Jack LeVine has been in a vicious funk since his father died in 1948. But after more than a year sulking in his apartment, joylessly listening to ball games, news reports, and classical music programs on the radio, the private detective has gone back to work in his freshly renovated office. His depression has passed, but those months glued to the radio are about to come in handy. His first client is a German violinist, who visits LeVine out of concern for his maestro, Toscanini, the famous conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The maestro’s memory is slipping, his conducting style has changed, and his eyesight is suddenly better than it used to be. The violinist suspects that the conductor has disappeared and been replaced by a double. It’s an outlandish suspicion, but LeVine takes the case. After all, somebody has to pay for his new office. Soon enough, LeVine finds out that organized crime is playing the tune . . .
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Fritz Stern was a small man with gray eyes, gray hair, and the nervous attentiveness of a refugee who had never stopped escaping. His sharp features were coated with a Florida tan that seemed as inappropriate on him as a zoot suit.
"I have been traveling," he told me somewhat apologetically. He held an elegant gray fedora in his lap and blinked several times. He was wearing a blue three-piece suit that looked to be ten years old and would probably last another fifty.
Stern shook his head. "No, no vacation," he said. "I in fact acquired this suntan while on tour some months ago. And then with the summer months"
"Tour?" I pulled open the top drawer of my desk and extracted a toothpick, then began working on a strand of bacon that was dangling precariously from a back molar.
"Yes," Stern said brightly. "We were in the southern states and Texas, the Northwest, the Midwest, all over." Stern had overcome most of his accent, but a phrase like "the southern states" defeated him entirely: the t's came out in s'ss's gave way to z's.
"You from Germany originally?" I asked him.
He blushed delicatelyGod knows why, it wasn't his faultand then nodded.
"The accent," he said. "I know is terrible."
"Not at all," said Ambassador LeVine. "You come over in the thirties?" The piece of bacon fell from my molar.
"I was born in Frankfurt in 1907 and came to this country in the year '38."
"Good year to come over."
"Good and bad," he said with someforce. "Many were not so fortunate. I lost family, friends of a lifetime. We all did."
All Icould do was nod. There isn't a lot of room for snappy patter when you start discussing mass murder. You nod a lot, you shake your head a lot, maybe you don't feel as guilty as you think you should, so you feel guilty about that. Nothing you can say will make a rat's ass worth of sense or difference. The best thing to do is just listen.
"But that is the past. I consider myself completely an American." Stern looked at his fedora, then smiled. "I even dream in English now."
"Me, too," I told him. "You have a family, Mr. Stern?"
"A wife and two daughters, one almost twenty-two, the other is thirteen. We live on Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights. It's a good neighborhood, well kept up. There are a great many other German refugees there, a beautiful park to walk in, good stores." He nodded, convincing himself. "I would say we are quite happy there."
Stern blinked a few more times and again studied his hat. He sighed loudly, as if to relieve a great pressure.
"Everything okay at home?"
He looked up quickly, as if startled.
"Oh yes, at home is fine. Fine." He nodded as he repeated himself. "Fine. Sure."
"Mr. Stern, not to be a busybody, but may I assume that something is less than fine or you would not be sitting in the office of a licensed private detective?"
Stern recoiled slightly, as if I had uttered the words "New Orleans whorehouse." He pulled on his earlobe, worried his bottom lip, rubbed his neck. He said nothing.
The circumcised Sherlock Holmes swung into action.
"You said you were on tour, Mr. Stern. You an actor, something like that?" It didn't seem possible; this guy was about as theatrical as a steamed carrot.
"A musician," Stern said after a moment.
"With the NBC Symphony."
"I'm impressed. Jesus Christ, to play under Toscanini, that must be something."
"The experience of a lifetime, Mr. Levine."
"LeVine, capital V."
"LeVine, I apologize. The experience of a lifetime, I can assure you. I have been with the orchestra since 1940, since the South American tour. Before that I played in Buffalo for a couple of years. But those winters were terrible."
"I'm sure. What instrument do you play?"
"Second violin," he said a little ruefully. "A soldier in the ranks, one might say."
"Listen, just to play with that crowd..."
"Again I say, the experience of a lifetime. You listen to the broadcasts?"
"Sometimes," I told him truthfully, "if it doesn't conflict with the ball games. I'm no expert, but I like my Beethoven as much as the next guy. And you were on tour a while ago. Yes, I remember reading about it, quite a rousing success. Got a tremendous play in the press."
Stern stared at the floor through my blathering, preoccupied.
"One could call it a great success, yes." He wet his lips as if to say more, then sighed once again and shook his head.
"How come you're shaking your head, Mr. Stern?"
Stern looked at me evenly. His right eyelid began to pulse. He rubbed it.
"Do many...odd people come here, Mr. LeVine?"
"'Many'? Well, I would say that all depends on your definition of 'odd.' More than enough, I'd say."
"And these people"Stern leaned forward, gripping his fedora"what makes them odd, in your opinion? Would it be their requests or their behavior? I would like to know this."
"Hard to say, Mr. Stern. Sometimes the most peculiar-looking people will make the most conventional requests. Then an ordinary Joenicely dressed, fresh haircuthe'll ask you to do something absolutely grotesque. You get a fair number of delusional types in this business."
Stern drew a blank. "And this means what?"
"Guys who think their wives are sleeping with Eddie Cantor or the vegetable man, people certain they're being followed by dead relatives; I've had more than one ex-GI tell me he was afraid to walk his dog at dinnertime because he was certain that his lieutenant was hiding in the shrubbery, poised with a gun or a knife."
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I love your new LeVine...The character and the feel of your books are terrific--I hope this one finds a wide audience, even beyond New York. After all, the others found me in the hinterlands long ago!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 1950 Midtown Manhattan, NBC Symphony second violin Fritz Stern visits private investigator Jack LeVine. Fritz, who has been with the symphony for over a decade, firmly believes that someone kidnapped the renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini. Stern bases his assessment on the fact that the great conductor could not remember the evening¿s program when the symphony performed for President and Mrs. Truman. Still a paying client is a client so Jack accepts the case. Stern tells Jack to start with the nasty Sidney Aaron, NBC vice president for Special Programming. Following that meeting, Jack concludes something is not right at NBC. However, things turn ugly when someone kills Stern. Jack stays with the case, which takes him to Cuba and the Mafia, but not any closer to learning the truth even with his life now on the line. TENDER IS LeVINE is a fabulous historical mystery that works because Andrew Bergman makes 1950 seem so real that it in turn anchors the mystery and Jack. The story line is fast-paced and the investigation is fun to watch, but this tale belongs to the period as history has never unfolded any better than this superb detective tale. Harriet Klausner