Music Macabre

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 30 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed this!

If you like murder mystery, Victorian gothic, and classical music, Music Macabre might just be a book that hits the spot for you. This book is actually part of the Phineas Fox series; it's the 4th, and I requested this without knowing that. I haven't read any of the previous books, but I was still able to get the gist of how this series works. I would probably recommend someone new to this series to start from the beginning (as I will definitely do!), because I did feel like I was lacking some contextual details. And the book does jump in with the characters as if the reader already had a prior relationship to them.

With that said, it didn't stop me from enjoying this story. I expected this story about a Victorian-era murder to be dark and gritty, but actually, this was quite a light read. Some parts were surprisingly funny. I would say this is more of a mix between cozy and gothic mystery, which is, fortunately, something I will always enjoy! Sarah Rayne's writing style is smooth and her pacing is tight.

Overall, a fun book to pick up on a quiet night. I'll definitely be re-reading this one after I go back and introduce myself to Phineas Fox the way I should've in the beginning!
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A Phineas Fox mystery set in London in the present time and the 1880’s/1890’s. Phineas Fox is researching background for a music biography on a Franz Listz a music composer.
In an old bookshop near St martin’s Lane Phineas finds some interesting books with references to a music hall performer who had some connections with Listz. In one of the old books there was a mysterious sketch that leads to further research.
Phineas is helped by his friends Toby and Arabella as he sifts through evidence. The documents they find go back to the 1880’s and the time of Jack the Ripper, Music Halls and a performer called Scaramel.
The story is fast paced as it switches between the present time and the 1880’s/1890’s. I loved the way the evil was portrayed in the present time and back in the time of Jack the Ripper. This was a historical murder mystery about composers, music and music hall performers. I have loved reading Sarah Rayne mysteries for many years.
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Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher Severn House for an E -Arc of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. 
I have been reading Sarah Rayne’s thrillers for years and always await her next one with baited breath. This is the fourth one starring music researcher and academic Phineas Fox, his girlfriend Arabella (here in a more peripheral role than previously) and best mate, the hapless Toby.
Rayne utilises mirroring time lines for her novels- present day here and now and 1880’s London when Jack the Ripper prowled. The chapters alternate between the two time periods and music plays a key role as it often does in Rayne thrillers, as well as music hall and theatres. 
A strange eerie piece of music (composed by Lizst?) with accompanying creepy words, leads Fox to a notorious Victorian music hall performer, Scaramel and to the newly renovated LinkLighters restaurant, which is the physical ‘link’ (excuse the pun) for the two stories, historic and present day. There is a horrible underground sluice gate below the restaurant which plays a major role in the action and there are many effective passages set in peasoupers in the 1880’s and in the ‘ghost rivers’ which proliferate beneath London. The story hops over to Paris for a brief digression as well.
Rayne is very adept at drawing you, the reader, into the smells, sights and sounds of Victorian London, then contrasting and overlapping with the modern day locations too. Music, pub songs, playbills, letters, sketches by a young artist, programmes and newspaper reports play their usual part in the narrative,  providing Fox and us with answers. This is a style which any regular reader of Rayne has come to expect and enjoy. History is all around us, along with murder and death.
This is a dark, entertaining, sometimes violent romp (with a version of the Ripper legend thrown in) with characters you can warm to (Scaramel and her maid, Daisy in particular for this reader) across two time periods with a surprising ending.
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Sarah Rayne has deftly turned an academic research project on Franz Liszt in to a  light academic exercise that turns into a dark story surrounding a bawdy Victorian songstress.

The pacing of the novel is brisk, with chapters pivoting from the present time to the Victorian period.  I loved Rayne's characters: they were very alive and the 19th Century chapters were vibrant and eerie.  I enjoyed every aspect of the book, but it was far darker than I anticipated.  I expected an academic investigation with a bit more concentration on music---but Rayne delivered a very dark and violent foray in to the frightening streets Jack the Ripper stalked.

This is a book that may well keep me up at night thinking about the dangerous streets of Victorian England.
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This is the fourth book in the Phineas Fox series of murder mysteries. I have not read any of the others; I received this pre-publication e-book from Severn House via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. (Also posted on Amazon and Goodreads.)

Phineas Fox is a music researcher and historian, who is engaged in a search for background material for a biography of Franz Liszt when he stumbles across sketchy evidence that the great composer had been involved with a notorious music hall performer named Scaramel in 1880s London. More intriguingly, Phin comes to believe that Scaramel was herself enmeshed in a murder case, and sets out to unpick this mystery.
Aided and abetted by his collaborator Toby, Phin traces Scaramel’s old haunts, particularly Linklighters, once a music hall venue and now a trendy restaurant in London’s theatreland. He seeks out faded theatre bills and sketches by the mysterious artist Links, and gradually closes in on the heart of the story.
We also meet Loretta and Roland, proprietors of the modern-day Linklighters – an odd couple indeed, and Loretta’s sinister and manipulative personality contributes to the build-up of tension and unease during the first half of the book.

Meanwhile, a separate but intertwined tale is told from the point of view of Daisy, Scaramel’s maid in the 1880s, who becomes a target for Jack the Ripper after her brother witnesses one of the Ripper’s brutal murders. Scaramel takes the young pair under her wing, and later devises a plan by which women alone in the foggy streets of Whitechapel might be able to warn each other about the Ripper’s presence by singing a few bars of a song – taken from a piece of music by Liszt himself.

The plot develops along both timelines, Victorian and present-day, with Linklighters and its sinister cellar and dark secrets intertwining between the two, and both storylines culminating in murder or the attempt at it.
I found the book a slow build overall, but well written and with some splendidly atmospheric sections describing Victorian London, its notorious fogs (‘London Particulars’), being pursued dark through rainy streets in frantic search of a hansom, the inside of the terrifying Thrawl madhouse and so on. The final chapters detailing the eventual tie-up between the two timelines felt slightly rushed, but there were enough linking points for reader satisfaction (although I also thought there were a couple of coincidences that stretched credulity a little, and a few areas left vague and unresolved - perhaps on purpose).

Overall, this was a good read - without the matter-of-fact gory brutality of some modern noir murder stories, but there are some graphic passages and the narrative rocks along nicely. Recommended for fans of Victorian Gothic with a modern twist.
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This is the latest installment in the Phineas Fox series of musical mysteries. You could read this as a stand alone book but, as always, I do recommend reading the whole series in order.

Phin is researching Franz Liszt for two academics who are writing a book. He gets sidelined into a mystery surround Victorian music hall star, Scaramel, and inevitably things become more complicated.

I very much enjoyed this book – as I have enjoyed all of the Phineas Fox series. Phin’s next door neighbour the boisterous Toby Tallis returns with plans for a new collaboration on a book of ballards. Also back but in a very minor capacity is Arabella, Phin’s girlfriend and Toby’s cousin.

The book runs along in two time periods. We follow Phin’s research as he uncovers the story of Scaramel. Alongside this we follow Scaramel’s story and that of her friends and their life. The two stories match quite closely and, although we are privy to more detail that Phin, we don’t learn the significant parts of the story any faster than he does. This allows plenty of time for the reader to make their own deductions as to what will happen. I like the fact that the book includes emails, old documents and even details of pictures to convey the information as well as basic text.

This isn’t a fast action book although it does have one or two moments. However, I found there was always something to keep me interested and I struggled to put this down. I was slightly surprised when the book ended. I felt that there should have been more. However, looking back at the ending now, a few days later, I do feel that the book was complete and it was more that I didn’t want the book to end than the story was unfinished!

I do highly recommend this series of books. They aren’t excessively gruesome with the emphasis on the mystery and following the clues. These are clever books with well written plots and plenty of information. I shall be keeping my eye out for the next in the series.

I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley.
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Music Macabre is a brilliantly written historical mystery combining fact with fiction. A fantastic addition to the popular Phineas Fox series of books by the equally superb Sarah Rayne who's writing never disappoints. With just the right amount of humour, sauciness, tragedy and terror this book had me gripped. Phin, Toby and Arabella are fast becoming some of my favourite fictional characters. 
Thank you NetGalley and Severn House for allowing me to read this advanced copy.
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Thank you NetGalley and Severn House for the eARC.
Phineas Fox is researching the composer Franz Liszt for an upcoming book when he decides to delve into the life of a popular entertainer in the late 1800's, Scaramel, who had a connection with Liszt in his later years.  It takes him into London's East End, and finds there's a terrifying connection between Scaramel, her maid Daisy and Jack the Ripper.  Also, did Scaramel commit a murder?
We go back and forth between the present and the 1800's, with some creepy paragraphs about the underground rivers in London, where Jack is stalking Daisy; and Toby, Arabelle and Phin are on the trail of the past.
I like Phin, but not as much as Toby and Arabelle; those two are adorable!  I also liked the book's atmosphere, very dark and claustrophobic (in a good way!). Another excellent read in this series, which I recommend highly
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I have never been disappointed in a Sarah Rayne book, but this time, man, she has outdone herself! 

Books about Jack the Ripper abound and I’ve read most of them, so I was not expecting the shaken-to-the-bone experience Rayne delivers here. She continues with same parallel trope of a mystery unraveling in the present tied to the actual events in the past. Here, musicologist Phin Fox finds himself immersed in Whitechapel searching for a reknowned nightclub performer, Scaramel, from the 1880s who had some connection to the composer Liszt. We watch Phin try to solve the mystery of Scaramel and a strange, macabre song associated with the nightclub where she performed. At the same time, we follow the story of Scaramel and her lady’s maid Daisy as they live the history that Phin is researching.

Rayne has an uncanny ability to instill real fear in her readers. It’s been a very long time since I felt my heart racing as I read a passage as terrifying as Daisy’s encounter with Jack in the ghost river. Rayne is just as skilled at fleshing out her characters, and gives us a larger-than-life Scaramel, a saucy but respectful Daisy, tweedy academics, caring sisters, and colorful ordinary people. I also enjoyed the continued development of Phin, Arabella, and Tobey. 

I would adore this series adapted for television. Netflix or Acorn TV, are you reading Sarah Rayne? If not, you should!
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Music Macabre is a unique and interesting historical mystery. I found it written well and entertaining. I would read more from this author.
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4 stars

Phineas “Phin” Fox is researching the eminent composer Franz Liszt for two professors and scholars who are collaborating on a book about the composer. He gets sidetracked, however, when his research leads him to a famous entertainer of the 1880's – 90's named Scaramel. He uncovers a story about Scaramel and the famous Linklighters restaurant/cabaret. Then he comes upon the knowledge that she supposedly murdered a man. He gets very involved in Scaramel's story and wants badly for the murder story to be false. 

His good friend Toby and his girlfriend Annabelle assist him in his research. Annabelle must travel to Paris for a length of time and she finds evidence that Scaramel was there as well. Toby in between helping Phin with his research, and going to medical school, manages in his usual style to “accidentally” trash Annabelle's apartment. 

The Linklighters restaurant is now open once more. We learn much about the re-opening of the business and very much more about its somewhat shady owners and just how it came into being once more. 

The book travels between the present and back to 1890's in the East End of London. Coincidentally, this is also the time when Jack the Ripper is prowling the streets of Whitechapel. 

Ms. Rayne ties the story together beautifully. The book is very interesting and held my attention for the entire time it took me to finish it. I enjoy reading about Phin, Toby (poor guy), and Annabelle. Toby and the trouble he gets into are a delight. The book is well written and plotted, although I felt that it didn't quite hang together as well as the previous three. I still enjoyed it immensely. I very much look forward to Ms. Rayne's next entry into the Phin Fox series. 

I want to thank NetGalley and Severn House/Severn House Publishers for forwarding to me a copy of this very good book for me to read, enjoy and review.
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I have a particular weakness for historical mysteries with interesting twists (famous authors, composers, historical events, etc., at their center) and while the quality of writing in these is mixed, I generally find them entertaining.

I picked up Music Macabre because it promised to suite my tastes, but I didn't know where it would fall on my acceptable-to-brilliant scale for these sorts of mysteries. It fell somewhere on the top third of that scale: not-great-literature-but-a-very-good-read-indeed. The novelty of the historical setting (in this case the era of Jack the Ripper, shortly after the death of Liszt, paired with a present-day semi-scholarly British cast) was fun, but the book appealed beyond that. The characters were engaging—people I'd be glad to spend more time with if the author offers me the opportunity. As I read, I found the title harder and harder to put down, particularly because of the multiple mysteries at its heart which left me with all sorts of questions and speculation.

If you like historical mysteries, particularly those with a solid blend of fun and fright, you'll want to read this title.
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