Book Review: If Music Be The Food of Crime by Marie Helene Visconti

Review: If Music Be The Food of Crime by Marie Helene Visconti

Reviewed by Iris Carden

It begins with some missing jewels, and quickly moves to murder, maiming and general mayhem.  Someone clearly has it in for the Orchestre Symphonique de Medianie, but who? With an entire orchestra as potential suspects, and as potential victims, there is no end of loose ends, and wild goose chases. And of course, there is the one clue that is overlooked and is the key to everything. (No, I'm not going to tell you what it is.)

There are some language and formatting issues which distract a little from this otherwise intriguing story.  Direct speech is indicated by dashes instead of inverted commas. Some of the translation to English left me wondering a little; it took me to chapters to work out that "rpat" meant "father".

Aside from those couple of distracting issues, I did find it possible to immerse myself in the story, to wonder at all of the behind-the-scenes intrigue in the dysfunctional orchestra, and to desperately want to know not only who did it and why, but who would actually solve the case.

Group Meeting Chapter 1 Monday Morning

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Group Meeting

by Iris Carden

Chapter 1 - Monday Morning

They sat in their usual circle, in their usual varying attitudes of attention and inattention, waiting for the week to begin.

“OK”, Sarah looked down at her notes. “Well it's the start of another week. How did everyone go over the weekend?”

Residents looked from one to the other. No-one ever wanted to speak first.

“OK,” Sarah looked down at her notebook. “While you're thinking about it, here's our morning notices. Lifeskills this morning is in the kitchen with Kara – you're going to be making spaghetti bolognaise.”

Chantal shook a dirty blonde curl out of her face. “I can't have spaghetti bolognaise. I'm vegetarian.”

“When did that happen?” Bobby said, looking curiously at the fingernail he'd just been biting. “You ate sausages at the barbecue yesterday.”

“I've had an epiphany,” Chantal said, “I'm vegetarian now. I can't eat another living thing.”

“It's not living once it's meat,” Johnno laughed, that grating, annoying laugh that always made Sarah think of a cat having its tail pulled.

“Don't be disgusting,” Chantal said. “It's wrong to eat another living thing, or even something that used to be living.”

“Better not eat any vegetables then,” Johnno squarked as he laughed again.

“I think,” Sarah interrupted, “we need to respect Chantal's choice here. Chantal, I'm sure Kara can help you make yours without meat.”

“I don't want to be in a kitchen where people are cooking meat,” Chantal said. “The smell will make me sick.”

“Didn't make you sick when you ate five sausages yesterday,” Bobby was examining the next fingernail. “You were leaning over the barbecue saying they were taking too long to cook, and how good they smelled.”

“You can cope with the kitchen, I'm sure,” Sarah said.

“No, I can't. I absolutely can't.”

“Chantal, you know the condition of being here is that you take full part in the program.” Sarah tried to keep her voice calm, even. “You can't just leave out the parts you don't like. Lifeskills is central to the program. You committed to doing it when you came here.”

“So do it,” Johnno laughed, “or you go back up to the ward, and you'll never, ever, ever, get out.”

“That's enough, Johnno,” Sarah said sharply. “Chantal, you will go to lifeskills. You don't have to cook or eat meat, but you do have to go to the kitchen for a cooking session.”

“I'm going to write to the Health Minister about this,” Chantal pouted.

“That's fine,” Sarah said. “You have the right to write to anyone you like, but while you're here, you're sticking with the program.”

“It's all right Chantal,” Jilly said. “You don't have to smell the meat. If you cook at the end stove, near the door, you can't smell what's on the other stoves. That's what I do when it's fish.”

“Listen to Jilly,” Johnno laughed. “She knows so much about problem solving. What problem did you solve to end up here, then Jilly?”

“Johnno,” Sarah snapped, “that's more than enough. Jilly, thank you for your suggestion, I'm sure that will help Chantal a lot.”

Jilly blushed, looked down at her feet, brown hair falling over her face. Her arms and legs pulled tightly into herself. She rarely spoke, always afraid of drawing attention to herself.

“It's all a joke anyway, isn't it?” Johnno demanded. “We're never getting out of here. This is the best there is. It's only here or the ward, isn't it? Isn't that the truth? We're learning lifeskills, and communications, and we keep talking about when we get out of here. But we aren't are we? It's not just that we're crazy. We're dangerous and crazy. Nobody would let us loose. Not ever. If Chantal doesn't cook her spaghetti, you can send her back to the ward, but there's nowhere else she can go is there? This is it. This is our world. Here and the ward. There's nothing else.”

“Johnno, you've been told this before,” Sarah explained slowly as if to a child. “You are all at the half-way house, to prepare to live in your own homes out in the wider community. You came here from the ward because your medication and your therapy are working, you are well enough to leave the hospital. What we're doing here is helping to prepare you to be able to live away from the hospital without getting sick again.”

“We're so well,” Johnno said, “that's why we're caged. There's three metre tall fences all around us, with razor wire on top. We can't go out unsupervised. No-one can visit without signing in and out, and being searched for weapons or drugs.” Johnno wasn't laughing anymore. “This is a jail, and we're never getting out. We don't deserve to get out.”

“That's all just basic security, for your protection,” Sarah tried to keep her voice at a calm, professional level. She did not understand why Johnno always seemed to upset her. Perhaps it was because he was right – she certainly wouldn't want someone who'd done what he'd done living next door to her – maybe he would leave one day, but he should not. “People have been known to break into health facilities to steal medication, or money, or take advantage of vulnerable people. And as you pointed out, some people would view you as dangerous, or might have a grudge against you because of things you did when you were sick. Some people might want to use personal violence against you so they feel safer or as if they are protecting society or whatever.”

“Yeah,” said Johnno, “we need protection.”
“It's not a jail,” Bobby said, looking at a nail on the other hand. “We're not prisoners. We go out. We're not convicted of any crime.”

“Because we were found mentally incompetent to plead,” Johnno said. “So we were shoved in the ward, and then we were moved here when they couldn't say we were so sick we had to stay in hospital. Why is the half-way house only ever used for people like us? Why hasn't there ever been someone who just had depression or tried to bulimia or something like that? There's this whole facility, big enough for thirty residents, but there's only four of us here.”

“You're a trial group,” Sarah said, resolutely. “I've explained this to you before. If this program works really well for you, other people will be transferred here from the ward, or from other parts of the hospital, or even other hospitals.”

“Even the ward is only for people like us,” Johnno said. “I was there two years, and there were never more than two or three people there at a time. A whole hospital ward for two or three patients! And only ever people who've done really, really bad stuff, people who are thoroughly evil.”

“You are not evil,” Sarah said, with overstated patience, “you have just been very, very sick. You are getting better. Yes, the ward, and the half-way house are for extremely sick people, and there's not a lot of people who have been as sick as you are, but that doesn't mean you're in a jail. It means you have a lot of special needs. We're here to help you deal with that, give you the skills so you can live out in the community. When you've finished the program, you will be able to leave, to go to community accommodation, maybe with a bit of extra support.”

“I don't want to leave,” Chantal said quietly. “I belong here.”

“For now,” Sarah said, “you belong here. But when you finish the program, you can have a home of your own, and you will belong there.”

“How long before we finish the program?” Johnno asked.

“For always,” Chantal said. “This is my penance. This is purgatory. I'm being purified, so I can be forgiven.”

“You can't be forgiven,” Johnno said. “None of us can.”

“This isn't about what you've done,” Sarah said, “this isn't punishment. The program, and all the staff are here to help you, to help you get well, and to live independently. This is about the future, not the past.”

“We are being punished,” Chantal said resolutely. “We have to repent enough to be forgiven. That's why I have to give up meat – to show my repentance.”

“Chantal, I wonder if this is something you need to discuss with Doc, or with the chaplain? It just doesn't seem to be a real reflection of what's going on here.”

“No,” said Johnno. “It's more accurate than you're saying. We are here to be punished. But you can't repent. You can't be forgiven. You can give up meat or chocolate, or whatever you want – that doesn't change what you've done. You have to live with it forever.”

“But you did what you did when you were very sick,” Sarah tried to regain some control. “I think there's a lot of issues here that both of you need to talk to Doc about. Fortunately, it's Doc's day here. This afternoon you all have your appointments with him – Chantal, you've got the 1pm appointment, Johnno you're 1.45, Jilly you're 2.30 and Bobby you're 3.15. Everyone got that? Do you need me to repeat it?”

“So it's the same times as we always have on Doc's days?” Bobby's right index finger was now bleeding, from his constant biting.

“Yes,” said Sarah, “just the same as always.”

“Nothing ever changes,” Bobby said, “you could just put a printed schedule on the noticeboard – and not have to tell us every morning.”

“Would you like a printed schedule?”

“Not really.”

“Well, it's off to the kitchen now to cook with Kara. This afternoon you have free time except for your appointments with Doc. Is there anything else? No? I'll see you back here for wrap-up at four.”

Want to read the whole book? It's available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format, and at Lulu in paperback and epub formats.

Karlee. Part I. Introduction and Chapter 1

Want to read the full book? Karlee is available from Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format, and from Lulu in paperback and epub.


a novella

by Iris Carden

For all those who
with the hope that
your dreams
do not become


The boy bounced the ball against the wall. He was bored and wished his mother had time to play. Dad was at work.

Mum, however, no longer seemed to have time for him. She was busy with the tiny, pink object which was his new sister.

When Mum had gone to the hospital to get the baby, she had said it would be anew playmate for him, but the baby was not big enough to play yet. All it did was eat, sleep and cry.

Worse than that, Mum had got a girl baby! He wondered if girl were ever interested in the same games as boys played.

The ball rolled away. He ran after it. Down the driveway and out on to the road, went the ball. The boy stood on the foot-path. Mum had told him never to go out on the road. Indecision gripped his young mind, as his favourite toy stayed just out of reach.

“I'll get it for you!” a voice called. A girl, who appeared to come from nowhere, ran out on to the road and retrieved the ball.

“Thank-you,” the boy said as the ball was returned to his possession. “Does your mum let you go on the road?”

“I can go wherever I like,” the girl replied.

“Gee, you must be old.”

“I'm older than you.”

“How do you know?”

“How old are you?”

“I'm almost five.”

“I'm older than that.”

That seemed to exhaust the conversation, but the boy did not want to lose his new companion yet. “Where do you live?”


“Do you like to play ball?”

“Sure, I do.”

So the two went to the side of the house and together they bounced the ball against the wall.

“Why are your eyes that colour?” the boy asked.


Chapter 1

Terry re-read the chapter, selected the whole thing, took one final look and hit “delete”. Again. He slammed his fist on to the table. It was going to be another unproductive day, and one he could ill-afford.

The telephone rang. It was Neil, of course.

“How's the book coming, Terry?”

“It isn't.”

“What's wrong this time?” Neil had long ceased to sound concerned over Terry's mental block. He was now bored with the excuses.

“I've got the ideas, just no words will go with them.”

“I'll send you a dictionary.”

“Not funny.”

“No, it's long past funny. You know the contract expires at the end of the month and it's the twentieth now.”

“I know.”

“You've got ten days to get it in.”

“I know that.”

“I might be able to extend it one or two days for you, but there are people above me, so I can't promise anything.”

“What if I don't get it in until later?”

“Don't think of that as an option. The contract runs out. Then anything you submit has to go through the process of being accepted or rejected all over again. Only we've already paid you a fair bit of money – if it's rejected you get to pay it back. I assume paying it back won't be a problem?”

“You know it will be a problem.”

“So get it done.”

“Can you try to get me some more time? A couple of extra weeks? Have the contract extended or something?”

“Terry I can try, but I can't offer promises. I'll talk to a couple of people, and since it's you, they'll probably say 'no'. But I'll try, I'll get back to you.”


“Don't thank me yet. I'll call you and let you know how I get on. But work on the basis that the deadline isn't likely to change. Keep writing.”

“Yeah, I will, but there doesnt' seem to be much point in it.”

“So do it for the fun of it.”


“You told me you enjoyed writing.”

“That was when I had a successful book on the market.”

“Money makes the difference?”

“When you can't pay the rent it does.”

“Sad story, pity you didn't, I don't know, save something, when your book was selling so well. I'll let you know what happens with the contract. 'Bye.”

“Yeah, 'bye Neil.” Terry put down the phone and thought about the money he owned Telstra for it. It would not be long, he decided, until he lost it.

While thinking of things he could lose, he wondered if Nettie would lend him the money for the rent again this month.

He dialled the number. A voice purred, “Good morning, Perfection Modelling Agency, can I help you?”

“Anette Dixon's office, please,” Terry responded.

“Who shall I say is calling?”

“Terry Dixon.”

The purr turned into a snarl. “One moment please.”

Terry tapped the desk with his fingernails. He did not enjoy asking his little sister for hand-outs, but it had to be done.

“Hello Terry,” Nettie's bright voice greeted him.

“Hi Nettie, I was wondering...”

“No, I'm afraid I don't have a job for you, unless you lose about five kilos.”

“Thanks Sis, but I don't think I'm the right type. I'm more intellectual than physical.”

“No, I'm serious. We need someone for a series of ads for a new brand of office equipment. If you could drop five kilos in the next three weeks, we could use you.”

“Well, it's tempting, but I don't think I'm all that photogenic.”

“It has to give you a better income than writing – which at the moment is paying you what? Nothing? How much do you want this time?”

“About three hundred.”

“Terry, you know, sooner or later, I'm not going to be able to support you.”

“I'm sorry, Nettie, but the rent's just gone up. There's nothing I can do about it.”

“How about getting a job?”

“I've got a job.”

“What you've got is a worthless piece of paper.”

“It's a contract!”

“They can still reject the book.”

“Only if it isn't up to standard.”

“Is it?”


“Well, is it?”

“I don't know.”

“Look, Terry, I've got to go. There's a client on the other line. I'll call you tonight. Good-bye.”

“'Bye Nettie.”

Want to read the full book? Karlee is available from Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format, and from Lulu in paperback and epub.