The Music of What Happens

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Cecil Younger is a hapless private investigator in Alaska without much investigative skill but with a good listening ear. For years, he has been working for a childhood friend in an almost bloody custody battle for her six-year-old son, Young Bob. Priscilla DeAngelo is a near-psychotic mother willing to do anything for her son, even going to a prominent Alaskan senator for help. That is when she is arrested for the murder of Senator Taylor. Cecil and his lawyer friend Dickie Stein go to Juneau, the state capital of Alaska, to help Priscilla. In Juneau, Cecil becomes involved with his childhood flame, Pricilla’s older sister Jane Marie, and a complex plot that involves the kidnapping and re-kidnapping of Priscilla’s son. Add to this already strange formula a pill-popping high-powered lawyer and his temporary accomplice, a biker-thug named Gunk, and the mystery of the plot never becomes as interesting as the people who are involved in it.

There is not much to be detected. The reader sees everything from the viewpoint of Cecil Younger, and most of the time he does not know what is going on. He is just along for the ride and happens to be a witness. The details do not slowly add up until the killer is figured out, nor do any of the characters reveal themselves through complex psychological processes. Instead, Straley focuses his attention on how the characters interact with one another, effectively revealing more about their personalities than anything they say or think. THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS is an interesting and entertaining novel primarily for its prose, but not on the level of most classic detective novels, where the clues are most important. Answers are revealed almost as nonchalant sidebars to the actions of the characters. The narrative is very relaxed and inviting with striking descriptions of spring in Alaska and its coastline.