Paul Adam’s PAGANINI’S GHOST is an excellent follow-up to an excellent book, THE RAINALDI QUARTET. Gianni Castiglione, living in the quiet city of Cremona, is a luthier who is well-known among musicians for his pain-staking work in restoring valuable instruments. He is used to having people appear at his home, carrying their instruments in varied and, sometimes, bizarre ways but he had never seen anything like the line of vehicles approaching his home.
“There were six vehicles in the convoy….At the front was a blue-and-white police patrol car with it’s red light flashing….Behind the police car was a shiny dark blue Alfa Romeo with tinted windows, followed by a black armoured van….Fourth in the line was a red Fiat Bravo, then a silver Mercedes….Bringing up the rear was a second marked police car.
“Two men got out of the Alfa Romeo….they looked like the bodyguards you always see accompanying the U.S. president….And I suppose bodyguards they were, only the body they were guarding was made of maple and pine, rather than flesh and blood.”
And thus begins PAGANINI’S GHOST. Paganini’s violin, “il Cannone”, the cannon, is played only once, every two years, by the winner of an international competition. That evening Yevgeny Ivanov is to play to a sold out concert in the cathedral, but Yevgeny is sure that there is something “off” about the tone and desperately needs Gianni’s help. The problem is easily fixed and the concert is an enormous success. The Guarneri violin is returned to Genoa and all is well…until the next day when the body of a violin dealer is found, murdered, in his hotel room. In his wallet is a small piece of paper with the opening notes of Paganini’s “Moses Fantasy”. In addition to the music, the police discover that the victim has left, in the hotel safe, a gold box engraved on the lid with the figure of Moses on Mt.Sinai. And then Yevgeny disappears.
The action moves from Cremona, to Genoa, to Paris, to England, and back again. And along the way, there is Paganini, Napoleon Bonaparte, his sister, Elise, and the rumors of a very small solid gold violin.
PAGANINI’S GHOST reacquaints us with the people we met in the RAINALDI QUARTET, including police detective Antonio Gustafeste. Like the first book, the second is a crash course in violins, composers, historical figures, and beautiful things that by their beauty, bring out the worst in human nature.