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Publisher's Summary

GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK! • Ray McMillian is a Black classical musician on the rise—undeterred by the pressure and prejudice of the classical music world—when a shocking theft sends him on a desperate quest to recover his great-great-grandfather’s heirloom violin on the eve of the most prestigious musical competition in the world.

“I loved The Violin Conspiracy for exactly the same reasons I loved The Queen’s Gambit: a surprising, beautifully rendered underdog hero I cared about deeply and a fascinating, cutthroat world I knew nothing about—in this case, classical music.”—Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch

Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music.  

When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Without it, Ray feels like he's lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin, but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him. 

©2022 Brendan Slocumb (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Utterly original and downright gripping, The Violin Conspiracy is more than a mystery - it’s an unflinching peek into the heart and soul of a gifted Black violinist striving to pursue his passion in the face of adversity. Brendan Slocumb’s debut is an essential lesson in artistry, prejudice, and persistence.” (Zakiya Dalila Harris, New York Times best-selling author of The Other Black Girl)

“I loved The Violin Conspiracy for exactly the same reasons I loved The Queen’s Gambit: a surprising, beautifully rendered underdog hero I cared about deeply and a fascinating, cutthroat world I knew nothing about - in this case, classical music. I devoured this fine novel: every page and every word. And that ending? Never saw it coming.” (Chris Bohjalian, number one New York Times best-selling author of The Flight Attendant and Hour of the Witch

“Finally, classical music gets the complex treatment it deserves. A wide-eyed look at the art form and its discontents." (Gary Shteyngart, New York Times best-selling author of Little Failure and Lake Success

Editor's Pick

Music to my ears, literally
If you're an aspiring musician like me, you'll find yourself wanting to pick up your instrument and start practicing while listening to The Violin Conspiracy. Author Brendan Slocumb, a Nobel Educator of Distinction for his more than two decades of work in K-12 music education and himself a performing musician, has a deep understanding of music’s ability to guide us toward the truest version of ourselves. In Slocumb's debut novel, Ray, an up-and-coming Black violinist, discovers what defines prestige in the world of classical music—which has long represented the pinnacle (as well as exclusivity) of Western taste—we learn by his side what’s so personal about performance. Brought to life by JD Jackson's fine-tuned narration and with a special note read by Slocumb himself, this listen is music to my ears. —Haley H., Audible Editor

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Get this audio!!

“The Violin Conspiracy” is a story that has staying power. This is so much more than just a thriller. This is multi-dimensional story that involves the life of a classical violinist, a family drama, an historical fiction nod to the horrors of slavery, a coming-of-age story, and a story of greed. But mostly, it’s a story about sticking with what you love, even if people tell you that what you love is not something you should do because it doesn’t fit with what they expect of you.

Rayquan (Ray) McMillian is a black young adult attempting to make it as a classical violinist. Problem: There are no black classical violinist. Even his own family refers to it as “messing with the fiddle”. His mom tells him to get a REAL job, at Popeyes, and help support the family and stop this silly business with the fiddle. Ray confronts a lot of racism with his violin. Many times I had to stop reading, I was so upset. But what upset me most was the lack of family support. Author Brendan Slocumb channeled some real-life experiences into his novel. I sure hope he had better family support than Rayquan did!

Ray has always loved playing his violin. He rented his violin from his school, always needing to return it at the end of the year. And, as with all school rented musical instruments, it was not a highly functional violin. Although his mother discouraged his playing, his grandmother loved it when he played his fiddle. She happened to save her husband’s violin, Ray’s Grandfather, and gave it to Ray. It was in no condition for play. Yet Ray sees the violins worth in that it was one that was handed down in generations, played by Ray’s ancestors.

Long story short, he gets it cleaned up (and his experience at the violin establishment was enough to make me pause) and lands a full scholarship to college. Shortly after that, he learns that he possesses a rare violin. Suddenly his family wants a piece of the action. It’s akin to a story of a person who wins the lottery and family suddenly comes out of the woodwork.

Oh but there’s more. Once the violin’s worth becomes public knowledge, then the slave owners of his Great-great-great-great grandfather say it’s their violin and they want it back. Ray’s Grandmother always said that the violin was given to the great-great-great-great-grandfather by his slave owner (who was thought to be the paternal father of Ray’s grandfather). Now they want the violin.

As the story opens, the violin is stolen (hence the conspiracy). Who took it? Where is it? The list of suspects is long. Meanwhile Ray is in a highly rated competition in Moscow and he needs his violin back. The person(s) who stole the violin are holding it for a ransom.

This is the bones of the story. The meat is Ray’s life as a violinist. What it takes to be a superior violinist; the money involved in pursuit of being a classical violinist is astounding. What he needs to overcome because he’s not white; no one expects a Black man to be able to play concert violin solos. The racism is difficult to read. Sadly, in the author’s notes, Slocumb said these things have happened to him. There are details of concert life that are very interesting.

I chose to listen to the audio production of this story. The narrator, JD Jackson did not grab me right away. However, at the end, I feel he was the correct voice choice. Violin music plays between major chapters. I enjoyed the music, as it put me in the “feel” of the story. At the end, Mr. Slocumb narrates his author notes which are insightful. I highly recommend the audio. This is a story MADE for audio!


10 people found this helpful

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I am so glad I listened to this book

Thank you, Mr. Slocumb for writing this book. It opened my eyes and ears to another form of racism: Blacks pursuing careers in the world of classical music. Mr Slocumb’s personal experiences in the rarefied world of classical music underscored the validity of The Violin Conspiracy, the ugliness of racism in a field that should be welcoming to any musicians who dream of a career performing in classical music and heightened my desire to once again enjoy a classical concert in a packed hall. I also hope to hear Mr Slocumb play one day.

7 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable But Flawed

On the plus side, the characters were well-developed and likable, and the plot was solidly drawn with some interesting twists. I also enjoyed the author's writing style, which gave enough detail to allow the reader to imagine vividly, but not so detailed as to become tedious. In the negative column, some of what occurred in the story was more than a little unrealistic. As a classically-trained pianist, I can say with assurance that no professional musician I have ever met would go for a week during the Tchaikovsky Competition without practicing, much less doing so and then playing any of the pieces Ray did,, much less play them flawlessly, or fly off to another country and return with minutes to spare to rehearse with the Moscow Philharmonic. The most annoying thing, though, was the reader, who mispronounced no less than four composers' names along with two musical terms. If someone were going to read a book about a field in which they are not knowledgeable, you'd think they'd make sure they knew how to pronounce words which which they were unfamiliar as they came up in the story!

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Great book!

I’m so glad that I caught Mr. Slocum’s interview on NPR, leading me to this book. I loved this story and was pleasantly surprised by the storyline (figuring it out isn’t fun for me). I appreciate the honesty with which the racism is presented, both past and present. It made for hard listening but we need to be reminded of the truth about the past and that it continues today. The music between some of the chapters intrigued me as did the references. I appreciate classical music but don’t know much about it. This book has me inspired to look into various composers and to learn a bit more about it, starting with the pieces referenced. Lastly, I really enjoyed JD Jackson’s reading. I’ll be looking for books by Mr. Slocum in the future and will also keep an eye out for books narrated by Mr. Jackson. I highly recommend this book!

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Predictable

I saw this author on tv talking about this book and was anxious to read it. Very disappointed in it however. While the premise of the story was interesting the characters were shallow and very predictable. While trying to tell the moral of “don’t stereotype people” the characters were stereotypes in the extreme.

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A Literary Gift

For this listener The Violin Conspiracy evokes a lot of emotion.

The first is anger, for the awful prejudice the main character has to persevere through. The most frustrating form of discrimination, because no matter how hard a person works one cannot change his or her skin color, and no matter how brilliant they might be is the first thing they are judged upon.

Powerful stories like The Violin Conspiracy not only helps shed light on these all too common injustices of racism but offers a path to better understanding as well, because a great story has the power to place us in another person’s perspective, and with this such things as understanding and empathy can develop as a result.

Greed is another ugly part of the human condition which is explored in this novel, and quite upsetting to take in as a reader/listener. But like real life it is something we should not avoid, realizing that although it is wonderful to be kind one should not allow themselves to be taken advantage of.

And then there’s the relatable aspect of striving with limitations. Anyone not born into privilege, anyone who has had to work hard to achieve will be moved by the main character’s circumstance of turning a disadvantage of starting out with nothing into something special.

The next emotion, excitement, is generated when we go along on Ray’s journey of both finding out exactly what he has in his possession of and what he’s able to achieve with it. In a sense a rags to riches story, in turn being an inspirational story.

And then there’s appreciation. Appreciation for Ray’s talent, his determination, and eventually the levels of opportunity he is able to reach.

This moving novel also includes a wonderful note from the author himself, at the end of the book, which is a nice touch, like a beautiful bow placed atop the literary gift that is The Violin Conspiracy.

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You can't judge by skin color.

From start to finish, I loved this book! Make it simple, just prove them wrong.

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The window to your soul

I was engaged from the beginning to the end. Even though the big reveal may have been a bit contrived, the ending does not overshadow the 99% of great story telling proceeding it. Authors note at the end of the novel makes the story relevant.

I'm and older white guy living in SoCal. Life, for the most part, is progressive and inclusive. However, I will never be able to walk in the shoes of those whom host experiences I will never know. My way to achieve a greater awareness of the struggles of others is through the interpretation of their written word. If I do not understand, I want to. Thanks.

2 people found this helpful

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Good Read!

Loved the story and delivery especially with the added music added between chapters. Also enjoy author’s commentary at the end.

2 people found this helpful

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great insight into the world of professional music

A really wonderful story that highlights the issues of a young black musician but also shows a lot of "behind the scenes" info on music performances and competition.

2 people found this helpful

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