Wednesday, July 6, 2016
The Shaking Reeds by John Pedersen
In a sense this mystery is an invitation to a mystery: how some people manage to live by their wits and their art, whether it be music, carpentry, motorbikes, surfing, or any other of a million special fascinations.
John Pedersen is a fiddler, banjo player, and owner of Amazing Grace Music store in San Anselmo, CA where he and his wife do stringed instrument repairs, among other things. I knew John in high school and by some miracle of internet he reconnected long enough to send me this marvelous mystery that brings us deep into the Irish music and vintage motorcycle scene in and around San Francisco.
Soren Rauhe plays accordion nearly every night amongst friends in the pick-up Irish music spots around San Francisco. By day he is a wave-watcher and motorcycle mechanic, restoring vintage mounts for connoisseurs and enthusiasts in the region. The rich variety of Rauhe’s interests and talents extend to being a chump for a white-skinned, blue-eyed, red-haired beauty of his childhood acquaintance who manages always to find more prosperous benefactors than himself or his best buddy, the carpenter and guitarist Sean, who is likewise smitten. The tension in the triangle offers depth of background to a foreground of recent hook-ups.
When Soren clumsily spills coffee on a woman in his local breakfast bar, that unexpected encounter becomes the entree to an accordion mystery that reaches back to San Francisco’s great earthquake in 1906.
Everything about this San Francisco mystery felt authentic, right down to the Russian rocket scientist handcrafting replacement parts for 70-year-old motorbikes, and the care the restorers take in handling the motors. The bump and scrape of setting up in houses or bars for a night of music sounded right also, as did the habitual morning scramble to gaze over rooftops to catch a glimpse of breakers on the beach.
The central mystery of the accordion and the factory in which it was fashioned was as deeply fascinating to a nonspecialist as it would be to one who repairs instruments every day. I especially love the way Soren’s expectations of the people he initially met on the phone were confounded in person: an Asian man Soren pictured as a thin intellectual with bow-tie and eyeglasses was a brawny hulk of a man and the blue-eyed Nordic type he imagined from the factory was in fact short, thin, dark, and the meanest crook.
We also get a glimpse of the path to a man’s heart in that the woman who eventually captured Soren was capable in her own right and not given to unnecessary drama, was an inventive and enthusiastic lover, and able to put together a homemade meal without undue fuss. I can verify that this is the perfect recipe for an attractive male companion as well.
Perhaps best of all, this mystery gives us a glimpse into the unimaginable mysteries of city life, of how our tangential lives glimpse and bounce off one another, unaware of the richness of the experiences going on all around us.
Because good novels are difficult to write well, especially for a full-time musician, we can’t expect that Pedersen will be able to pull off the writing schedule of a-mystery-a-year that professional crime writers do. He does have an earlier novel, featuring a bluegrass fiddler and a mystery violin, called Scroll and Curl. But I sincerely hope that one of his future novels include surfing experiences which are also part of his world. Ever since reading Finnegan’s two-part New Yorker article in the 90s about surfing, I am a complete surf-potato if such a thing exists. I adore reading about it, watching it, marveling over it. Don Winslow, another California writer, has a Boone Daniels mystery series devoted to surf buddies. Hope springs eternal, as does music, surf, and mystery.
You can buy this book here: Tweet