After hearing “Maple Leaf Rag” one hot afternoon in Oklahoma City in 1898, Brun Campbell has one thing in mind, to have a piano lesson with the great Mr Scott Joplin. Escaping a drunken father and a broken mother the 15 year old boy sets his hobo way toward Sedalia Missouri to find his mentor.
What he finds is a dead body of a young woman, thoughtlessly picking up items, one identifies the woman the other implicates his idol. Befriended by a stranger who is then arrested for the murder, Brun is caught up in a town full of suspects, dated sedicious ways, racial tensions and lawlessness. Brun sets about trying to find who really did kill the stranger and how he can get his friend out of jail without putting himself or his idol in a noose.
Agenda’s are everywhere, the ruthless cruel wanna bee music publisher, the piano teacher with a tainted past, the drunked tired alcoholic Doctor cum Mayor, the Senator desparate to attract the state fair, the conscientious music shop owner who views all as friends unless they do about things wrong, the town is divided more ways than a pecan pie on Thanksgiving, Brun goes about achieving the right thing but the wrong way, reaching an incredible and dramatic climax. Ambition is rife, some want better and will use, manipulate and lie to get there, wrongfully believing when they achieve it their sins shall be washed as white as their Sunday best.
The writer did exceptionally well weaving in fiction between facts, you tasted the hot dusty streets and could smell the sweated bars and brothels, the niavity of youth alongside those worn and scarred from the Civil War. Fear was around, especially if you were coloured and friends with the white, in a time when such things were not comfortable, barely tolerated by some. During a time when a man was taken by the value of his word, they were hard, dangerous times. When you later discover that only a couple of characters were fictional, that Brun was a real life white student of Mr Joplin, that John Stark little known in the publishing world did give Joplin a royalties contract, you have t marvel at the attention to detail.
I might consider reading the next in the series.