Book: The Stradivarius
Author: Rae Knowles
Publisher: Brigid’s Gate Press
Genre: Southern Gothic Horror
Why You Should Read It:
Luscious Southern Gothic setting, queer rep, protagonist you can cheer for.
What’s it About:
A missing violin, a murder mystery, a woman going mad.
One of my favorite genres of horror is Gothic, particularly Southern Gothic, and Rae Knowles’ The Stradivarius hits all the right notes for me. Gothic horror is a genre that often is misunderstood and overlooked in horror, probably because it may seem old-fashioned or stuffy, but that’s not the case here. I’m so happy to see more and more modern gothic stories hitting physical and digital bookshelves, especially stories featuring protagonists that are often underrepresented.
The Stradivarius opens with Mae, an orphaned ten-year-old who was sent to live with her aunt in rural Florida after her father was horrifically murdered. The motive for her father’s murder? A priceless Stradivarius violin named Lady Paola. The murderer and the violin are never discovered, leaving Mae emotionally stunted and traumatized by the event.
Fast-forward ten years and we find Mae stranded in her unsavory aunt’s trailer park, stuck in life and wavering in the wind until her fate comes back full-circle. She discovers that she is the sole inheritor of her fathers’ now crumbling South Carolina estate, and has to face her past and embrace her newfound fortune all at once. Thankfully, she’s also got a new love interest who wants to sweep her off her feet, though as these things tend to go, all that glitters isn’t gold. A whirlwind proposal leads to marriage and Mae’s new life is off to a shining start, or, so it seems.
Mae’s hometown return is bittersweet, and soon things go sideways as the mystery of her father’s murderer and the missing violin unfolds. As Mae and her new husband try to build a life together and bring her family home back to life, strange things happen and her sanity is etched away little by little. There’s a suspicious groundskeeper, a suspicious home helper, a suspicious… well, everyone seems to have something to hide, right? The lights dim and ghostly violin music drifts through the house, making our heroine question her own sanity. One of the most endearing things about this story for me was Mae’s non-binary friend, Ollie, who was the best character in the entire story. I was happy to learn the term “untie” for a nonbinary aunt/uncle term from this book, and was happy to see the representation of queer characters in a gothic setting.
Verdict: I ate this story up with a spoon. With nods to classic films like Gaslight (where the term for messing with someone’s brain to make them feel like they’re going crazy originates), classic gothic stories like The Yellow Wallpaper, and good old Southern Gothic vibes, The Stradivarius had everything I wanted and more. There was a little bit of jumping back and forth between narratives that got tricky for me at times, but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. There was also a particular body horror scene with a toenail that made me physically recoil and wince, and the satisfying ending that I had hoped for.
If you’re curious about gothic horror or are looking for a dark, twisty read with queer rep, be sure to check out The Stradivarius!