Peter Lovesey’s mystery novel The Tooth Tattoo opens in London, 2005. Violist Mel Farran, “sweaty in his suit” and tired after “a heavy night playing Rachmaninov” heads towards the London Underground station, ready for bed. He looks up, startled, to find a young woman blocking his way. She asks for his autograph, and Mel feels flattered, a bit bashful even, as violists don’t tend to be recognized as stars of the show.
All those positive feelings fade as a cyclist whooshes past Mel and whisks his most prized possession, his viola, off his shoulder; the woman sprints off, laughing, into the dark. Mel immediately panics at the loss of his instrument, as it is so crucial to his work.
The caper which opens The Tooth Tattoo, a novel published last year, was echoed at the end of January when Frank Almond, the concertmaster (top first violinist, aka seriously good violin player) of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, played a beautiful concert, then left the concert hall with his precious 1715 Stradivarius violin bundled against his chest, protecting it against the brutal Milwaukee cold.
Like something out of a movie (or a book), a nefarious form stepped out of the shadows and tazed Almond, causing him to drop his cherished violin, allowing the tazer-wielding thief to scoop it up and hop into a minivan (really? a minivan?), where an accomplice laid in wait. The two Strad thieves made a quick getaway, speeding out of the parking lot and into the night.
The theft of priceless antique instruments, Stadivarius considered the best among them, raises interesting questions about the thieves and their intentions. The Tooth Tattoo, unfortunately, doesn’t delve into the theft of instruments much further, but rather the suspicious behaviors of an eccentric string quartet. The intentions of the Milwaukee thieves aren’t known, although the police caught those involved and discovered the violin in an attic.
The symphony, with its classical music and buttoned up style, isn’t the place one would expect to turn for a great mystery (in a book or the real world). Apparently mysteries can be found everywhere, and more things than one would first imagine have a dark underworld to match their bright side.
- Stradivarius Is Recovered Unharmed After Theft (nytimes.com)
- ‘Dream theft’ of 300-year-old Stradivarius pulled off by Milwaukee man, police say (washingtonpost.com)
- Violinist speaks about Stradivarius theft: ‘I was screaming’ (chicagotribune.com)