Symphony of Secrets [Book Review] #historicalfiction #classicalmusic #mystery

Symphony of Secrets is the compelling story of a professor who uncovers a shocking secret about a (fictional) famous American composer.

Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb

Symphony of Secrets by Brendan Slocumb (cover) Image: multi colored graphic shapes in green, blue, black, and yellow

Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Classical Music, New York City (early 1920s and current day)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Summary of Symphony of Secrets:

Do you have a favorite composer?

Dr. Bern  Hendricks is a music professor at the University of Virginia and has just received the call of a lifetime. He’s been summoned to the Delaney Foundation to authenticate a recently discovered composition from his favorite twentieth-century composer, (fictional) Frederick Delaney. Filled with excitement and anticipation, Bern leaves for New York City. After he’s settled, he reconnects with his tech-savvy friend, Eboni, and enlists her help. While working on Delaney’s composition, Bern discovers a secret that places him (and Eboni) in danger.

In a 1920s timeline, we meet a homeless Josephine Reed. Living on the streets, she spends her time visiting jazz clubs and hearing beautiful music in the sounds around her. One day, she meets Fredrick Delaney, a struggling musician. He recognizes her unique brilliance and she becomes his silent partner. In the present day, Bern and Eboni suspect that Delaney’s compositions may have been written by Josephine. Their efforts to collect evidence and solve the mystery threaten the powerful Delaney organization and put their lives at risk.

My Thoughts:

Musicians, Composers, and Pizza Lovers…

***This review may contain spoilers. Stop now if you haven’t read the book. Best to go into this read cold.***

Character-Driven or Plot-Driven?

The majority of the story is character-driven as we become acquainted with Bern and Eboni and Frederick and Josephine. In the modern timeline, Bern and Eboni are savvy, young Black professionals and pizza aficionados. While Bern’s expertise is in classical music, Eboni excels in technology and cyber security. In the 1920s, Fredrick is a struggling young white musician with allusions of grandeur, and Josephine is a young Black woman who lives on the streets, visits jazz clubs, hears music in the sounds around her, invents a unique musical language of her own, and is neurodivergent. Quite a unique cast of characters! I loved Josephine, felt connected to her, and was anguished over her plight. Josephine is fully drawn and multi-layered because this is her story.

At approximately the 65% mark, the pace picks up as the Delany Foundation becomes desperate to cover up the truth. Bern and Eboni are in danger and courageously rely on all their skills to reveal the truth and save themselves.

So, while the author does provide some balance, I must conclude this story is mainly character-driven. More important than the mystery and the attempted cover-up is Josephine’s story.


I still think about Josephine and she will live on in my list of memorable characters. Her uniqueness was lost to the world in 1920 because she was Black, a woman, and neurodivergent. Fredrick took advantage of her and used her to build his reputation as a composer. He secluded her, forced her to write for him, treated her like a slave, and stole her work. She pays the ultimate price when she stands up for herself.


Lots of music! Musicians and composers will appreciate the detailed musical content. The story is also cleverly structured in parts: Overature, Acts, and Curtain Call.


Poignant and thoughtful themes include justice, greed and power, friendship, intellectual property rights, taking advantage of others, racism, physical and emotional abuse, music composition, courage, persistence, determination, and beautiful minds.


Fair warning. You’ll be craving New York pizza while reading this story! As a side note, Bern and Eboni are on a hunt to find the best pizza in New York City. The quest is a fun thread (literary device) in the modern timeline to connect the action. (someone living in NY will need to tell me if these are real or fictional locations!)

New York Pizza

Reading Experience

While Slocumb’s first novel, The Violin Conspiracy, is page-turning from the first page, Symphony of Secrets is a slow-burn mystery that picks up speed as it goes along and culminates in a fast-paced, tense ending. If you’ve read and loved Violin Conspiracy, I think it will be helpful to know that this story is slow-burn. In my estimation, the story picks up in intensity at around the 65% mark. By slow-burn, I don’t mean that it’s not dramatic. I was completely invested in Josephine’s unique story, the growing threat to Josephine, and Berne and Eboni’s quest for answers. Both storylines are compelling.

Although fast-paced and tense, the ending is also a bit over the top (in my opinion) and requires some suspension of disbelief. Despite this, I’m cheering for Bern and Eboni up to the last page!

“Own Voices”

Classical Musician and Author. I love Brendan Slocumb’s debut, The Violin Conspiracy. In an interview, he explains that he used many of his own life experiences with classical music, racism, and prejudice in his first novel. I expect that Symphy of Secrets also reflects Slocumb’s thoughts and experiences.  Slocumb is a genuine, kind, and compassionate new author that I definitely have on my radar! Here’s one interview.

Content Consideration: a sprinkling of profanity (mostly, the “F” word), emotional and physical abuse (no sexual abuse), controlling behavior

Recommending Symphony of Secrets

I’m enthusiastically recommending Symphony of Secrets for fans of Violin Conspiracy and Brendan Slocumb; for readers who appreciate historical fiction, classical music, and themes of justice; and for those who support debut and “own voices” authors.  The Violin Conspiracy is a book club favorite, and Symphony of Secrets is highly discussable.

My Rating:  4.5  Stars

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Symphony of Secrets by Brandan Slocumb (cover) Image: bright multicolored graphic shapes, white text

More Information Here

Meet the Author of Symphony of Secrets, Brendan Slocumb

Author of Symphony of Secrets and The Violin Conspiracy, Brendan Slocumb

Brendan Nicholaus Slocumb was born in Yuba City, California and was raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a degree in music education, concentrations on Violin and Viola. While at UNCG, Brendan was the concertmaster for the University Symphony orchestra and served as the principal violist. He performed with numerous small chamber ensembles, including flute and clarinet choirs, and in the BESK string quartet.

As a musician, Brendan has performed on violin with the Washington Metropolitan Symphony, the McLean Symphony, the Prince George’s Philharmonic, and the Alexandria Symphony. He currently serves as the concertmaster for the

NOVA- Symphony Orchestra. Brendan has been a frequent adjudicator and guest conductor for several district and regional orchestras throughout North Carolina and Virginia. He also performs chamber music with members of the Annandale symphony, and he maintains a private music studio teaching lessons to students on violin, guitar and piano.

He is the founder of the nonprofit organization, Hands Across the Sea, based in the Philippines. After touring the Philippines with the Northern Virginia Chamber Ensemble and witnessing firsthand the conditions that many of the young music students and their families endure, Brendan founded the Hands Across the Sea to offer support to the Berea School of the Arts in Manila, by providing instruments, lessons, and monetary support. The organization also supplements school supplies and dental and medical assistance.

In his spare time, Brendan enjoys writing, exercising, collecting comic books and action figures, and performing with his rock band, Geppetto’s Wüd.


Is classical music mystery on your TBR or have you read it?
Do you have a favorite composer?

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  1. I finished listening to the audiobook last night. This was a five-star read for me. I love books that have a unique plot. As you mentioned, the pace picked up at around the 65% mark. I really enjoyed how the tension built at the same intensity for the two timelines.

    I think the voice actor did an excellent job with all the characters (loved Eboni). It really added to the reading experience.

  2. Wonderful post, Carol. I skipped over part of your review because I haven’t read or listened to it yet, but I will be prepared for the slower pace. What a wonderful interview, thanks for sharing that.

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