the king of ragtime
It's 1916, and time's running out for Scott Joplin.  Before he dies, he wants to provide for his wife, Lottie, and secure his place in musical history.  He's written a musical drama, If, and his young piano student, Martin Niederhoffer, who works as a bookkeeper at Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder Music Publishers, convinces him to try to get Irving Berlin to publish and produce the work.

The next day, Niederhoffer walks into his office and finds Joplin crouched over the blood-soaked body of a young man.  He  hustles his teacher away, but unfortunately, the two are seen leaving the building.

Nell Stark, daughter of Joplin's first publisher, John Stark, and a longtime champion of Joplin's music, hides Joplin and Niederhoffer from the police, then tries to sort out the mess.  But a woman can make little headway in the pre-War New York business world, so she calls her father in from St. Louis. 

After Berlin flatly denies ever having received Joplin's play, young Niederhoffer breaks cover and engages the services of hit man Footsie Vinny, who gives Berlin a five-day deadline to come up with the manuscript.  And just when things couldn't get worse, Niederhoffer's girlfriend, Birdie, is kidnapped.

To locate Joplin's work, find Birdie, and exonerate the ailing composer, Nell and John Stark need to get around Joplin's fragile mental and emotional state, Berlin's dogged resistance, Niederhoffer's impulsiveness, the police, and their own loving but edgy relationship.
Read A Review:

In the summer of 1916, Martin Niederhoffer worked for Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder, Music Publishers, as a bookkeeper, with an eye to his future. He also took piano lessons from Scott Joplin. Martin loved Scott's music and convinced Mr. Joplin to take his musical drama "If" to Irving Berlin to be produced. With bad blood over an earlier piece of music between Joplin and Berlin, and Scott already a very sick man, this was a situation ripe for confrontation.

Martin has discovered discrepancies in the company books pointing to someone skimming money from the company. After spending all day working on the missing money, Martin is told to stay late to finish up his regular work. Birdie, his girlfriend and assistant, has already gone home when his friend Sid Altman arrives to wait for Martin to finish so that they can go to the fights. Martin goes to the men's room, and when he returns to his office, he finds a dead body and Scott Joplin standing over it with the weapon in his hand.

From here on it is a race to keep the police from finding Scott Joplin and to find "If." The problem of Scott's missing music is taken up by his former publisher, John Stark, at the request of Stark's daughter Nell, still a close friend of Joplin.

This is a tightly written story with ample twists and turns. The characters spring to life with a flourish that is delightful. Mr. Karp caught New York in the summer, and especially the summer of 1916, in a truly admirable manner. I could almost smell, hear, and taste the city of the story. Each character is almost a story on its own. The blending of the different personalities was a delight, and I found myself humming ragtime in my head.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in music, history, or just a desire for a well written mystery.

Mary Fairchild

Set in Manhattan in 1916, Karp's well-crafted second homage to ragtime (after 2006's The Ragtime Kid) charts Scott Joplin's race against time and the effects of a ravaging illness to secure his musical legacy. Joplin has written a musical play that he wants Irving Berlin to publish and produce. In the past, Joplin has accused Berlin of plagiarizing his music, but Martin Niederhoffer, a piano student of Joplin's and an employee of Berlin's firm, persuades Joplin to try Berlin again. When Niederhoffer and Joplin are seen fleeing the scene of a murder, they're forced into hiding while Scott's friend Nell Stanley, a musician, and her music publisher father try to find the real killer. Going undercover at Berlin's publishing company, Stanley proves to be a formidable detective, though her investigation uncovers some painful truths about both Joplin and her father. Karp's meticulous research helps create a vivid picture of the time and locale. Memorable, authentic characters are another plus.

Publishers Weekly - Fiction Reviews - 6/30/08