Beethoven’s Assassins by Andrew Crumey - review by Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths

Demonic Variations

Beethoven’s Assassins


Dedalus 511pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

No, Andrew Crumey is not proposing that Beethoven was bumped off by a squad of hitmen. Instead his book turns on spiritualist seances and the theory of relativity, an odd situation involving an early 19th-century Scottish governess and a mysterious death in a mysterious library, a present-day writer’s strained relationship with ageing parents, desire and suspicion at a centre for visiting artists, the reversal of time, the nature of art and the rage for occultism in England a century ago. There are appearances by Katherine Mansfield and others. And yes, there are assassins in there too: hashish users and descendants of everyone’s favourite medieval mystery men, the Knights Templar. There is also a good deal about Beethoven and his music, and the waft throughout of a fictional lost opera.

The linchpin of all this, and perhaps the starting point for the author’s thorough and enthusiastic research, is J W N Sullivan, who, largely self-educated, wrote not only a 1927 study of Beethoven that remains useful but also several books explaining the new physics of Einstein, Planck and others,

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