Part musical, party mystery, part comedy, Swing: A Mystery delivers lively and entertaining production for swing and audiobook fans everywhere. Ray Sherwood, a musician in the Jack Donovan Orchestra, travels the country performing for short stints at various locales. Though not as popular as some of the other great swing bands in 1940, his band enjoys their fair share of success. But when Sherwood ends up at a hotel in San Francisco, California, he becomes evolved in a mystery that includes a suicidal French dancer, a Nazi rally, and (a classic of any good mystery) a cheating spouse.
No sooner does Sherwood check into the hotel than he finds a note waiting for him requesting his presence at Treasure Island, a recently constructed fairground built in the tradition of the World’s Fair. He arrives to meet a pretty young lady named Gail, a student who wants him to write out her music score named “Swing.” Smitten with the flirtatious and energetic woman, Sherwood immediately leaps at the opportunity, thereby sealing his fate to the ensuing antics and drama.
While Swing: A Mystery sells itself as a mystery, it’s not typically formulaic. You’ll find few moments of a Sherlock Holmes nature. In fact, the first two-thirds of the story harbor few implications about the mystery that unfolds at story’s end. Even the dead body that Sherwood stumbles upon doesn’t really garner much attention until later. This angle works, since the rest of the story focuses on Sherwood as he deals with contending emotions about Gail while trying to deal with his past. His often humorous antics keep listeners entertained as the plot subtly develops.
Musicians may appreciate much of the talk of notes and scripting an orchestra, but non-musicians can sometimes become lost or overwhelmed with it. The historical bits and explanations prove useful, but the musical cryptography that takes place at one point in the story may be beyond some people’s comprehension.
As a production in audio entertainment, this audiobook has many positives elements to it. Included in this production are half a dozen or so swing songs recorded and strategically placed. Probably “Beef Lo Mein” ranks highest in fondness among the songs delivered. In it, the singer laments how he lost the chance to find true love because the restaurant he took his girlfriend to was out of beef lo mein. The sound quality of a full orchestra comes through fantastically. At the end of the audiobook, the songs are played again for the listener’s enjoyment. Undoubtedly, Tantor Audio could release the soundtrack to this audiobook and make a decent profit from it.
As the narrator, Patrick Lawlor does a terrific job with the portrayal of Sherwood. He manages Sherwood’s sarcastic and sometimes deadpan voice with ease but he comes across as trying too hard when it comes to women’s voices. While the sound editing on the music really enhances this production, the voice editing proves not as successful. Though the average listener might not pick up on it, the production contains several page turns. Also, around the Chapter 39 mark, Lawlor’s voice sounds audibly different for a short bit.
It’s clear that Tantor Audio put a lot of effort into this production. The accompanying music compliments the various moods within the story and overall greatly enhances the quality of the audiobook. The story itself proves quite enjoyable while at the same time keeps you guessing about people’s angles. Minor flaws aside, Swing: A Mystery provides even more than its title promises.