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Swing: A Mystery

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  317 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
“Swing just might be the best historical thriller of the year. Certainly it is the most creative.”
–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the swinging big band era, jazz saxophonist and arranger Ray Sherwood is haunted by personal tragedy. But when Gail Prentice, a beautiful and talented Berkeley student, seeks his help in orchestrating an original composition slated to debut at the ne
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 10th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Rupert Holmes is a renaissance man. He has written many a hit pop song (“Escape: The Pina Colada song), had Broadway hits (The Mystery Of Edwin Drood which he a wrote book, lyrics and music – an rather uncommon feat, Curtains) and a much loved TV show on AMC, (Remember WENN). He has written two mystery novels: Where the Truth Lies which was turned into quite a good film starring Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon . His latest, Swing, is a fun romp set during the last days of the Golden Gate Internation ...more
May 30, 2008 rated it liked it
It was okay. Rupert Holmes has such a great feel for the Depression era. I don't know that the mystery was all that great. The characterizations were very strong. You read many books and they could take place in any time. Holmes makes you feel the thin shoe leather, hear the crackling radios and breathe the air of that bygone period. A fun twist with this novel, is that much of the story revolves around music and particular tunes. The book comes with a CD of the music, and if you are reading a c ...more
Suz Davidson
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good "old school" mystery, with enough intrigue and historical reference to make the world seem more real than your average whodunnit.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A great twisting tale of mystery, murder and espionage. I found this in a thrift book store and it looked interesting. I recognized the author's name. Happy find. It is a great story - set in pre-WWII San Francisco, California - describing in great detail the music vibe and mood during this Era. I like Swing music and get most of the references, although I cannot vouch for the composition and score references because I cannot read music and do not play an instrument, but you don't have to - all ...more
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I almost didn't bother to read this, having picked it up at the library, as the trite cover lacked any appeal whatsoever. What possessed the UK publishers to use this rather than the original evocative cover I do not know!
The title change (from Swing: a mystery) also seems superfluous.

Having picked it up a little suspiciously, I found it was a somewhat noir tale of a jazz musician, set in 1940, narrated lightly enough but with some dark bass notes. I am
Joe Logan
Sep 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
A jazz mystery. How bizzare is that? Quite, but it works. This book is like the movie 'Lone Star' in that I can't tell you why it is so good without ruining it for anyone who hasn't read it. Pick it up, check it out. It's worth your time. Besides, it's set in San Francisco during the 1940 World's Fair, and the history woven into it is interesting. Who knew that the Army Corps of Engineers had created an island for the World's Fair? I didn't until I read 'Swing.'
Jan 03, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: marisasbooks
Read because it was one of the San Francisco Public Library's "Book of the Month" selections. It's an easy, digestible vacation read for a San Francisco local who loves history. (Oh wait, that's me!) There's also a jazz CD that goes along with the book for the musically inclined -- supposedly the score contains hints that will help you solve the mystery!
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A really fun mystery set at the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco. A great combination of mystery, music and history.

Dec 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is a great period book with likeable characters and snappy dialogue. This is a mystery novel that takes place in the Bay Area during the 1940's. This is a must read.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5

I was walking through one of my local libraries recently, just looking to see what caught my eye when this book popped out at me. Rupert Holmes...a name with which I am familiar, and 'Swing' ... one of my favorite styles of music. This looked tailor-made for me.

Ray Sherwood is a jazz saxophonist. He also happens to be an accomplished arranger. Currently, Ray is in the San Francisco area with the Jack Donovan Orchestra for
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
As soon as I saw that this book was about the Golden Gate exposition on Treasure Island -- I picked it up. People who grow up in San Francisco have a great tendency towards nostalgia! I was born after this event but one of my memories was of my father with two of my sisters walking through the fair--fedora and double breasted suit and baggy trousers!!! And that's how I pictured this book's main character!
Ray Bradbury, a member of a swing band, is playing at the nearby Claremont Hotel in Oakland.
Niall Mor
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Do you love classic mysteries with a noir feel? Do you love swing and big band music from the 1930s and 40s? If so, you'll love Swing. Rupert Holmes, composer of "Escape: The Pina Colada Song" and creator of the TV series "Remember WENN," turns his talents to mystery writing and delivers a smart, well-crafted, novel that combines music, mystery, and murder in an ingenious and absorbing way.

Like many members of the Jack Donovan Orchestra, a lesser-known big band from America's swing era, Ray Sher
Jun 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Swing is a period mystery, and like many period mysteries it tends to favor period over mystery. In this case, the period is just prior to WWII, the setting is the 1940 Worlds Fair in San Francisco, and the title refers to big-band swing jazz. If any of that sounds appealing, then this book is highly recommended. Even if it sounds only marginally appealing, the writing is clever and fast-paced, literary enough to elevate it above your standard period mystery without ever being intrusive or false ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

Holmes's Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, for which he wrote the book, lyrics, and score, won five Tony Awards. Strangely, no fuss was made that he was also the, um, genius behind the pop hit "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." Since then, he's tried his hand at fiction__and won two Edgars. He dedicates Swing to his young daughter, who died in 1986. Despite its lightweight veneer (supplemented with a CD of Big Band-style music, written and orchestrated by Holmes), the novel touches on t

May 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
mystery / historical fiction (San Francisco/UC Berkeley/Oakland, 1940). The plot turns were just too strange to be believable (even though they make more sense when further details are revealed at the end), and I don't know why the wise-cracking musician wouldn't have said something to his policeman friend as soon as he suspected something about Marie's reappearances after her supposed suicide, because hello?--that means that she has probably murdered Ada. He clearly wasn't stupid, and was linin ...more
Mar 08, 2008 rated it liked it
This was recommended to me by another librarian. The book
takes place at the Claremont Hotel and in and around the
Cal campus, Oakland and San Francisco. It is the story of
a young musician who wins a prize in the 1939 Exhibition
on Treasure Island and who needs some help in the
arrangement of her music. Ray, the arranger, falls for the
young composer, but his life becomes more complicated
when a dead girl lands at his feet in the Court of the Moon
on Treasure Island. Things get complicated from there
Donna Barnes
May 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
I thought this book would never end, so I guess I am making a comment of the length of the story and its high point. Another complaint is the section with all the technical discussion of music and musical compositions. I found that section boring ---- otherwise, the characters were interesting --- I enjoyed the love story ---- i loved the historical aspects of it (took place in the 1940s. I listened to this over about 3 months, so maybe that's why it seemed so long --- I hardly ever take that mu ...more
Laura Cushing
Nov 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the best mysteries I've read, in that it gets you to care deeply for the protagonist and the girl he finds himself involved with. That the author is an acomplished musican himself is clear from how he weaves music into the story, and makes it an intrigal part of the mystery. Set in the big band era, in California during the world exibition they had in San Francisco - the setting is richly described and feels very authentic.

I got this book used at a booksale- I'm going to visit the author'
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A hugely enjoyable historical mystery set in 1940 in and around the San Francisco Golden Gate Exhibition. Swing musician and orchestrator Ray Sherwood gets dragged into a Nazi/Japanese plot when he agrees with beautiful young composer to arrange her prizewinning experimental composition "Swing Around the Sun". For the most part this is gloriously flip, just as you'd expect it to be, but there are some (far) darker motifs lurking in amongst the rest. Much recommended.

My copy came with a short CD
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
When I was visiting UC Berkeley last fall, this book was arranged on a table at the library with books playing out (at least partly) on campus. With a title such as this one, I as a passionate swing dancer couldn't pass it by and got it as soon as I got back. The story is about a traveling Jazz musician being approached by a Cal student for creating the orchestral version of a swing song. Apart from creating a picture of the bay area and especially the Golden Gate International Exposition of 194 ...more
David Higgins
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great period and music-based mystery

Book started out a little slow, but it ended being a page-turner that kept me wanting more. A great 1940's mystery with a good use of music for a WWII thriller/story. Definitely worth reading.
Apr 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: musicians, fans of period mysteries
Let me start by saying that I am a professional musician, and I did really appreciate all the music details included here. I think they might be lost on many readers, but I for one was excited to see a carillon being played. I also enjoyed the great period detail. The mystery, unfortunately, wasn't so great, but I can usually forgive that in a book with so many great details. So why was I left bored by this book? I simply was not touched by the characters, even though they were fairly well drawn ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. I really liked the era and locale of this book (I did go to Berkeley after all), but the undercurrent of the book relates to the death of the main character's young daughter. It was a difficult theme to be reminded of (my daughter is 20 months), but the story was well written and had great twists and turns. It was a fast read and I couldn't put it down. I think I would have loved the book (or liked it more) if I knew more about musical theory (what key different instruments' music is ...more
Janice Russell
Sep 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
A jazz musician, playing a gig in San Francisco, witnesses a woman's death. She falls from a tower in what appears to be a suicide. This is set in 1940, with considerable detail about the World's Fair on the newly constructed Treasure Island. There's murder and espionage here, and I usually avoid spy thrillers. Something about them always confuses me and here (according to my notes) it is the motivations of the participants. Overall, I liked it. Especially impressive that the author composed mus ...more
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
A grave disappointment after Where the Truth Lies.This book is so slow to start and engage that had I not read Holmes' other book, I would have given up by page 100. By the time the author finally revved up the mystery, he then took a protracted journey that is intelligble only to those well-versed in reading/understanding music. In the end, moreover, the author fails to stick to the wise dictate to show the reader, not tell the reader -- much of the resolution of the mystery is told in long exp ...more
Jan 10, 2011 rated it liked it
A fun mystery, which combines two topics I'm very interested in: jazz and local history. Provides a delightful way to learn about the creation of Treasure Island for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. Rupert Holmes obviously did his homework, and has a jaunty turn of phrase fitting the jazz theme and protagonist.

A snippet:
"The same jaded waiter as last time, despairing over the unrelenting consistency of the sun's daily rising and setting, asked if we too, like so many others in the
Pete Smith
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Probably underrated and maybe overlooked by people like me who don't typically browse the mystery aisle. If it weren't for a recent introduction to the author, I might have continued to take a pass. I'm glad I took a chance here. Holmes' ingenious story line and insider's rare take on the hidden gifts of professional musicians elevate this story into something worthy of attention beyond the mystery genre readership. And for Bay Area aficionados, strap in for a great tour through some beloved lan ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The ambience of Treasure Island and the San Francisco Exposition of 1939/40 is admirably captured in this atmospheric thriller, with as the title suggests, a musical background. Ray Sherwood is a member of a touring swing band and arrives in San Francisco only to find himself embroiled in an intriguing mystery that has twists and turns at every corner, right up to the denouement. Some contemporary illustrations add to the colour of the setting.
Sarah Beldo
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was a clever tale with a strong narrative voice that had me fascinated from the first chapter. In the classic noir tradition, there is a lot of sassy dialogue and some equally sassy women to go along with it - a combination that to me is nearly irresistible.
I see that others were disappointed by the mystery - I can understand why, but felt the overall ride more than made up for the rather unexciting end game.
Jan 27, 2008 rated it really liked it
A delightful romp. Set in Berkeley and Treasure Island at the time of the Treasure Island World's Fair, it reads very much like a Dashiell Hammett mystery. It WOULD make a great movie. It has lots to do with music (Rupert Holmes wrote "Escape" (aka "The Pina Colada Song") and has scored a number of movies--so the music part is very adept and very key to the story.) The hardcover book comes with a CD!
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