Sheet Music

by M.J. Rose

Published by Ballantine

326 pages, 2003

Buy it online




Soul Music

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


He is addicted to a certain look of pleasure I bestow upon him when he brings me treats. And so he makes an effort with our postcoital feasts. He knows I am always hungry. He doesn't know that, no matter what I eat, I am never full.

Appropriately enough, Sheet Music begins with a passage that is as much poetry as prose. A few lush paragraphs that take us right to the bedroom and to the heart of the conflict about to come, though we don't know it when we're there.

What we do know, from those first few lines, is that we're dealing with a protagonist of exquisite and exacting demands. She is hollow...

I am never full.

... and at a loss at what to do to fill herself up. She's broken, doesn't know it, and wouldn't know how to fix herself if she did.

Justine Pagett is a journalist who, in the profiles of prominent people she writes, delights in finding the "other" that her subjects try to keep hidden from the world.

Certainly I am dogged in the pursuit. Strip away the careful constructions and mythology we each create out of pride or delusion or even hope and there is the other, ready to either ruin, illuminate, or enrich the public facade.

At the beginning of Sheet Music, Justine inadvertently finds that other in her current lover: a Parisian chef she had initially thought too one-dimensional to bother profiling. In the bedroom -- along with those postcoital feasts -- his other emerges: complete with a professionally scandalous past that, to her near ruination, journalist Justine decides to unveil.

Reeling from the career damage that revealing the hidden past of her lover does to her career, Justine goes looking for a story big enough to force her editor to take her calls. She finds it in the form of the composer/conductor Sophie DeLyon, an international celebrity in the world of classical music known for her eccentricity and reclusiveness. She gets an entree to the renowned musician through another old lover: DeLyon's ex-son-in-law which means that, before she's even begun her story, Justine knows she already has a conflict of interest.

Arriving at Euphonia, DeLyon's beautiful seaside estate and music school, Justine knows right away that her story will not be as straightforward as she'd planned: someone is threatening her life should she persist in writing about DeLyon... plus, the great woman herself goes missing the night before Justine gets there.

While discovering what's happened to DeLyon, Justine encounters clues to her own personal mystery: What really happened in her beloved late mother's life? How has that affected Justine's own adulthood? And why has she been unable to take love: only give it.

Author M.J. Rose, an occasional contributor to January Magazine, is gaining a well-deserved reputation for penning stylish psychological portraits against a backdrop of erotica and suspense. Last year's Flesh Tones was one of January's Best Books of 2002. Cosmopolitan magazine called it a "sexy summer read" and Kirkus Reviews said it was a "lush story dressed in upscale details with a tight pace and silky surface..." It seems likely that, with its taut scene, Rose's signature intelligent prose and subtly rendered erotica, Sheet Music, will attract the same timbre of praise. | May 2003


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.