The Prize Racket by Isabel Rogers
Occasionally I find a book a really delightful, funny and fascinating read, and this one is well into that category. It is the third in a series, yet I soon found the ongoing characters completely engaging and the main plot convincing. It features an amateur orchestra that meets one evening a week in a school hall, and though my experience of playing in an orchestra is limited to a school interest, yet I found even the technical details of playing the instruments was so well described that I was thoroughly hooked. It is amusing in the sense of well written dialogue, realistic characters and a plot that kept me reading into the small hours. The rehearsals are funny, the pub encounters afterwards are realistic to my similar choir experiences, and the whole idea of the competition is lovely in so many ways. In a way it calls for a television version as it pokes fun and more at entertainment competitions. So much is cleverly linked in with events in the book, and indeed the earlier books which makes me even keener to read them. This is a well constructed book that I really enjoyed, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book opens during a normal rehearsal, with Eliot, the conductor calling for a break to enjoy Pearl’s remarkable refreshments. David has received an intriguing request, from a local poet who wants to arrange a “residency” with the orchestra to benefit his creativity. Unfortunately he turns out to be the most pretentious and intense man who adopts poses of intent listening and an impolite attitude to contributing in any way. Worse, he soon tries to monopolise a young woman in the orchestra, who is repelled by his advances. During his second visit he tries to approach Beatriz again, and is firmly dealt with by Ann, an older retired professional cello player. A minor event, which will have an effect later. An invitation to record a piece for a competition to be televised also arrives, and as orchestra members discuss these two incidents we discover much about them as personalities and a cohesive group. As they record their first piece and it is shown as one of the competitors in a heat, the homes of various orchestra members are shown where watch parties are happening, and the social links are shown in a really funny way. Furthermore Erin and Ann are summoned to the huge home of one of the orchestra’s former associates, a Mrs Ford-Hughes, who has decided to enter the competition with a technically difficult vocal piece which requires a large number of cellists. It is a very funny episode with some characters introduced in previous books, in which the soloist’s voice is described as “her timbre transformed from a distant chainsaw into an angry mosquito that had got into your bedroom…A mosquito that had learned how to do vibrato.”
As the book proceeds other musicians are introduced. A group of small children who attempt co ordinated violin playing provide much entertainment, and there are some terrifying harp players. The competition is not exactly straightforward, and the whole experience proves a severe test of everyone’s musical abilities in some complex ways. I recommend this book for its entertainment value on so many levels which is bound to bring on some recognisable groans among musicians of many types in a very good way.