The Ragtime Fool

Written by Larry Karp
Review by Ellen Keith

The Ragtime Fool concludes Karp’s trilogy of mysteries featuring the influence of Scott Joplin. The first, The Ragtime Kid, introduced Brun Campbell, who came to Sedalia, Missouri as a teenager in 1899 to learn ragtime from the great Scott Joplin. In 1951, in his late sixties, Brun, a barber in Venice, California, is anticipating a triumphant return to Sedalia, where he will perform Joplin’s music at the dedication of a plaque to the composer. Still smarting from the publication of Rudi Blesh’s book about Joplin and ragtime, a book Brun intended to write himself, Brun is offered Joplin’s journal—if he can cough up $5,000.

Oddly enough, it is not implausible that a New Jersey teenager, as entranced with Joplin as Brun is, enters the plot and that he and Brun find themselves in Sedalia, protecting the journal, while trying to elude the local Klansmen who have plans for the dedication, which is to be held at the all black high school.

As in the first two books, the mystery is secondary to the characters and the atmosphere. Karp quite effectively evokes Brun’s and his New Jersey protégé’s obsession with Joplin as well as conveys the uneasy race relations in small-town Missouri in the 1950s.