If seduction is an art, then M.J. Rose is one of the masters. Her talent lies in recognizing that anyone and anything can be a seducer --- a cello concerto, a savory bruschetta, or seashell. Her last novel FLESH TONES was breathtakingly sensual. Now, in SHEET MUSIC, she takes seduction to a new level.
Justine Pagett, a woman who was a child star as the junior member of a mother-daughter team of cookbook writers, has spent a lifetime surrounded by the intoxicating smells of the kitchen. She learned early from both her parents, who were stellar cooks, that food holds power and the ability to enthrall. When her mother, her lifeblood, dies, Justine runs away from her grief and her family --- and into the arms of a chef who would be her momentary undoing, a chef who seduces her with apple slices and honey from Provence. "My lips close over the firm flesh. I bite down. Smell lavender. Feel sunshine. Taste a combination of tart and sweet. Hear the crisp snap…This is how he seduces me --- with food and drink --- with tastes and tasting." Seduction is the linchpin of all the relationships in SHEET MUSIC.
Shattered emotionally and professionally by this short-lived coupling, Justine returns to the U.S., accepting an assignment to write a biography of the mysterious, exceptionally talented composer, Sophie DeLyon. A Svengali figure, DeLyon has endowed an institution where only the brightest talents become her devoted --- nearly obsessive, definitely possessive --- prodigees. DeLyon captivates her students --- male and female, young and old --- and commands (maybe demands) a questionable loyalty from all. She beguiles with the promise of eternal fame and unequalled talent. She appears well loved by all, but when she suddenly disappears without a trace, her distraught family, students and faculty all become suspect. Someone is not telling the truth, but all seem at a convincing loss.
Austen Bell is one of DeLyon's grieving former students and, coincidentally, Justine's ex from an earlier time. A cello player, he handles his instrument like a lover and his lovers with the same passion as his music. Another of Rose's authorial strengths: effective and telling flashbacks to their steamy relationship seamlessly woven into the present-day story. "Music always set the tone of our lovemaking. Romantic with Chopin, we were violent with Stravinsky, and reverential with Beethoven. We translated sound to touch, to physical rhythm."
Justine and Austen rekindle their attraction just as the mystery heats up. Though seduction of all varieties drives the plot of this erotic thriller, it is Justine's coming to terms with her loss and her power that completes the tale. As always, M.J. Rose renders hot-blooded characters with great dimension in SHEET MUSIC.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on April 27, 2004