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Charles Jessold, Considered As A Murderer

3.38  ·  Rating Details  ·  403 Ratings  ·  100 Reviews
Leslie Shepherd, a music critic nearing the end of his life, reflects on the shocking murder-suicide that rocked London society years before. The unlikely killer - Charles Jessold, composer, prodigy, and Shepherd's collaborator on the opera that was set to open the following night; the victims - Jessold's wife and her vocal coach, found poisoned in her marriage-bed.Wesley ...more
Hardcover, 344 pages
Published 2010 by Jonathan Cape
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Community Reviews

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Kurt Keefner
Apr 06, 2011 Kurt Keefner rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
I am surprised that there are so few 5-star reviews for Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, because this novel is an instant classic. The background alone is fascinating. Britain in the early twentieth century is just getting over a 300-year dry spell in music. This recovery is controversial since it came about by grafting German music (Brahms, Wagner) onto the English stalk, resulting in hybrids like Elgar (who wrote the music usually used at graduations).

Truly English music is sought ou
Feb 27, 2011 Mandolin rated it really liked it
Surprising and gripping, this book is intellectual suspense at its best. Initially worried that its basis in the world of opera would be a negative aspect, my reluctance to read the book was quickly replaced by captivation and a hunger to read more. Thrace sets his stage as well as any good operatic composer and I found myself immersed in a world that, despite its unfamiliarity, became vibrantly alive with his musical descriptions and his twisted plot. Although portions of the novels are less th ...more
May 04, 2011 Aguess rated it it was ok
I have enjoyed Wesley Stace's earlier work. Particularly By George. But I really didn't like Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer. The narrator "biographer" is not likable or interesting, and his subject isn't either. The first half of the book - essentially the "false" biography of the main subject is rather boring. The only thing that kept me reading was my interest in figuring out what "the point" was. The second half - really a bit less than half was much more enjoyable as the narrator ...more
Oct 31, 2012 Katy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nobody
Recommended to Katy by: vine program
Shelves: vine-book, unfinished
Please note: This book was received from the Amazon Vine program and as such, I cannot post the same review here as I did on Amazon, so I am making some changes to accede to the ToS there.

Synopsis from Goodreads: A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold. On the eve of his revolutionary new opera’s premiere, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera-
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of British author Wesley Stace -- who when he's not writing has a second career as indie musician John Wesley Harding -- mostly because of the way that he can declare a theme and then weave in all kinds of complicated and subtle references to it throughout his dense manus
Kris Fernandez-everett
i'll give this an extra star for originality and research -- the idea was interesting, and there's no doubting the erudition and preparation in the writing. however, the prose is entirely and needlessly overwrought, and the structure of the book is nothing short of annoying... the telling and retelling with some epilogue bits thrown into the main prose 2/3 of the way through made this a tedious read... a potboiler at best -- not sure how i could have enjoyed this book at all...
This is a peculiar and compelling book, literate and sly, peopled with characters at once unlikeable and empathetic. It is erudite about music and British society in the first half of the 20th century, and contains a wonderful exemplar of the untrustworthy narrator. I can't say I couldn't put it down, but I was ever eager to return to it. To say more would be to give away its secrets, which are worth discovering on one's own.
Bruce Macbain
Jul 15, 2011 Bruce Macbain rated it really liked it
This is a psychological murder mystery whose central character is a music critic (there aren't many of those!). Anyone who likes classical music, especially the British composers of the early 20th century, will enjoy this book.
Oct 22, 2012 Catherine rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up, in large part because of Sarah Waters endorsement on the front. In lieu of spoiling this truly well written book, I will say that the comparison between Waters and Stace is apt. There is a lot of research that obviously went into the book - composers and music from the first world war to the time right before the second; richly detailed, and not so dense that the uninitiated cannot access the story. I am not up on my composers, or orchestral music history, but I did know w ...more
May 30, 2011 Marcy rated it liked it
As this historical, literary mystery opens, we read the 1923 British newspaper clipping of the double-murder and suicide involving a promising composer, Charles Jessold. The story, as it unfolds, tells about the lead up to this event and about the years subsequent from the perspective of the narrator who is a music critic, friend and co-composer. Unfortunately, I have little knowledge nor interest in British music of the early 20th century and so I was often bored by the musical minutiae discuss ...more
Roger Brunyate
May 11, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it really liked it
Murder Mystery or Music Criticism?

Wesley Stace's ample new novel—half murder mystery, half music criticism—opens with a press report on the death of the talented (but fictional) young English composer Charles Jessold in 1923. He appears to have shot himself in his apartment after poisoning his wife and his wife's lover and watching them die. The murder-suicide has not one but two ironic precedents. It reproduces the story of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, who similarly killed his wife
Siobhan Carroll
Nov 26, 2014 Siobhan Carroll rated it really liked it
A very clever novel, but it takes a while to get into. It's hard for me to explain why you should read this story without spoiling some of the plot twists, but I'll have a go.

Charles Jessold was a brilliant young composer who murdered two people before killing himself. A music critic narrates the story of his own rather peripheral relationship with this doomed genius. First he gives the version he told police -- a rather dull story that gives little insight into Jessold but reveals the critic as
Jim Leckband
May 13, 2014 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was a potter's apprentice, when listening to classical radio in the studio I would "amaze" the potter by correctly (well, mostly) naming the composer. If not the composer, then the period and country. Listen to enough music and you can tell Austrian from Italian, Classical from Baroque, etc. And knowing that radio only plays certain composers, it was a piece of cake of a parlor trick. And to fine-tune it even further, once you know what Mozart does and what Haydn doesn't, and what Vivaldi ...more
Aug 23, 2015 Leila rated it really liked it
This book started out with, what felt to me, all the right ingredients. An intriguing triple murder, a story within this one that mirrored these events, an Edwardian setting. I found strong writing within, and some beautiful sentences as well as insightful commentary. But by 100 pages in, I was having trouble mustering enthusiasm to continue reading. There was more than enough right to make the novel, but for some reason, it wasn't coming together. The book is narrated by a music critic, Leslie ...more
May 22, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some things I like about this book that I want to tell you about:
1) It has old-timey language.
B) It's got a lot of music history stuff woven into the plot.
iii) It has some pretty cool devices by which the author tells some parts of the story again with new information
Four) It has some pretty mongo plot twists and revelations.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit!
Kemi looves 2 read
I could not make it through the 1st 100 pages of the book. I was bored stiff. If you enjoy operas, the world of historical Brit composers etc, this might be your thing. The narration was a bit over the top - too many useless details. A couple of words I picked up: tarmacadam, damascene.
Sarah Lawrence
It's rare that a book surprises me these days, but this one did. It's not just the story of a musician--it's told through the eyes of a critic who champions him, who sees his flaws as much as his potential and is not afraid to gloss over the sordid details.

The first delightful surprise was the inclusion of the folk music revival, an anthropological movement when people went out to record old, dying folk songs for posterity. Leslie Shepherd, the critic, first meets Jessold on a trip dedicated to
Jul 12, 2013 Carol rated it it was amazing
This novel is amazing, achieving a great balance between being entertaining and profound. Narrated by upper crust music critic Leslie Shepherd and set in the early part of the 20th century, it tells the story of Charles Jessold, an up and coming young British composer whose life and career end in a tragedy that eerily mirrors that of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and that of the old English ballad upon which Jessold's opera Little Musgrave is based. I really liked the way Stace linked ...more
Elsie Klumpner
Dec 02, 2013 Elsie Klumpner rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was one of the more bizzare books I have read in a while. On the surface it is the story of a brilliant young composer who lived in the early 20th century. His discoverer and friend narrates the story of his life which ends before the book begins. The first half of the book is the narrator presenting an accounting of the composer's life from beginning to end. The second half of the book is kind of an untelling or retelling of the same story with many surprises for the reader.

I thought the
Steve Mayer
May 17, 2011 Steve Mayer rated it liked it
Several books in one. It's "Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" in the middle of a history of early twentieth century English classical music. It is also a hymn to English folk song.

There's a story here that's worth telling. About ten years ago the author, who doubles as a singer named John Wesley Harding, made a record called "Trad. arr Jones." It consisted of folk-songs that had previously been recorded by an English folksinger named Nic Jones. Once one of the most promising and accomplished singers o
Jul 06, 2011 Jules rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 14, 2012 Methanie rated it it was ok
Wesley Stace wrote "Misfortune," one of my all-time favorite books. So I had high-hopes for this novel.

I have no complaints about Stace's descriptive style - he knows how to paint a picture and develop a character. I guess the thing that fell flat for me in this book was the constant analysis and discussion of opera. YES, it's a story about a music critic and his relationship with a composer, so I understand that music will be discussed in detail. But there were times when it felt too pretentiou
Barbara Matros
Mar 19, 2013 Barbara Matros rated it really liked it
Charles Jessold etc. was an interesting well-conceived novel. That is not to say that i enjoyed reading it, particularly at the beginning. The novel starts slowly. The narrator reveals the discovery of three bodies on the night before the opening of Charles Jessold's opera. The rest of the novel, divided into two sections (before and after the murders) tells of the relationship of Charles and the narrator, a music critic and mentor of Charles. Discussion of musical forms, much of it arcane, init ...more
Heather VanWaldick
An entertaining little murder mystery, with some twists and turns, most of which I kinda saw coming. The most interesting thing was the references to musical pieces. Schoenberg's Second String Quartet played a significant role in the story, so I pulled it up on YouTube to see what it was. I made it to the 2 minute mark before I shut it off with an agonized whimper. A horrific cacophony. I like books that let me learn things about myself: this one helped me to discover that I loathe Schoenberg. W ...more
Jun 02, 2011 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, anglophilia, 2011
This title caught my eye at the library weeks ago, and it is quite a title. I'd never heard of the book or the author before, but it sounded intriguing: a composer, Charles Jessold, murders his wife and her lover before killing himself, a grisly scenario that closely mirrors the opera he is about to debut. The scandal causes the show to be pulled, and the piece to be buried in history as the work of a deranged man.

The novel is written from the perspective of Jessold's close friend and music cri
Apr 05, 2013 Rochelle rated it really liked it
Well, I picked this up because of my musical background and my love of literary thrillers. I confess I felt as though I were slogging through a quagmire at times. I kept thinking, "OK, let's get to it and through this." About 2/3 of the way through the first half, I put the book aside and set out to do some research. Despite my university music education, I was somewhat lacking in 20th Century British formal musical knowledge, just as Jessold and Shepard had alluded to. I wanted to find out abou ...more
Nov 14, 2015 Scott rated it liked it
This was an okay mystery set in the world of Opera and "British Folk Music," principally in and around the time of Downton Abbey. The "twist" regarding the murders themselves becomes readily apparent far too early, however.

There are no doubt whole levels of meaning that flew entirely over my non-musician head (it was written by one who has absolutely zero interest in explaining the jargon to those not already familiar).

While I was still able to enjoy its plot-heavy aspects, its ideal audience
Catherine Scott
Aug 15, 2012 Catherine Scott rated it it was amazing
I read Misfortune by Stace a while ago, and I wasn't really sure what to expect when I picked this one up. It was absolutely phenomenal. Whereas Misfortune has the tendency to ramble somewhat, this book was tightly woven and well layered, with plot twists that I wouldn't have ever seen coming. It is also full of rich details about early 20th century England, folk music, and opera, which was very informative and easy to understand. My favorite thing about the book was probably the characters - mo ...more
Ginny Pennekamp
May 12, 2012 Ginny Pennekamp rated it really liked it
This book is so incredibly strange, and so incredibly wonderful. If it was possible for a book to be a piece of music, that's what this is. Wesley Stace is the musician John Wesley Harding and he didn't write this book, he composed it. The same simple story layers on top of itself time after time again, then the book ends abruptly in the middle for an intermission, leaving you shocked and wanting more. Then the second act -- new instruments, a new tone, and as the story repeats and layers over a ...more
May 06, 2014 Angie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, historical
A double perspective mystery. You get the whole story from one perspective and then switch at the midway point to find out what really happened. Not super exciting but some great characters and relationships including a "very English" marriage.
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Wesley Stace also records music under the nom de plume of John Wesley Harding.
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“too much detail can have a distancing effect” 1 likes
“(These younger composers were generally male, but then composers were almost exclusively male. Even the female composers were almost exclusively male.)” 0 likes
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