Reviews of THE RAGTIME KID
"Larry Karp found a worthy, though neglected segment of American
music history to set a cleverly devised story of fact and fiction. By filling some of the undocumented
gaps with a plausible tale, he retells the early history of ragtime,
with its undercurrent of racism and business dealings. Along the way
he provides deserving recognition for several creators of the art form, aside
from Scott Joplin and 'The Ragtime Kid,' Brun Campbell."
David Reffkin, Director of The American Ragtime Ensemble;
Producer and Host of "The Ragtime Machine" on KUSF-FM, San Francisco
"When fifteen‑year‑old Brun Campbell hears
Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag at the fair in Oklahoma City it
changes his life. All he wants to do is play real colored ragtime,
but nobody in El Reno wants to teach him. Farm work is not for
him, so he runs away to Sedalia to persuade Scott Joplin to take
him on as a student. But on the way there, he discovers the
murdered body of a young woman, and he takes two things from her
and later wishes he had left well enough alone. In Sedalia he
finds his dreams, and a whole lot of nightmares to go with them.
"You don’t need to enjoy whodunits to enjoy
this book. For the first half at least, the crime is so far in the
back that it might never have happened: but just when I was
wondering why the author decided to write a crime novel, it all
comes rising up again. It is also true to say that this book would
stand up without the murders, as it is a largely biographical tale
about more real people than invented ones. This is a book to read
slowly, so you can savor the tangible reconstruction of Sedalia in
1899, with its bars, whorehouses, hopes for the future and the
terrible legacy of the Civil War.
"Perhaps even more than a snapshot of a city,
this is a novel about race relations (or lack of them), and the
tinderbox atmosphere of Sedalia as the novel builds to its
crescendo. This is a time only just beyond living memory, but this
is a time of lynchings and riots, a time when black people were
free but barely regarded as human by a large number of people. But
it is also a picture of a small group of people who were making
something (ie. ragtime) that white folk wanted a piece of, too.
This is not the start of a series, and anybody who thinks that
genre fiction is too lowbrow ought to read this. The Ragtime Kid
is surely more a mainstream book, and one which is going to not
only appeal to a large number of people, but has the ability to
stay in the mind long after. Very highly recommended."
Rachel A. Hyde, MyShelf.com Review,
September 27, 2006 Link:
"Brun Campbell loves to hear and play music.
In Oklahoma city he listens to some musicians in a music store
playing a tune by Scott Joplin and knows instantly that is what he
wants to learn how to play. He runs away from home at fifteen and
hops a train for Sedelia, Missouri in the hopes that he can get
Mr. Joplin to give him lessons. On the way into town he runs
across the body of a woman strangled to death and he takes a
musical money clip that is nearby and a locket on her neck.
"In town he meets businessman Mr. Fitzgerald
who stakes him to a room at the YMCA and money to buy food while
he looks for work. Someone who hears him playing music recommends
he ask music store owner Mr. Stark for a job. Mr. Stark listens to
him play and offers him a job on the spot. He also auditions for
Joplin who agrees to give him lessons. When Mr. Fitzgerald is
arrested for the murder of the woman Brun saw the first day he was
in town; he knows the man didn't do it. The money clip which
belonged to Joplin could implicate him and Brun in the murder.
Brun decides to find the killer with the unwitting help of the
townsfolk as he maneuvers them in the direction he wants them to
go for information relating to the murder.
"As historical mysteries go, THE RAGTIME KID
is one of the better ones. The author doesn't only write a good
who done it, he shows the readers how the plight of the black man
had changed very little since Emancipation back three decades
earlier. Scott Joplin takes a big risk to be paid in royalties
with his name as the arranger of the music, something unheard of
in the 1890's. The protagonist has a touch of larceny in him that
helps him get what he wants but he is so adorable, readers will
root for him in spite of his faults.
Harriet Klausner, Harriet Klausner
"Real people, famous and not, comprise most
of the cast of this mystery, set in Sedalia, Missouri, known in
the late 1800s as a center for ragtime. Teenage pianist Brun
loves ragtime, but a white kid isn't supposed to play 'colored
music.' Stubborn as well as talented, he runs off to Sedalia
to find Scott Joplin. On his first night in town, he comes across
the body of dead woman. Broke, he makes off with a money
clip he spots near her body, only later realizing that his
discovery links the gifted, driven Joplin to the killing.
Racism is a huge part of the story, and Karp weaves the theme
thoroughly and convincingly into his depiction of the music
business and of Sedalia society at the time. His large cast
could have been trimmed, and his characters frequently run to
type, but that's not enough to sink this well‑intentioned and
generally involving novel, which clearly shows the best and worst
of human nature in days gone by."
Booklist, August, 2006
"With an appealing protagonist, Karp unfolds
a fascinating story of a particular moment in history when Scott
Joplin was transforming ragtime. Fifteen-year-old Brun Campbell,
a natural piano player, discovers Joplin's music and decides that
he must study with him. Running away from home to go to Sedalia,
Missouri isn't a problem since life at home isn't that good and he
can always earn a living by playing piano in saloons as he has
been doing at home.
"Of course, tripping over a dead body his
first night in town is a different matter. Brun picks up a few
items around the dead woman's body that are important,
particularly since one of them is Scott Joplin's money clip.
Brun's luck changes when Fitzgerald, a nice Southern gentleman,
helps him out, and when he gets a job at Stark's music store.
Joplin takes him on as a student and all seems well except for an
obnoxious music publisher. However, when Fitzgerald is arrested
for the woman's murder, Brun is in a quandary about what to do.
Clearing Fitzgerald may implicate Joplin. Brun is convinced that
neither man is the murderer, and he is determined to find the
culprit. Although the guilty party is fairly obvious, the story
builds to an exciting conclusion. Karp captures the inherent
racism of the times to give the story depth. The Civil War is
still a reality in the lives of those who fought in it by the turn
of the century. Karp recreates the time vividly for the reader.
The characters are complex and appealing. Brun and America are
changing at the same time. Both are growing up and both are
filled with potential.
Sally Sugarman, Deadly Pleasures
Magazine, Summer 2006 (No. 48)
"Ragtime suffuses the very air of 1899 Sedalia, Mo., in Karp's
sweet‑natured historical featuring Scott Joplin and the fictional
16‑year‑old white boy Brun Campbell, who ignores the racial divide
in his determination to play piano Joplin‑style. Brun runs away
from home in Oklahoma and stumbles on the body of a young woman
just hours after arriving in Sedalia. He carelessly grabs a locket
and a money clip off the corpse, but soon learns that the objects
will incriminate Joplin. To protect his idol, Brun decides to find
out who the real murderer is. Karp (First, Do No Harm) does a
wonderful job of depicting a town steeped in music history and in
portraying Joplin, but the mystery plot pivots on a point that
most readers will find hard to swallow, and the identity of the
killer comes as little surprise.
Publisher's Weekly October 2
"This author is a master story teller and, once again, he has
created a great story and mystery for his readers to enjoy. As
Larry Karp's fans have come to expect, the unique and compelling
story line, along with a cast of extraordinary characters, capture
the reader's interest and attention from start to finish, and
beyond. Warning: Do not be surprised if you come down with a case
of ragtime fever and find yourself seeking out recordings of Scott
Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, et al or sitting down at the piano to
plunk out your own rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag."
"Most of the story is set in 1899 in Sedalia, Missouri. This
was one of the great centers for ragtime music and at that time
home to Scott Joplin. The author interweaves into the story actual
historical persons and events with the fictional elements he has
created. This approach gives the reader the bonus of a trip back
in time to experience a very significant and exciting period in
the development of ragtime music, along with a top flight mystery
set in that rich context.
"The star of the story is Brun Campbell, AKA "The Ragtime Kid."
Brun is a precocious fifteen‑year old piano player from Oklahoma
who has a passion for playing ragtime and is enchanted by Joplin's
"Maple Leaf Rag." He runs away from home to Sedalia to pursue his
dreams, with all of the confidence and enthusiasm of youth. First
and foremost, he plans to convince Joplin to accept him as a
student and teach him how to play ragtime as it should be played.
"In very short order, Brun discovers that the path to
realization of his dreams is not going to be quite the cakewalk he
had anticipated. It is not an auspicious sign when he stumbles
into the body of a murdered woman just as he is entering Sedalia.
Not wanting to become suspect number one, he decides to vacate the
crime scene as fast as his feet can carry him and not tell anyone
about his grisly discovery.
"Brun later changes his tune when he learns a man who
befriended him has been jailed for the murder, and one of the
"souvenirs" Brun lifted from the crime scene seems to implicate
Scott Joplin! Brun is reasonably sure neither of these men
committed the murder and sets out to find the real culprit.
"As the story unfolds, Brun's considerable talents as a
detective emerge, and he is given opportunities to exercise his
incredible gift for thinking on his feet and finessing his way out
of some very challenging situations. He encounters the full
spectrum of humankind, from the most noble and heroic to the most
unscrupulous, demented and evil beings imaginable. Fortunately,
the resourceful Brun manages to team up with the good guys to
bring the killer to justice. And ¼ through it all, he doesn't miss
a beat playing his beloved ragtime music and perfecting its
syncopated rhythm. What a "Kid!"
Gretchen Geib, Mysterious
Galaxy Guest Reviewer Fall 2006
"In the last years of the 19th century, the little town of
Sedalia, Missouri, was something of a hotbed of ragtime music.
Scott Joplin lived and worked there, playing piano in the Maple
Leaf Club, and there were many others, living there and passing
through, including Otis Saunders, Tom Ireland and Blind Boone.
John Stark, not yet a publisher, ran the local music store.
"When 15‑year‑old piano whiz Brun Campbell meets Otis Saunders
in Oklahoma City and is introduced to the music of Scott Joplin,
he is deeply smitten. Within months, he has left his home and
ridden the rails to Sedalia to seek out Joplin so he can learn to
play ragtime. On the way, however, he stumbles on the body of a
young woman. He first tries to revive her, but once he realizes
the situation, he recognizes his own danger as a stranger in town
and takes off, pocketing a couple of small items she no longer
"Brun is a smart lad and good‑natured, and swiftly finds his
feet in his new environment. He gets a job with John Stark,
impresses a local saloon keeper with his piano playing, and
manages to meet Scott Joplin and persuade him to take on a new
"Things seem to be going well, but then a courtly and rather
ineffectual gentleman who helped Brun on his first arrival in town
is arrested for the murder of the young woman. Brun is sure he
didn't do it; he also realizes he has information that would point
the investigation in another direction, but that direction would
be straight at Scott Joplin. Deeply troubled, he sets out to
uncover what he can and feel his way to a solution.
"This is a very lively book; it is well set in its period, with
intriguing characters and a compelling story. The tenor of the
times, the buoyant boosterism, the pervasive racism, the veneer of
morality, are strongly portrayed. Many of the characters are real
people ‑‑ the author includes a very useful afterward discussing
what in the book is historical fact and what invention. I was
interested to learn that Brun Campbell himself was a real person,
and amused to discover that there was a cameo appearance by the
three‑year‑old F Scott Fitzgerald, whom I did not recognize,
somehow, in the course of the tale.
"The storytelling is particularly adept. Young Brun's
experiences and the life and events in Sedalia are so rich a story
in themselves that at first the mystery aspect seems just one
small thread among many. Only gradually does it seep into the
fabric of the tale, overtaking everybody's preoccupations and
shouldering itself to the centre of things in the way that
disasters insist on doing. RAGTIME KID is very well done."
ReviewingTheEvidence.com June 2006
"A mystery is afoot. The
, the year is 1899 and the central character is Brun Campbell,
with much help from John Stark and Scott Joplin.
What better way to entice ragtime lovers than to combine
these three men in a mission to combat villainy in the town where
the Maple Leaf Rag was born?
Larry Karp has
woven together known historical facts, surmised tidbits and a lot
of “what-ifs” to create a work of fiction that is both a nailbiter
and an “Entertainer” (pun intended). Those
readers who have spent any time in
will also recognize many other names, including Otis Saunders,
Sarah and Nell Stark, Walker Williams, Charles Daniels and John
Bothwell, as well as many familiar place names – all of which
impart a friendliness to the story’s locale.
(later dubbed “The Ragtime Kid”) meets Saunders who introduces him
to the Maple Leaf Rag via a hand-written copy of the
is besotted by its infectiousness and subsequently runs away from
home at age 16 to meet Joplin, its composer, with the hope of
taking lessons from him. Arriving in Sedalia
after dark, he stumbles over a corpse, pockets some evidence,
receives lodging from a stranger and goes on to meet Joplin, who
takes him on as a pupil.
One stroke of
fortune leads to another for The Ragtime Kid, and soon he is
working in John Stark’s music store where he encounters an
unsavory character named Elmo Freitag who has traveled to Sedalia
from Kansas City to buy up all of the “colored” ragtime music he
can find, accompanied by beautiful Maisie McAllister who may not
have Campbell’s best interests in mind.
Trouble ensues and soon
becomes embroiled in another murder and realizes it may be up to
him to catch the killer and clear the names of Joplin, Stark and
others who have befriended him.
Karp pulls no
punches when he paints
as a town where blacks and whites tenuously coexist, but with a
racist undercurrent that can erupt to the surface when prodded by
bigoted outsiders and ugly events. Language is
sometimes crude and the “n-word” appears with alarming regularity.
Yet there are also heartwarming exchanges between whites
and blacks that display much hope for the future.
includes the obligatory unexpected twist for which mysteries are
famous and somehow cleverly manages to dispatch the “what-ifs” and
reconcile with the known facts. Larry Karp has
done his homework and his love of ragtime comes through clearly in
this excellent mystery. It should be enjoyed
and appreciated by both ragtime aficionados and who-dunnit fans
Jack Rummel, Ragtime Music Reviews,
January 2007 Link:
David Reffkin, The Mississippi
Rag, February 2007 (click image above to enlarge to a readable size)