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The Ragtime Kid    by Larry Karp order for
Ragtime Kid
by Larry Karp
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2006 (2006)

* *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Brun Campbell, a fifteen-year-old addicted to the piano, runs away from home by riding freight trains to Sedalia, Missouri where he hopes to become a student of Scott Joplin, the Negro who was the heart of ragtime music.

The time is 1898. The Civil War being over for thirty-three years should have seen the end of racial strife, but old hatreds and prejudices are hard to erase. As is proven by a self-proclaimed music publisher who wants Joplin's music to line his own pockets. Brun runs into many other characters, some of whom he'd have done better to never have known. Others seem almost too good to be true as they prove by selfless acts of kindness and good judgment.

On Brun's entrance at night into Sedalia, he steps on a dead body, that of a brutalized young woman. A traveling salesman is arrested for the murder, but Brun has concealed evidence that could clear the salesman but would implicate Joplin.

Nefarious plots abound and Brun's short stay in Sedalia proves nothing if not exciting and fraught with pitfalls. The main thrust, however, of The Ragtime Kid is the ragtime music that was fast becoming the rage, and the men who wrote and performed it. Sheet music was very popular at that time, there being none of today's recording devices. The characters are taken from history and the story written as though the reader were a part of the background. The author has fictionalized actual occurrences and fanaticized others.

The treatment of blacks rankles still, even though this story took place so many years ago. The believed superiority of the white man rankles also. Author Larry Karp has woven together the history of ragtime music with the vile treatment blacks were receiving at the hands of ignorant people. Karp's debut mystery, First Do No Harm, was also a winner.

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