Title: The Mussorgsky Riddle
Author: Darin Kennedy
Recommended By: Darin Kennedy
Date Reviewed: 24 December 2015
Mira, the protagonist. I love how she is both a psychic PI and a single parent.
Anthony, the subject and the setting. I really like how the author left his illness undefined.
Summary and Review:
I very much enjoyed The Mussorgsky Riddle (henceforth TMR), Darin Kennedy’s debut novel. I enjoyed the characters and some of the dialogue too, but my favorite aspect was the construction of the Exhibition itself. This was a framework upon which the entire book rises or falls, and it quite cleverly constructed. While the structure is completely different than a Russian Matroshka doll, his creation of Anthony’s Exhibition reminds me a lot of a Matroshka in how cleverly it all fits together.
Thirteen-year-old Anthony Faircloth is in a catatonic state–he hasn’t spoken in a month and the only thing anyone can get out of him are a few notes of his favorite piece of music, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by the Russian composer Modeste Mussorgsky. His mother has tried to reach him with a conventionally-gifted psychologist, but when that fails she engages the services of psychic Mira Tejedor, the hero of TMR. Mira’s not a slick-talking palm reader–if anything she’s a sardonic realist who is world weary after dealing with skeptics and her ex-husband for the past few years. The thing is, she can pick up emotions from people as olfactory smells – a whiff of cayenne is frustration, a scent of pepper is skepticism, and she uses these ESP scents to help her read people in the same way that Counselor Troi does in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Soon, Mira learns that she can travel into Anthony’s mind, where she finds an exhibition with several paintings, all of which contain new worlds and new characters that seem very similar to people in the life of young Anthony. As she follows clues both in the Exhibition and within the real world of Charlotte, NC, Mira gets closer and closer to finding out what secret was enough to drive young Anthony into a coma.
There’s a lot to like here – I like all of the allusions of Greek and Roman mythology, and all the detail about Mussorgsky’s Magnum Opus. After I finished the novel I listened to the entire piece several times both as a whole and in listening to each section individually to compare the music to the character it inspired. It’s not all roses – some of the dialogue could use fleshing out and I didn’t really care for the quickly-forgotten attempt at a love triangle, but for a debut novel it is quite riveting. I’m a sucker for unique systems of magic, and Mira’s psychic scents was a nice twist on what can be a tired cliche of the psychic investigator.
I am looking forward to Mr. Kennedy’s future works and recommend that you check out TMR if you find the premise intriguing. While you’re reading it go listen to the original piano version of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition” and when you’re done then sit down and listen to the orchestrated version by Maurice Ravel.