Title: The Quarter Note Tales
Author: Arthur Wenk
Publisher: Wingate Press
Date of Publication: 24 April 2006
A spell binding collection of three novellas skirting between the power play within the scholarly realms of Academia and the quiet spirituality of the Church.
A scandalous professor of the English department has committed suicide at Chihuahua State College. His suicide becomes headline news when his suicide note gets published in the college’s student newspaper, The Bowser. Musicologist Axel Crochet gets surprisingly tangled in a fag at this new workplace when he figures out that his colleague from the English department may have in fact been murdered. Astonishing facts and mysterious characters crop up in an endless array of twists and turns as the plot gets murkier each working day. Grant Jarman’s suicide note is not a letter but a poem. Just as Axel is about to unbolt the poetic mysteries gnawing at the throat of departmental politics and murdered colleagues, news breaks out about the death of the female student Jarman had been romantically involved with. She falls off the college roof while trying to click her own picture. Accident, murder or suicide?
The heart of any university, other than in the cafeteria, can be found underneath the piles of books at the university main or departmental libraries. As Axel enters the library to find some bibliographical information that he has received at an event from a friend regarding musicology; his eye falls upon a student newspaper clipping that reports the murder of the Music Department Chairman Edgar Frost. The department’s vocal instructor Viola Mordant is in police custody. The suicide of a student whom Professor Frost had terribly belittled gives rise to an altercation between Frost and Viola. Is that reason enough for murder?
Beginning at a more sombre note in what constitutes the precipitous haste for Christmas service at the Allegheny United Church, Axel is given responsibility for playing hymns and conducting the Junior Choir. Reverend Armstrong rubs his fingers to his forehead, squints his eyes as if in excruciating pain and collapses behind the pulpit vomiting blood across the chancel carpet. A physician from the Senior Choir rushes up to the pulpit and orders the others to call for an ambulance. But John Armstrong is dead. “The dictatorial leadership style that might have suited the small churches that he served earlier in his career brought muffled complaints from some parishioners at AUC.” Shirley Bellinger, a soprano at the Senior Choir and a friend of Axel’s, discloses information about her turbulent marriage with husband James while she’s been seeing another man all along. In the fear of being caught she names John Armstrong as her beau in lieu of his reputation as a lady’s man. James is in custody for alleged charges of murder. But autopsy reports claim Armstrong’s death is caused by drinking Compound 1080. Did he obtain the banned substance all by himself or was he intoxicated? As more people get added to the ‘suspects’ list, the means of acquiring poison remains deluded and the exact manner of death vaguely understood. Will this mystery ever find a solution or will it jeopardize the reputation of the Church forever?
The Quarter Note Tales is a wholesome read with a bunch of topsy-turvy twists accompanied by a dark sense of humour that never lets the suspense drown. At any moment if the reader feels he can guess the criminal, the narrative only bends to reveal newer confusing information. It is not too often that one gets to read about the more honest aspects of life as an academic specially in a poorly funded institution and its challenges along with tackling a student community that is not up to the mark. Throughout the three tales, the protagonist Axel finds responsibility thrust upon him while he is merely going about his everyday duties. The events shake him up more than any other character but it is his presence of mind and patience that makes others count on him to get them all out of the mess. Speaking as the first person narrator, Wenk provides oodles of information through Axel about each and every incident that unfolds. Constantly moving to and fro between the past and the present gives the stories an added dynamism but requires readers to effectively use their capacity to remember and recall the details and characters as and when the narrative requires. Hence, though the factual data at times lengthens and drags the stories causing a monotony which only pushes the reader to want to know exactly how they will end. The tales are very realistic with an exceptionally honest tone and thoughtful manner of story -telling. Despite his calm and composed writing style, Arthur Wenk redefines suspense for the contemporary reader who will enjoy the holistic experience of Wenk’s eye for detail with several smashing sub plots that dissolve and quickly emerge into the major plot without ever losing track of the main theme. The tales are predominantly alarming but they are Gothic to the extent of being intellectually puzzling and not exactly hair-raising scary. The narrative flair is candid and doesn’t leave out any point that is relevant in keeping readers on the edge by creating a vibrant atmosphere in the backdrop of grim incidents. The Quarter Note Tales comprising the three novellas An Unfaltering Trust, Murder in the Music Department and Murder in the Pulpit is a chilling weekend read for all lovers of thrillers, murder mysteries and uncanny short stories.
Unconventional, suspenseful and un-guesstimatable.
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