Title: The Maestro
Author: John Gardner
Gardner, John (1993). The Maestro. New York: Otto Penzler Books
Date Updated: October 26, 2015
This is ostensibly a novel about espionage, and it delivers in that department. It has, however, a number of qualities that make it interesting to readers who may not normally read spy thrillers. The main character is the greatest living conductor – supposedly on a par with Toscanini. The story of how he achieved prominence raises a number of questions that are interesting. I did not much like the book The main character, Big Herbie Kruger was just not interesting to me. The back story of his relationship with a coworker didn’t ring true to me. The foisting away of Maestro Passau seems counter to any experience I have had. I waded through the book but did not enjoy it all. The only thing that kept me reading it were the really interesting comments about music throughout the book.
Since we know that many great geniuses (Wagner is an example) led deplorable personal lives, the idea that this character would abandon and even kill some of the people who loved him and would live much of his life on the basis of lies and deceptions is quite credible. The method for telling the story is to have the Maestro deliver his autobiography as a full confession to a secret agent who must evaluate how he should be treated given that he betrayed his country as a spy for Hitler in World War II and also gave secrets to the Russians during the Cold War.
In the latter case, though, he believed he was actually serving his country. As the story progresses we get it from the point of view of the Maestro who is telling it, and of the agent who is listening to it. This causes us to see the same material from several different points of view, which makes it more challenging to determine our own judgment of the characters and events described. Thus we have a work of far greater complexity and literary interest than the normal spy novel.
As I indicated above, fortunately, for me, the author shows a decent knowledge of music and often refers to specific performances on recording, many of which are compared with the Maestro’s own fictitious recordings. This balance between history and fiction is interesting.