Rating: 4.5 stars
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Cary Redding is as deeply troubled as he is gifted musically. A world renown cellist sought after by conductors globally, the front Cary presents to others is that of an introspective, music-obsessed young man. But inside Cary is haunted by his past, seeking out anonymous gay sex in disreputable bars and drowning his insecurity and anger in alcohol. Cary has so successfully compartmentalized his life that he has two identities. His real one, Cary Redding the musician, and the other, Connor Taylor – gay, slutty, capable only of rough sex in one-night stands. Cary has so little self worth outside of music that he considers himself a liar, a cheat, in fact a melody thief, someone no one would want to listen to if they only knew the truth about him.
It all changes for Cary after he leaves a bar in the early morning hours. Drunk and smelling of sex, Cary gets mugged and his playing arm broken. He is rescued by Antonio Bianchi, an entertainment lawyer . Antonio takes Cary to the hospital and then home with him to recuperate. The problem is that Cary has told Antonio his name is Conner Taylor, his alter ego, and the more Cary gets to know Antonio, the more he wants in terms of a relationship. Antonio wants a real romance between the two of them, as well as a relationship with Antonio’s son, Massi. Antonio and Massi are a package deal, one that Cary finds he wants. But first he has to tell Antonio the truth and see if Antonio can forgive him for the lies. And Cary still has his inner battle to win over his past and insecurities. Only Cary knows if the melody thief will win out or if he will find the path to love.
The Melody Thief is the second in Shira Anthony’s series that revolves around the world of music, from the conductors to the musicians to the entertainment lawyers who represent them and what a fascinating series it is turning out to be. Blue Notes was the first in the series and in that book the focus was on violinist Jules and lawyer Jason, and Paris. Here we switch locations to Milan, the musician is a cellist and Antonio, an entertainment lawyer who we met briefly in Blue Notes, is back in a lead role. One of the elements that makes this such a rich series, especially for music lovers, is that Shira Anthony comes from a music family, and has a deep background herself as a violinist and opera singer. So when Anthony’s characters wax poetic about ‘Brahms Double Concerto’ for cello, violin, and orchestra or when Cary recalls his emotions when playing ‘Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor’, they do so realistically and intelligently. And the reader can’t help but appreciate that it is because Anthony understands the music herself, having practiced and played it over and over again. Her experience gives such depth to the musicians here and the life they must lead in order to rise to the top of the field that our understanding of the discipline it takes becomes much clearer. It is not enough to be gifted, one must also be driven as well. To have the music be an all encompassing part of your life has a price, and Anthony brings this theme throughout her series, as all the characters must look at their lives, past, present, and future and balance it out with their obsessive need to play and be heard.
Characterizations are also a strong point with Anthony. Cary/Conner is such a torn, angry, young man whose past and his relationship with his mother continue to cast a bitter hue over everything he is and does. Brought up by a widowed mother as driven as he was, all he can recall of his childhood is playing, practice, and concerts with nary a stop to celebrate his birthday. And when his mother called his gayness a “perversion” and told him he could not both play and be a monster when he came out to her at 16, then the hurt and anger he felt at her was directed inward at himself. And so the melody thief was born. Someone who lied about who he was, someone who flirted with alcohol addiction, someone who never felt worthy of the acclaim accorded him over his gift, his cello. A complex, hurting man locked into a pattern from childhood, Cary has to continually work on himself to accept the mature Cary while trying to forgive and understand his mother and his upbringing. I loved Cary. Antonio too has his burdens which include major spoilers for the story. But they are as heavy and authentic as Cary’s. Antonio has loved and lost and is much better equipped to deal with relationship issues. He works hard to keep Cary in his life as Cary doesn’t have all the skills to realize that relationships need communication as well as love in the sheets. Massimo, Antonio’s son (with his childhood best friend and her partner) is adorable and just like any other 5-year-old I have known. From character to character, we have real, caring, less than perfect people to listen to and entrust with our affections throughout the story.
As she did with Paris, Milan comes alive on our pages too. The small cafes, the walkways and parks, the warmth of the buildings and the age of the city contribute to the overall pastiche of old world charm, art and the music that makes up Milan. It made me want to board a plane immediately to its environs.
There is very little to quibble about here. A few of the issues I saw with Blue Notes, like too many references to “older man/younger man” are missing here, which makes sense given the two men are closer in age. But the descriptions work much better with Antonio and Cary than they did with Jules and Jason. I do wish we had a little more of the music here as we did in Blue Notes but the scores she does bring up are so incredible beautiful that I enjoyed listening to them again as I read the book. The author always includes a playlist for her story and listed below is the one for The Melody Thief. There are at least 3 more books she plans to write in this series. Aria (Blue Notes #3) is coming out in December and features Aiden and Sam, who are both briefly mentioned here. I can’t wait.
Pick up this book, settle in, and cue up the iTunes with Dvork, Brahms, and Beethoven. I just know you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Cover: Catt Ford was the cover artist and this is perfection from the two models standing in for Antonio and Cary, down to the Italian countryside, and Massimo with his airplane.
Shira Anthony’s musical soundtrack for The Melody Thief :
- Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor ((Yo-Yo Ma, Lorin Maazel)
- Dvorak “New World Symphony”
- Elgar Cello Concerto (and this one is with the Chicago Symphony!)
- Bach Cello Suite 2 (Prelude) – Mstislav Rostropovich or Yo-Yo Ma
- Brahms Double Concerto – Rostropovitch and Oistrakh, two of the best ever, or Isaac Stern and Yo-Yo Ma