Review: The Chopin Manuscript by various authors

Title: The Chopin Manuscriptchopin manuscript

Author: Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline,Joseph Finder, David Hewson, James Grady, S. J. Rozan, Erica Spindler, John Ramsey Miller, David Corbett, John Gilstrap, Jim Fusilli, Peter Spiegelman, Ralph Pezzullo and P. J. Parrish

Publisher: Audible Inc and the International Thriller Writers Association [2007]

ISBN: N/A (Digital Download via

Length: 6hours 30minutes (plus an hour of ‘extras’)

Narrator: Alfred Molina

American Harold Middleton is a music professor and former war crimes investigator who is called to Poland to assess whether or not a manuscript purported to be an original, previously undiscovered, Chopin is genuine or a fake. However, the man that Harold meets with is murdered soon after their meeting and it soon becomes clear that there is more to the manuscript than mere rarity.

For what is essentially a publishing gimmick the book is delightfully entertaining. The plot rollicks along with red herrings and shocking twists aplenty, just as a good thriller should. The only evidence that the story is written by 15 different people is that there are perhaps a few more characters than normal, but the upside to that is that there are more genuine surprises than you might expect with a book authored by a sole writer who has pet characters and plot threads. There are several themes which are carried throughout the book, such as the role of music, and these help to produce a surprisingly cohesive story.

None of the characters are particularly well developed, there are too many and the book too short for that, but as this is a book all about a fast paced plot that’s not a huge turnoff on this occasion. There was enough information to glean about Harold, his daughter Charlie, the evil Faust and a few of the other characters to engage my interest and keep me listening.

The book is narrated by actor Alfred Molina who does a superb job of handling the dialogue-rich story which features a couple of dozen characters.

My rating 3.5/5

Other stuff

The download version of the book that I listened to contained a half-hour interview with Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Child and David Hewson discussing the writing of the book. I found this quite enlightening. Following that are the winning entries in an International Thriller Writers competition which required people to take the first paragraph of The Chopin Manuscript and write a short story. The story by Colin Cotteril was particularly enjoyable and quite a treat to find tucked at the end of the audio file.

I couldn’t find any evidence that the book is available in print format although there is a version available for the kindle.

This entry was posted in book review, David Corbett, David Hewson, Erica Spindler, International, James Grady, Jeffrey Deaver, Jim Fusilli, John Gilstrap, John Ramsay Miller, Joseph Finder, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, P J Parrish, Peter Spiegelman, Ralph Pezzullo, S J Rozan. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Review: The Chopin Manuscript by various authors

  1. Beth F says:

    You know, when Audible first announced this idea, I signed up for the early-bird discount. And guess what? I haven’t listened to even the first episode! I don’t know why I haven’t been motivated. I’ll get around to it eventually, but I’m not in any hurry.

    Thanks for the review. I think this is the first review I’ve seen for it.


  2. I couldn’t find any reviews either Beth, apart from a couple on the audible site itself. Funnily enough I had the book for ages too without listening to it and I only listened now because it was mercifully short after wading through a day’s worth of Elizabeth George 🙂


  3. Philip says:

    I don’t listen to books, this one isn’t available in print, and all this may be just as well. I have had reason to think, and have a few times commented, that there is nothing that so invites disaster as a crime fiction writer dipping so much as one toe in the waters of classical music, and here we have fourteen of them diving in. It forebodes ill. Cyril Hare’s When the Wind Blows made superb use of a Mozart symphony, Robert Barnard’s Death on the High C’s was informed by his considerable knowledge of opera, but Ruth Rendell’s Put on by Cunning, the passing comments in the books of John Harvey, Dick Francis and too many others…oh, no. I don’t know why they do it — bit like me blithely wading in on Quantum Mechanics.


  4. Zoe says:

    My dear Philip,
    For one who has “not dipped a toe” into this project, I’d have to say your snobbism is a bit misplaced. But then again, that’s a common reaction among readers who tend to be dismissive of genre writers. I’ve heard The Chopin Manuscript and, as the reviewer notes, the teeming cast is a bit much, and some of the seams show, this being a joint effort. But it is otherwise a solid entertainment. Which is all it claims to be. The musical references are cleverly woven in and Molina’s reading is delicious. Loosen your bun, Wilma.


  5. Philip says:

    My Dear Zoe, As I am the very same Philip who has made not a few contributions to Detectives Beyond Borders, Petrona, It’s a Crime, Crime Always Pays, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, et al, practically made a habit of winning Crime Scraps’ Quirky Quiz, and was once described by Karen of Euro Crime as “the lovely and knowledgeable Philip” (blush), I think that a) I can hardly be described as dismissive of genre writers, certainly not crime novelists, and b) you haven’t been paying attention to some very fine crime fiction blogs. On Peter Rozovsky’s DBB in particular, and occasionally elsewhere, the question of the function of musical references in crime fiction — an epidemic of which was sparked chiefly by Ian Rankin and John Harvey — has been much discussed, and I have said, among other things, in those debates, that when classical music comes into it, things tend to go wonky. I’ve cited examples of that aplenty on those blogs. Sound knowledge of classical music is not exactly rife in the general population these days, so it is not surprising that it is not among crime writers, and all in all it just reminds one of the that excellent piece of advice to all writers: Write about what you know. This is not a matter of “snobbism” (I had no idea this could be an ideology, by the way), but of the jar to the reader when a writer gets it wrong, be it a matter musical or otherwise, and this too was discussed on DBB not long ago. Now tighten up the old critical faculties, Fred, and go catch up on those blogs.


  6. bernadetteinoz says:

    Eeeek I didn’t mean to incite a war between crime fiction lovers. I haven’t come across quite so many classical music references in my reading as you Phillip (heretic that I am I’m not a fan of Ian Rankin) and I also don’t know a heck of a lot about the subject so wasn’t as wary but that plot element did have the least ‘holdupiveness’ of all of it however I found enough else of enjoyment to forgive that. I do find that reading a book which uses a subject I know a lot about as a plot element can be be very off putting as I tend to read with a critical eye on individual facts rather than the more holistic view I take of other books (like this one – seriously what I know about Chopin could be accommodated on the back of a postage stamp).


  7. Philip says:

    Oh, not war, Bernadette, surely. Just a little wild gunfire, some deadly sniping, no one in the crossfire, no collateral damage, and that stomach-lurching ‘click’ in the dark night of the soul was just my capturing your blog with a bookmark. As you can see from my first comment above, your fellow captives are of the finest. Just to clarify on one point — there are no references to classical music in Rankin. His are all rock, just as Harvey’s are all jazz, except that Harvey has lately felt the need to bung in a few gratuitous jabs at classical, which he does not like, hence one of his tecs observing that all classical composers sound like Haydn, a strange observation indeed. The significance of Rankin and Harvey, and perhaps also Peter Robinson, is that they were the first authors to have their detectives periodically listen to their preferred musical mode and muse upon it, or offer their thoughts upon cd collections come upon during searches, something that spread like wildfire through the crime writing community, so that it is now dangerously close to being a convention. Not long ago I read a novel by a writer well-known but previously unsampled by me. On page one we plunged straight in with his anguishing about his difficult romantic relationship with another detective — another convention — and on page three, there he was putting his cd collection in order and mulling the virtues of the artists therein as he went. I was hoping this might get it out of the way at the beginning, but there was, of course, more to come.


  8. Norm/Uriah says:

    Philip did Colin Dexter have Morse muse on his Wagner or was this a later development on the TV. I can’t remember as I read the books so long ago. I always find it rather sad when Banks goes on about 1960s or 1970s rock a reminiscence for a lost youth.


  9. Philip says:

    Morse’s love of Wagner, particularly the operas that comprise The Ring cycle, figures prominently in the books, Norman. It is to Wagner that Morse is most likely to be found listening during his solitary evenings, with Mozart some little way behind. There are here and there asides on such matters as the best recordings, and he even manages to make Lewis something of a convert. It is very much a part of Morse’s character — not just that he loves music, but what he prefers to listen to, along with the crosswords, love of good beer, bits of Latin, and pedantic corrections of poor Lewis’ grammar. Colin Dexter is a considerably more agreeable man, but he is himself a champion solver and setter of crosswords; as Morse studied classics at Oxford, so did Dexter at Cambridge, though he actually graduated and taught Latin until too hampered by deafness; he loves his beer; and he loves music, particularly Wagner and Mozart.


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  11. Jacques says:

    “None of the characters is [not ‘are’] particularly well developed.”


  12. Anonymous says:

    I found this quite disappointing. Alfred Molina is not bad with the accents, but sometimes it was hard to tell that a female character was speaking. As for the plot, the “secret” was ridiculously implausible; it seemed more like a secondary consideration to the main objective of showing off how much the author(s) knew about a particular subject.

    The writing was also quite poor. In one instance, someone was disarmed in a few words: like saying “Holmes then took the gun from Moriarty”. One significant character is killed off and then no one mentions this until the end, as if they forgot the person had been killed. Also – if I’m not giving too much away – I don’t think you can just walk out of an airport after you’ve checked in.


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