The King of Ragtime
The King of Ragtime is Karp’s second mystery featuring Scott Joplin. Following The Ragtime Kid, set in 1899 in Sedalia, Missouri, after the publication of “The Maple Leaf Rag,” this new book finds a very different Joplin in New York City in 1916. His mind ravaged by syphilis, Joplin has one goal—to get Irving Berlin to publish his musical drama “If.” Martin Niederhoffer, his piano student and the music publisher’s bookkeeper, promises to help him but finds himself on the run with his teacher when he discovers Joplin in his office standing over the body of Martin’s friend Sid. Afraid that the police won’t look for another suspect, the men go into hiding and enlist the help of Joplin’s former music publisher, John Stark, and his daughter, Nell.
I got lost in the rough and tumble, as well as musical, world of The Ragtime Kid but found this book kept me at a distance. Karp has no trouble conjuring up a hot NYC summer with its threatening undercurrents of racism, but the Scott Joplin in this book is too far gone to be a protagonist about whom the reader can care. Only a faint regret remains at the talent that is lost.