'Symphony of Secrets' is an ode to music stolen and composers erased

A side-by-side of a book cover and author.
Brendan Slocumb is back with his second novel. Like his debut, “The Violin Conspiracy,” his new book, “Symphony of Secrets,” brings readers along on a musical mystery that asks hard questions about cultural appropriation.
Photo by David Bickley | Cover courtesy of Penguin Random House

In his new novel, “Symphony of Secrets,” Brendan Slocumb once again tucks a mystery inside a musical thriller. But underscoring the plot are some big questions about our culture. Whose music gets heard and honored? Who gets to claim the ownership and rewards of a song? And who gets to tell the story of how that music came to be?

Slocumb’s protagonist is Bern Hendricks, a musicologist thrilled to be given the chance to authenticate a just discovered opera, attributed to his musical hero, Frederick Delaney. But as he investigates the long missing masterpiece, Hendricks uncovers the true source of Delaney’s genius — a neurodivergent Black woman named Josephine Reed, who was never credited for her work. Will he be able to right history’s wrongs? Or will the powerful musical establishment erase Reed’s genius a second time?

Slocumb’s debut novel, “The Violin Conspiracy,” was a book club favorite. This week, Slocumb returned to Big Books and Bold Ideas to talk with MPR News host Kerri Miller about the messy ways music is written and how to decipher the line between borrowed and stolen.


Use the audio player above to listen to the conversation.

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