The Composer Is Dead

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
The Composer Is Dead Book Poster Image
Murder and mystery create a unique intro to the orchestra.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

The book encourages kids to learn more about music and the orchestra.

Violence & Scariness

No real violence, though this is a murder mystery, and the inspector is trying to find out who has murdered the composer. 


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this introduction to the orchestra is presented as a murder mystery. Readers ready for tongue-in-cheek, and slightly macabre, humor will be ready for it. Also, it comes with a CD of the author reading against the backdrop of newly composed music played by the San Francisco Symphony.

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What's the story?

When it's discovered that the composer is dead, or "decomposing" as the author puts it, the inspector is called in to solve the mystery of his murder. One by one, he interviews the sections of the orchestra, thereby revealing their various musical roles. Each one, of course, has an alibi. Ultimately, after revealing a long list of also dead composers, the inspector finds his answers, and all who want "something a little more interesting" than justice are encouraged to go to the orchestra.

Is it any good?

Those who enjoy the wit of Lemony Snicket will find this book funny and entertaining, at least for the most part. Plays on language and snippets of dry humor carry the various interviews between the inspector and the instruments. The sections of the orchestra are each introduced, and the reader gets a feel for the personality of each as well as a pretty good sense of what they offer to the whole. If that is enough for you, then you'll love this book.

Others may feel, however, that the ending falls a little flat and spins off in a confusing and dissatisfying way that raises a few questions, and leaves them unanswered. For one thing, the mystery of the murder is not really solved. In fact, there really has not been any murder at all. Second, we are left with the idea that classical composers are all dead, and dead men at that. Kids may like the game though, and they will certainly get to know music a little better.



Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the various instruments and the roles they play in an orchestra as they try to solve the murder mystery along with the inspector. They also may want to look at the list of composers carefully. Do you recognize any of the names? Do you see any women on the list? Why not? The book could inspire families to go to the orchestra to hear the instruments for themselves.

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