and music cascaded in. No matter how many times he heard it, the melody rippled across his spine and he shivered under its impact. “That was double good,” he mumbled to himself.

No wonder Frederic ­Delaney was the hands-­down best composer—­ not just in America, Bern would argue, but in the entire world.

So there he was, seriously considering missing a class in only his second week of teaching just to listen to a symphony he’d heard hundreds of times before—­when his email chimed.

He stared at his phone, hit Pause on the music.

Even without ­Delaney’s music playing, it seemed as if Frederic ­Delaney were, right then, communicating directly with Bern from beyond the grave. The email was from the executive director of the ­Delaney Foundation. What were the odds that he’d get a message right when he was listening to—­

He opened the email.

Dear Bern:

I hope you have been well since we last met.

I’m reaching out with a time-­sensitive matter regarding Frederick ­Delaney.

I know that the school year has just started and you must be quite busy, but would you contact me as soon as you get this? Please call the number below, no matter the hour, from a location where you can speak freely. Someone will always be monitoring this line.

Sincerely,

Mallory ­Delaney Roberts

Executive Director

The ­Delaney Foundation

Right then he was halfway across UVA’s grounds, minutes from class. In the shadow of the ancient oak trees, the lushness of the early autumn grass glowed around him. He took a breath, and then another. Students played Frisbee on the terraces.

He wasn’t aware of any of them, even when a Frisbee sailed past his left cheek, so close that he felt its breeze.

The email was some kind of scam. It had to be. Mallory ­Delaney Roberts wouldn’t be writing to him. He doubted she even remembered who he was. She’d met him only a handful of times. Last month he’d seen an article in Time announcing a partnership between the ­Delaney Foundation and the Vatican for new musical outreach to Eastern Europe. And this woman was calling him Bern? The words glowed on the screen.

I’m reaching out with a time-­sensitive matter regarding Frederick ­Delaney.

He’d paused right before his favorite section in the Quicksilver: the French horns’ epic battle with the trombones, when the horns fought for supremacy but the trombones would, in just a second, kick their asses. “Sorry, horns,” he mumbled as he logged out of his playlist. He googled the Foundation and clicked the link to the website, where Mallory’s thumbnail photo smiled serenely at him. A bouffant helmet of too-­dark dyed hair, pearl earrings, and a pearl choker.

The most memorable and last time they’d met, she had clasped his hands with both of hers and said, “Congratulations” and “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He’d shaken her hands and said, “Thank you,” and when he’d met her eyes, he had seen the gleam of tears to match his own.

By then, a month after their adviser, Jacques Simon, had passed away, there had been just two PhD students left in the program: Julie Ertl, who was already making plans to quit academia and go into advertising, and Bern. The ceremony—­the unveiling, the signing of the books, the presentation of the first printed copy to the ­Delaney Foundation—­had seemed empty and all too silent without Jacques, who’d revered Frederic ­Delaney almost as much as Bern did. Almost.

He was about to be fifteen minutes late—­the cutoff for how long students had to wait for a professor. They’d probably already be packing up. They might as well get a head start on the weekend, he decided. And this matter was time sensitive.

He’d explain and apologize to the kids next time.

Instead of heading up to the lecture hall, he dashed down to his office in the bowels of Old Cabell Hall. It had been built at the turn of the century, with typical Greek Revival architecture of red brick behind white columns—­nothing like Columbia’s chaos of golden stone and modern glass. Here the hallways and classrooms smelled musty and of distant mice.

Bern locked the door to his tiny broom closet of an office, sat down, and dialed Mallory’s number.

The phone rang only once before a brisk woman’s voice answered. “­Delaney Foundation. Hello, Professor Hendricks. Hold, please, and let me put you through.”

The phone clicked, and then another woman’s voice, smoother, slipped through the phone line. “Bern. I’m so glad you reached out as quickly as you did.”

He recognized her voice: old money, the most expensive prep schools in Connecticut or Rhode Island. “Of course,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Ms. ­Delaney.”

“Bern, please. We’ve been through this before. It’s Mallory, remember?”

“I know,” he said, “it’s just—­” He didn’t know how to complete the sentence. He was speaking to royalty. This was a woman who probably had the president of the United States in her “favorite contacts” list. And she knew who he was: Bern Hendricks, a poor kid from Milwaukee who used to eat bologna three times a week because his family couldn’t afford anything else. Again—­involuntarily—­a wave of gratitude for Frederic ­Delaney, for all that ­Delaney had given him, washed over Bern.

“Are you someplace you can talk?” she was saying.

“I’m in my office.”

“Are you alone?”

“Yes,” he said, sitting up straighter. Had he done something wrong? Had the Foundation discovered some error or discrepancy with his work on the Quintet? He’d gone over those footnotes dozens of times. He, Jacques, and Julie had all triple-­checked one another’s work. What was the problem? “Is there something I can help you with?”

“As a matter of fact, there is. Something urgent has come up.” She paused. “We found some original documentation from my uncle, and we wondered if you’d be interested in an opportunity to assess it.”

“Documentation? What kind of documentation? Music? Letters?” Adrenaline and relief shot through him, a cold rush of blood from the top of his head to his feet and back. She probably wanted him for something small and meaningless, he told himself. Frederic ­Delaney had been one of the twentieth century’s most prolific composers; he’d known everyone, so new letters often surfaced at auction houses or estate sales. Some letters—­the ones with great signatures and substantive text—­sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

“We found something that requires someone with a specific skill set. And of course I thought immediately of you.”

“Okay,” he said, thrilled to help. “Can you email it over? I can look right now. What is it?”

“I’d rather discuss this in person, if you have the inclination. There’s also a nondisclosure agreement that we’d need you to sign.”

“A nondisclosure agreement?” Bern repeated. His brain was churn­ing. “What did you find?”

“Again, I’d—­”

“Are you here?” he asked. “In Charlottesville?”

“No,” she said, “I was rather hoping I could lure you up to our offices.” He could hear her smile. “We’re on the top floor of the Foundation, as you may remember. Quite near Juilliard.”

She wasn’t going to tell him what they’d found, that much was clear. But he wanted more information. He tried a different tactic. “What kind of skill set are you looking for?”

“Partially it’s your work on the Rings Quintet,” she said slowly. “And you probably know more about Frederic ­Delaney than almost everyone. Including me, and I’m related to him.” Again, he could hear that smile through the telephone.

“Let me look at my schedule.” He checked his calendar. “I could possibly fly up Friday afternoon, if I can get a flight out. I’m teaching all this week. But this feels like quite a haul for some documentation. Are you sure you can’t just scan it and send it to me via email? I’m happy to sign your nondisclosure electronically.”

“We’d rather show you. We haven’t allowed scans yet of the—­of the—­documents.”

Something about the way she hesitated over that last word sent Bern’s head spinning. What kind of document would she be reluctant to scan? Was it so fragile?

“You must have found something really special,” he said. A diary? ­Delaney had kept no journals, although he did use an office calendar that he never fully updated. Could it be a letter discussing the genesis of the Quintet? That would be life changing—­­Delaney had rarely mentioned his inspirations for the opera cycle, which was why Jacques Simon had created the annotated Quintet in the first place: all those painstaking scholarly attributions for all of ­Delaney’s musical influences had taken them eight years to compile.

Another pause. “It is. It’s—­” She didn’t finish the sentence.

“Did you find an undiscovered piece of music?”

One of ­Delaney’s compositions turned up now and then. The most recent time one was found and played—­the Domino Winds overture—­the New York Philharmonic had premiered to a packed auditorium and received a seven-­minute standing ovation, and the audience had shouted, “Again! Again! Again!” until the Philharmonic encored the overture, in true ­Delaney fashion.

“I really can’t discuss it over the phone,” she said.

So it was an undiscovered piece of music. It had to be.

Of course.

He said slowly: “You found it, didn’t you?”

“I beg your pardon? We—­”

“You found it. You found a piece of RED. You found the original. How much? The overture? An aria?”

A very long pause, during which Bern tried to assess what it would mean, finding even a page of the original RED. His head swam.

“Bern, please. I—­I think this would be better discussed in person, in the proper setting,” she said, stumbling over her words, sounding on edge. “Can you be here once you’re done teaching for the week?”

“Just tell me this. How much did you find? Is it more than a page? Do you have a whole act?”

“Bern, I—­”

Her hesitation was enough. “I’ll be there tonight,” he said. Before Mallory could respond, he was already on his laptop, emailing the head of the Music Department to say that due to an emergency he would need to cancel all his classes for the rest of the week—­could a graduate student take over?

“That’s wonderful news,” Mallory said. “We’ll send our plane to pick you up. When can you be ready?”

It was actually happening. A piece of RED—­the elusive, mysterious, impossible RED—­had been found.

And out of everyone on the planet, Bern himself—­a poor bologna-­sandwich-­eating kid with a beat-­up French horn—­was going to actually see it. Be one of the very first people to touch it, to decipher Frederic ­Delaney’s distinctive handwriting.

“Give me an hour,” he said.
One of the Washington Post's Best Mysteries of the Year • An NPR Best Book of the Year

“Brendan Slocumb’s first novel, The Violin Conspiracy, displayed his deftness at crafting character-driven stories featuring amateur sleuths with a deep reverence for music history — and everything to lose. With his pitch-perfect follow-up, Symphony of Secrets, he firmly establishes himself as a maestro of musical mystery. . . . What makes the book sing is how it makes audible the chords that echo between present and past, coming together to create a consonant harmony. Slocumb dexterously interlaces the two plotlines, using them to echo and refract issues that haven’t disappeared over the years, only changed resonance. . . . Slocumb’s writing is invigorating, and the detail in his character work makes the main characters in both time periods easy to root for. The arc of the story mirrors the sensation of listening to an unfamiliar piece of classical music and thinking ‘This is nice’ as it starts, then suddenly finding yourself rapt, then thrilled, then, by the end of the journey, entirely astonished. Slocumb is a composer and conductor, and those skills translate well to his mystery writing — his mastery of pacing and tempo and his natural sense of when to soothe the audience and when to jolt them out of their seats are on full display. The novel’s examination of white supremacy as an extractive force is clear and present without tripping up the fast-paced and thrilling plotline.” The New York Times

“As rich and suspenseful as The Violin Conspiracy. . . . Absorbing. . . . A fast-paced detective adventure. . . . As [Slocumb] alternates artfully between the 1920s historical narrative and the present-day quest to unravel its mystery, he also parallels the two, which symbolically serves to repair the past. . . . Amid the heart-racing plot, Symphony of Secrets is ultimately an affirmation. Music has historically been the country’s ethnically richest art form, particularly embodied in the multicultural story of jazz and in today’s cross-fertilization between popular genres. That process has been marred when the powerful extract from the powerless. Josephine Reed’s restoration speaks back to such exploitation. Shaping her vast array of colors, ciphers and traditions, she’s a seamstress of the torn national fabric.” The Washington Post

“Stirring. . . . A provocative follow to his much-lauded 2022 novel, The Violin Conspiracy, praised for its pitch-perfect dive into the world of classical music and the struggles faced by Black musicians who want to be included and respected for their talents. . . . Compelling. . . . Slocumb writes an intriguing and vivid story about social injustice, cultural appropriation and ‘whitewashing.’ . . . [The] thoughtful pacing carries an important message about race and privilege and the lengths to which people in power will go to manipulate history.” The Star Tribune

"Music lovers will revel in Symphony of Secrets, a novel that is at once a celebration of music and also a cautionary tale about legacy, privilege, and creative genius." —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid

"Absolutely brilliant! Once again, Slocumb’s consummate skills are on vivid display as he gives us a fascinating page-turner that slips back and forth in time and seamlessly blends a heart-pounding thriller, a heartfelt look at family and quiet heroism, and a searing exposé of issues stretching from deep in our country’s past to the very present. The 'secret' of his title is apt indeed. And as for the cast: nobody creates rich, fully formed characters like Brendan Slocumb. Some books we finish and move on. This one will stay with you long after you turn the final page.” —Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Collector and Hunting Time

"A twisty, mesmerizing mystery—Brendan Slocumb's writing is like music itself, dancing elegantly from the page." —Danya Kukafka, bestselling author of Notes On An Execution

"With Symphony of Secrets, Slocumb has woven an incredible thriller about music, genius, history, and greed—and how easily innocent passion can turn to dangerous, deadly obsession. You won’t be able to put it down until the last note!" —Peng Shepherd, author of The Cartographers

"Both a beautiful, joyful, celebration of music and the people who love it, and a chilling portrait of how easily good slides into eviland echoes through the years. I loved this book." —Sara Gran, author of The Book of the Most Precious Substance

“Brendan Slocumb’s Symphony of Secrets is a wonderfully compelling page-turner that’s so authentic you’ll swear that Slocumb himself was part of the 1920s Manhattan music scene. Slocumb's musical background along with his unique characters and gorgeous prose create a fascinating story of astonishing talent and extraordinary deceit. I loved this book!” —Karen Dionne, #1 internationally bestselling author of The Marsh King’s Daughter and The Wicked Sister

"Symphony of Secrets is more than just a mystery—it's an overture, a mingling of the past and the present and the problems that still plague America today. Brendan Slocumb is a master storyteller, a conductor of the written word, and in his talented hands, this symphony sings." —Eli Cranor, author of Don't Know Tough and Ozark Dogs

“Music and history are strung together in a delicate harmony that further solidifies Slocumb’s place as a must-read author.” BuzzFeed
 
“Slocumb’s popular debut, The Violin Conspiracy, turns out to be his tuning up for Symphony of Secrets, which is even better.” Air Mail

“This is a superb novel that will appeal to any thriller fan, not just readers with an ear for classical music. Sophomore novels don’t get much better than this.” Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

"Thought-provoking. . . . Gripping chapters set in the 1920s and 1930s vividly evoke Reed, Delaney, and the racial inequities that fueled their relationship. . . . This exploration of the ways race, power, and modern music intersect lands as a timely page-turner." Publishers Weekly

"Slocumb’s second novel (following The Violin Conspiracy) is an improbable but fun mystery that will attract fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (a lot of readers, in other words).” Library Journal

About

A gripping page-turner from the celebrated author of book club favorite The Violin Conspiracy: Music professor Bern Hendricks discovers a shocking secret about the most famous American composer of all time—his music may have been stolen from a Black Jazz Age prodigy named Josephine Reed. Determined to uncover the truth that a powerful organization wants to keep hidden, Bern will stop at nothing to right history's wrongs and give Josephine the recognition she deserves.

“A maestro of musical mystery ... Slocumb’s writing is invigorating, and the detail in his character work makes the main characters in both time periods easy to root for. . . . Thrilling.” —The New York Times

"At once a celebration of music and also a cautionary tale about legacy, privilege, and creative genius." —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid


Bern Hendricks has just received the call of a lifetime. As one of the world’s preeminent experts on the famed twentieth-century composer Frederick Delaney, Bern knows everything there is to know about the man behind the music. When Mallory Roberts, a board member of the distinguished Delaney Foundation and direct descendant of the man himself, asks for Bern’s help authenticating a newly discovered piece, which may be his famous lost opera, RED, he jumps at the chance. With the help of his tech-savvy acquaintance Eboni, Bern soon discovers that the truth is far more complicated than history would have them believe.

In 1920s Manhattan, Josephine Reed is living on the streets and frequenting jazz clubs when she meets the struggling musician Fred Delaney. But where young Delaney struggles, Josephine soars. She’s a natural prodigy who hears beautiful music in the sounds of the world around her. With Josephine as his silent partner, Delaney’s career takes off—but who is the real genius here?

In the present day, Bern and Eboni begin to uncover more clues that indicate Delaney may have had help in composing his most successful work. Armed with more questions than answers and caught in the crosshairs of a powerful organization who will stop at nothing to keep their secret hidden, Bern and Eboni will move heaven and earth in their dogged quest to right history’s wrongs.

Author

© Glenn Fry
Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb was raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and holds a degree in music education (with concentrations in violin and viola) from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For more than twenty years he has been a public and private school music educator and has performed with orchestras throughout Northern Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. He is currently working on his second novel. View titles by Brendan Slocumb

Excerpt

1

The Extra K

Bern

Professor Bern Hendricks was late to class when the sound of an incoming email pinged in his inbox. He’d put on his favorite blue pinstripe, short-­sleeve, but nobody would notice under his jacket and, wouldn’t you know, there was a wrinkle right under the pocket. The jacket didn’t completely cover it. So he’d had to haul out the ironing board and heat up the iron, and that took longer than it should have. Now he was running a good ten minutes late. But with the Quicksilver symphony flooding his earbuds, how could he hurry? The students could wait a few more minutes.

Maybe he should just skip class altogether, he thought. The Quick­silver was the obvious excuse. ­Delaney’s Quicksilver—­so-­called because of the extraordinary melding of alto and tenor saxes layered over French horns—­was one of Bern’s absolute favorites. Bizet had effectively used an alto sax in his L’Arlésienne Suite, but ­Delaney’s Quicksilver took it to an entirely different level. Every time Bern listened to the allegro moderato movement, it was as if a hole suddenly opened up in his chest and music cascaded in. No matter how many times he heard it, the melody rippled across his spine and he shivered under its impact. “That was double good,” he mumbled to himself.

No wonder Frederic ­Delaney was the hands-­down best composer—­ not just in America, Bern would argue, but in the entire world.

So there he was, seriously considering missing a class in only his second week of teaching just to listen to a symphony he’d heard hundreds of times before—­when his email chimed.

He stared at his phone, hit Pause on the music.

Even without ­Delaney’s music playing, it seemed as if Frederic ­Delaney were, right then, communicating directly with Bern from beyond the grave. The email was from the executive director of the ­Delaney Foundation. What were the odds that he’d get a message right when he was listening to—­

He opened the email.

Dear Bern:

I hope you have been well since we last met.

I’m reaching out with a time-­sensitive matter regarding Frederick ­Delaney.

I know that the school year has just started and you must be quite busy, but would you contact me as soon as you get this? Please call the number below, no matter the hour, from a location where you can speak freely. Someone will always be monitoring this line.

Sincerely,

Mallory ­Delaney Roberts

Executive Director

The ­Delaney Foundation

Right then he was halfway across UVA’s grounds, minutes from class. In the shadow of the ancient oak trees, the lushness of the early autumn grass glowed around him. He took a breath, and then another. Students played Frisbee on the terraces.

He wasn’t aware of any of them, even when a Frisbee sailed past his left cheek, so close that he felt its breeze.

The email was some kind of scam. It had to be. Mallory ­Delaney Roberts wouldn’t be writing to him. He doubted she even remembered who he was. She’d met him only a handful of times. Last month he’d seen an article in Time announcing a partnership between the ­Delaney Foundation and the Vatican for new musical outreach to Eastern Europe. And this woman was calling him Bern? The words glowed on the screen.

I’m reaching out with a time-­sensitive matter regarding Frederick ­Delaney.

He’d paused right before his favorite section in the Quicksilver: the French horns’ epic battle with the trombones, when the horns fought for supremacy but the trombones would, in just a second, kick their asses. “Sorry, horns,” he mumbled as he logged out of his playlist. He googled the Foundation and clicked the link to the website, where Mallory’s thumbnail photo smiled serenely at him. A bouffant helmet of too-­dark dyed hair, pearl earrings, and a pearl choker.

The most memorable and last time they’d met, she had clasped his hands with both of hers and said, “Congratulations” and “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He’d shaken her hands and said, “Thank you,” and when he’d met her eyes, he had seen the gleam of tears to match his own.

By then, a month after their adviser, Jacques Simon, had passed away, there had been just two PhD students left in the program: Julie Ertl, who was already making plans to quit academia and go into advertising, and Bern. The ceremony—­the unveiling, the signing of the books, the presentation of the first printed copy to the ­Delaney Foundation—­had seemed empty and all too silent without Jacques, who’d revered Frederic ­Delaney almost as much as Bern did. Almost.

He was about to be fifteen minutes late—­the cutoff for how long students had to wait for a professor. They’d probably already be packing up. They might as well get a head start on the weekend, he decided. And this matter was time sensitive.

He’d explain and apologize to the kids next time.

Instead of heading up to the lecture hall, he dashed down to his office in the bowels of Old Cabell Hall. It had been built at the turn of the century, with typical Greek Revival architecture of red brick behind white columns—­nothing like Columbia’s chaos of golden stone and modern glass. Here the hallways and classrooms smelled musty and of distant mice.

Bern locked the door to his tiny broom closet of an office, sat down, and dialed Mallory’s number.

The phone rang only once before a brisk woman’s voice answered. “­Delaney Foundation. Hello, Professor Hendricks. Hold, please, and let me put you through.”

The phone clicked, and then another woman’s voice, smoother, slipped through the phone line. “Bern. I’m so glad you reached out as quickly as you did.”

He recognized her voice: old money, the most expensive prep schools in Connecticut or Rhode Island. “Of course,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to speak with you, Ms. ­Delaney.”

“Bern, please. We’ve been through this before. It’s Mallory, remember?”

“I know,” he said, “it’s just—­” He didn’t know how to complete the sentence. He was speaking to royalty. This was a woman who probably had the president of the United States in her “favorite contacts” list. And she knew who he was: Bern Hendricks, a poor kid from Milwaukee who used to eat bologna three times a week because his family couldn’t afford anything else. Again—­involuntarily—­a wave of gratitude for Frederic ­Delaney, for all that ­Delaney had given him, washed over Bern.

“Are you someplace you can talk?” she was saying.

“I’m in my office.”

“Are you alone?”

“Yes,” he said, sitting up straighter. Had he done something wrong? Had the Foundation discovered some error or discrepancy with his work on the Quintet? He’d gone over those footnotes dozens of times. He, Jacques, and Julie had all triple-­checked one another’s work. What was the problem? “Is there something I can help you with?”

“As a matter of fact, there is. Something urgent has come up.” She paused. “We found some original documentation from my uncle, and we wondered if you’d be interested in an opportunity to assess it.”

“Documentation? What kind of documentation? Music? Letters?” Adrenaline and relief shot through him, a cold rush of blood from the top of his head to his feet and back. She probably wanted him for something small and meaningless, he told himself. Frederic ­Delaney had been one of the twentieth century’s most prolific composers; he’d known everyone, so new letters often surfaced at auction houses or estate sales. Some letters—­the ones with great signatures and substantive text—­sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

“We found something that requires someone with a specific skill set. And of course I thought immediately of you.”

“Okay,” he said, thrilled to help. “Can you email it over? I can look right now. What is it?”

“I’d rather discuss this in person, if you have the inclination. There’s also a nondisclosure agreement that we’d need you to sign.”

“A nondisclosure agreement?” Bern repeated. His brain was churn­ing. “What did you find?”

“Again, I’d—­”

“Are you here?” he asked. “In Charlottesville?”

“No,” she said, “I was rather hoping I could lure you up to our offices.” He could hear her smile. “We’re on the top floor of the Foundation, as you may remember. Quite near Juilliard.”

She wasn’t going to tell him what they’d found, that much was clear. But he wanted more information. He tried a different tactic. “What kind of skill set are you looking for?”

“Partially it’s your work on the Rings Quintet,” she said slowly. “And you probably know more about Frederic ­Delaney than almost everyone. Including me, and I’m related to him.” Again, he could hear that smile through the telephone.

“Let me look at my schedule.” He checked his calendar. “I could possibly fly up Friday afternoon, if I can get a flight out. I’m teaching all this week. But this feels like quite a haul for some documentation. Are you sure you can’t just scan it and send it to me via email? I’m happy to sign your nondisclosure electronically.”

“We’d rather show you. We haven’t allowed scans yet of the—­of the—­documents.”

Something about the way she hesitated over that last word sent Bern’s head spinning. What kind of document would she be reluctant to scan? Was it so fragile?

“You must have found something really special,” he said. A diary? ­Delaney had kept no journals, although he did use an office calendar that he never fully updated. Could it be a letter discussing the genesis of the Quintet? That would be life changing—­­Delaney had rarely mentioned his inspirations for the opera cycle, which was why Jacques Simon had created the annotated Quintet in the first place: all those painstaking scholarly attributions for all of ­Delaney’s musical influences had taken them eight years to compile.

Another pause. “It is. It’s—­” She didn’t finish the sentence.

“Did you find an undiscovered piece of music?”

One of ­Delaney’s compositions turned up now and then. The most recent time one was found and played—­the Domino Winds overture—­the New York Philharmonic had premiered to a packed auditorium and received a seven-­minute standing ovation, and the audience had shouted, “Again! Again! Again!” until the Philharmonic encored the overture, in true ­Delaney fashion.

“I really can’t discuss it over the phone,” she said.

So it was an undiscovered piece of music. It had to be.

Of course.

He said slowly: “You found it, didn’t you?”

“I beg your pardon? We—­”

“You found it. You found a piece of RED. You found the original. How much? The overture? An aria?”

A very long pause, during which Bern tried to assess what it would mean, finding even a page of the original RED. His head swam.

“Bern, please. I—­I think this would be better discussed in person, in the proper setting,” she said, stumbling over her words, sounding on edge. “Can you be here once you’re done teaching for the week?”

“Just tell me this. How much did you find? Is it more than a page? Do you have a whole act?”

“Bern, I—­”

Her hesitation was enough. “I’ll be there tonight,” he said. Before Mallory could respond, he was already on his laptop, emailing the head of the Music Department to say that due to an emergency he would need to cancel all his classes for the rest of the week—­could a graduate student take over?

“That’s wonderful news,” Mallory said. “We’ll send our plane to pick you up. When can you be ready?”

It was actually happening. A piece of RED—­the elusive, mysterious, impossible RED—­had been found.

And out of everyone on the planet, Bern himself—­a poor bologna-­sandwich-­eating kid with a beat-­up French horn—­was going to actually see it. Be one of the very first people to touch it, to decipher Frederic ­Delaney’s distinctive handwriting.

“Give me an hour,” he said.

Praise

One of the Washington Post's Best Mysteries of the Year • An NPR Best Book of the Year

“Brendan Slocumb’s first novel, The Violin Conspiracy, displayed his deftness at crafting character-driven stories featuring amateur sleuths with a deep reverence for music history — and everything to lose. With his pitch-perfect follow-up, Symphony of Secrets, he firmly establishes himself as a maestro of musical mystery. . . . What makes the book sing is how it makes audible the chords that echo between present and past, coming together to create a consonant harmony. Slocumb dexterously interlaces the two plotlines, using them to echo and refract issues that haven’t disappeared over the years, only changed resonance. . . . Slocumb’s writing is invigorating, and the detail in his character work makes the main characters in both time periods easy to root for. The arc of the story mirrors the sensation of listening to an unfamiliar piece of classical music and thinking ‘This is nice’ as it starts, then suddenly finding yourself rapt, then thrilled, then, by the end of the journey, entirely astonished. Slocumb is a composer and conductor, and those skills translate well to his mystery writing — his mastery of pacing and tempo and his natural sense of when to soothe the audience and when to jolt them out of their seats are on full display. The novel’s examination of white supremacy as an extractive force is clear and present without tripping up the fast-paced and thrilling plotline.” The New York Times

“As rich and suspenseful as The Violin Conspiracy. . . . Absorbing. . . . A fast-paced detective adventure. . . . As [Slocumb] alternates artfully between the 1920s historical narrative and the present-day quest to unravel its mystery, he also parallels the two, which symbolically serves to repair the past. . . . Amid the heart-racing plot, Symphony of Secrets is ultimately an affirmation. Music has historically been the country’s ethnically richest art form, particularly embodied in the multicultural story of jazz and in today’s cross-fertilization between popular genres. That process has been marred when the powerful extract from the powerless. Josephine Reed’s restoration speaks back to such exploitation. Shaping her vast array of colors, ciphers and traditions, she’s a seamstress of the torn national fabric.” The Washington Post

“Stirring. . . . A provocative follow to his much-lauded 2022 novel, The Violin Conspiracy, praised for its pitch-perfect dive into the world of classical music and the struggles faced by Black musicians who want to be included and respected for their talents. . . . Compelling. . . . Slocumb writes an intriguing and vivid story about social injustice, cultural appropriation and ‘whitewashing.’ . . . [The] thoughtful pacing carries an important message about race and privilege and the lengths to which people in power will go to manipulate history.” The Star Tribune

"Music lovers will revel in Symphony of Secrets, a novel that is at once a celebration of music and also a cautionary tale about legacy, privilege, and creative genius." —Nita Prose, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Maid

"Absolutely brilliant! Once again, Slocumb’s consummate skills are on vivid display as he gives us a fascinating page-turner that slips back and forth in time and seamlessly blends a heart-pounding thriller, a heartfelt look at family and quiet heroism, and a searing exposé of issues stretching from deep in our country’s past to the very present. The 'secret' of his title is apt indeed. And as for the cast: nobody creates rich, fully formed characters like Brendan Slocumb. Some books we finish and move on. This one will stay with you long after you turn the final page.” —Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author of The Bone Collector and Hunting Time

"A twisty, mesmerizing mystery—Brendan Slocumb's writing is like music itself, dancing elegantly from the page." —Danya Kukafka, bestselling author of Notes On An Execution

"With Symphony of Secrets, Slocumb has woven an incredible thriller about music, genius, history, and greed—and how easily innocent passion can turn to dangerous, deadly obsession. You won’t be able to put it down until the last note!" —Peng Shepherd, author of The Cartographers

"Both a beautiful, joyful, celebration of music and the people who love it, and a chilling portrait of how easily good slides into eviland echoes through the years. I loved this book." —Sara Gran, author of The Book of the Most Precious Substance

“Brendan Slocumb’s Symphony of Secrets is a wonderfully compelling page-turner that’s so authentic you’ll swear that Slocumb himself was part of the 1920s Manhattan music scene. Slocumb's musical background along with his unique characters and gorgeous prose create a fascinating story of astonishing talent and extraordinary deceit. I loved this book!” —Karen Dionne, #1 internationally bestselling author of The Marsh King’s Daughter and The Wicked Sister

"Symphony of Secrets is more than just a mystery—it's an overture, a mingling of the past and the present and the problems that still plague America today. Brendan Slocumb is a master storyteller, a conductor of the written word, and in his talented hands, this symphony sings." —Eli Cranor, author of Don't Know Tough and Ozark Dogs

“Music and history are strung together in a delicate harmony that further solidifies Slocumb’s place as a must-read author.” BuzzFeed
 
“Slocumb’s popular debut, The Violin Conspiracy, turns out to be his tuning up for Symphony of Secrets, which is even better.” Air Mail

“This is a superb novel that will appeal to any thriller fan, not just readers with an ear for classical music. Sophomore novels don’t get much better than this.” Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

"Thought-provoking. . . . Gripping chapters set in the 1920s and 1930s vividly evoke Reed, Delaney, and the racial inequities that fueled their relationship. . . . This exploration of the ways race, power, and modern music intersect lands as a timely page-turner." Publishers Weekly

"Slocumb’s second novel (following The Violin Conspiracy) is an improbable but fun mystery that will attract fans of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (a lot of readers, in other words).” Library Journal

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