THE STRADIVARIUS l Brigids Gate Press
You know a book is something special when the axe murder in the opening is the least grotesque part of the story.

Billed as a queer reimagining of Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light, Rae Knowles’ debut novel THE STRADIVARIUS is a modern gothic tale of isolation, self-doubt, and trauma. Twenty-year-old protagonist Mae, who was orphaned at a young age as a result of the aforementioned—and unsolved—axe murder, moves back into her childhood home with her new (and older) husband Carter. As Carter coordinates home renovations and restorations, Mae begins to get an unsettling feeling in the house. It’s not just the fact that she’s living in the place where her father was murdered and robbed of his rare and extremely valuable Stradivarius violin—Mae is hearing her father’s music and soft voices around the house, items are disappearing and reappearing…all classic signs of a haunting.

Or at least that’s what Mae thinks. Carter, on the other hand, is of the opinion that Mae is rapidly spiraling into some severe mental illness. It’s not too outlandish; Mae’s mother was reportedly mentally ill. Plus, Mae has been forgetting things: conversations, things that she did…

At least, that’s what Carter tells her.

Meanwhile, Mae’s new friend/hired handyperson for the house, Ollie, thinks there’s something seriously off about Carter and wants to help her. But Ollie has an ulterior motive: they want to solve Mae’s father’s murder and get hired as a detective.

As the plot thickens and tensions escalate, Mae finds herself in peril and unsure of who to trust…including herself.

THE STRADIVARIUS follows the familiar thread of Gas Light but still manages to be fresh, original, and captivating. Through her punchy dialogue, well-developed cast of characters, and steady pacing, Knowles delivers a story that’s not only engaging but also terrifyingly believable. In her depiction of Mae and Carter’s relationship, she artfully captures the insidious nature of mental and financial abuse, as well as the claustrophobia, confusion, and sense of betrayal that come with it.

Mae is a protagonist we can root for. She’s smart, resourceful, and resilient—but still flawed, as we all are. At times, we want to scream at her, “Girl, RUN!” but we also cheer her on when she stands up for herself, reclaims her agency, and outmaneuvers her adversaries.

Ollie is another character that’s easy to love. They may pull some reckless stunts, but they’re clever and compassionate, and ultimately their heart is in the right place; we can even forgive them for wanting to be on the police force. Ollie is genderqueer, something that’s worth mentioning not because of the fact that THE STRADIVARIUS has a genderqueer character (although, that is cool), but because of the casual and neutral way Knowles depicts them. There’s not a lot of conversation around Ollie’s genderqueerness beyond some talk of pronouns—which is how it should be. By presenting a genderqueer character as a fully-formed human being, Knowles is helping to normalize people who exist outside the confines of binary genders.

But beyond Ollie, Knowles respects all of her characters and treats them with at least a touch of compassion—including the antagonists. There aren’t any stereotypical villains or victims in THE STRADIVARIUS; everyone is three-dimensional and painfully human, which makes the action in the novel that much more compelling.

Knowles clearly enjoyed writing this book, and she knocked it out of the park. I can’t recommend it enough.

THE STRADIVARIUS will be released in May and is available for preorder here.

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