Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: "Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer"

I'll say it flat out: I absolutely loved this book. Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer (Picador, 2010) by Wesley Stace (also known as composer John Wesley Harding) is fascinating from start to finish, and it will amost certainly keep you guessing until the very end.

Charles Jessold, a promising young composer, kills himself, his wife, and his wife's lover on the night before the premiere of his first opera ... the plot of which is practically identical to the scenario just described. Music critic Leslie Shepherd, Jessold's librettist and longtime friend, provides first the next morning's newspaper column about the murders, then his own statement to police about his relationship with Jessold and his thoughts on the crime.

But that's not all, of course. Shepherd has more to share, and in the second half of the book, narrated many years after the fact in the guise of a full-scale biography of Jessold, he shares.

Drawing on the true story of Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, and on the history of English music during the early decades of the 20th century, with the folk-music revival and the rivalry with the German composers of the time, Stace's book makes for a truly musical, and most enjoyable experience.

NB: I first heard of the novel on the great radio show "To the Best of our Knowledge," here. The interview is also well worth a listen, and it includes some music "in the style of Jessold."

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