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A defense investigator working out of Sitka, in the Alaskan coastal archipelago, Cecil Younger walks a narrow line between the truth and what his clients pay him to find… The Music of What Happens. Younger's got the child custody case from hell, and a client to match. Shrill, confrontational, and obsessed, Priscilla DeAngelo is sure her ex is conspiring with a state senator A defense investigator working out of Sitka, in the Alaskan coastal archipelago, Cecil Younger walks a narrow line between the truth and what his clients pay him to find… The Music of What Happens. Younger's got the child custody case from hell, and a client to match. Shrill, confrontational, and obsessed, Priscilla DeAngelo is sure her ex is conspiring with a state senator to wrest her son from her. When she storms off to Juneau for a showdown, Younger's custody case swiftly turns into a murder. Fired from her defense team, Younger stays with the investigation. He's not sure what keeps him bulldogging the case—Priscilla's sister, his lost love; his regard for truth as a rare commodity; or the head injury Priscilla's ex gave him—but he won't let go until it's solved.  But this time, the truth is less likely to set him free than to get him killed…


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A defense investigator working out of Sitka, in the Alaskan coastal archipelago, Cecil Younger walks a narrow line between the truth and what his clients pay him to find… The Music of What Happens. Younger's got the child custody case from hell, and a client to match. Shrill, confrontational, and obsessed, Priscilla DeAngelo is sure her ex is conspiring with a state senator A defense investigator working out of Sitka, in the Alaskan coastal archipelago, Cecil Younger walks a narrow line between the truth and what his clients pay him to find… The Music of What Happens. Younger's got the child custody case from hell, and a client to match. Shrill, confrontational, and obsessed, Priscilla DeAngelo is sure her ex is conspiring with a state senator to wrest her son from her. When she storms off to Juneau for a showdown, Younger's custody case swiftly turns into a murder. Fired from her defense team, Younger stays with the investigation. He's not sure what keeps him bulldogging the case—Priscilla's sister, his lost love; his regard for truth as a rare commodity; or the head injury Priscilla's ex gave him—but he won't let go until it's solved.  But this time, the truth is less likely to set him free than to get him killed…

30 review for The Music of What Happens

  1. 4 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    'The Music of What Happens' by John Straley is book three in the private investigator Cecil Younger series. He lives in Sitka, Alaska, with a mentally-disabled man, Toddy. Cecil takes care of Toddy because of a promise he made to social workers who didn't know what to do with Toddy except maybe putting him in an institution. Cecil's father had died shortly before Cecil met Toddy on a case he was investigating for a defense lawyer service. He needed to take care of Toddy as much as Toddy needed h 'The Music of What Happens' by John Straley is book three in the private investigator Cecil Younger series. He lives in Sitka, Alaska, with a mentally-disabled man, Toddy. Cecil takes care of Toddy because of a promise he made to social workers who didn't know what to do with Toddy except maybe putting him in an institution. Cecil's father had died shortly before Cecil met Toddy on a case he was investigating for a defense lawyer service. He needed to take care of Toddy as much as Toddy needed him. To Cecil, Toddy has a moral goodness and a purity of motives Cecil craves. It isn't until this third novel Cecil is finally completely sober. In book one, The Woman Who Married a Bear, Cecil is drunk throughout the mystery he is trying to fix. Cecil doesn't really have an interest in solving mysteries as much as he wants to smooth troubled waters. He doesn't believe in absolute truths. In my opinion, Cecil has a problem with being in reality, full stop. But he appears to be trying a lot to be ok and earn a living. He has to stay sober to keep Toddy in his house. The real main character of this series is the state of Alaska and Alaskan people. The setting, the mystery plots and most of the characters are thoroughly infused with Alaskan culture. The land is what these people are really about when centering themselves - hunting, camping, fishing, watching wild life on the land and in the sea. However, people being people, love-hate-sex-greed keeps Cecil busy as an investigator. When folks get arrested, they need defense lawyers. Cecil mostly works for a legal firm of defense lawyers. They want him to find anything to get their clients out of legal trouble whether they are guilty or not. Cecil knows they are all guilty of something anyway, but he really really doesn't judge very much. He's an ex-con himself, having spent time in prison because he used to deal drugs. He is an ex-addict, and now an ex-drunk. Cecil is working on a child custody case, but eventually he isn't certain who his paying his fees or who he is working for. Initially, he was working for Priscilla Sullivan. She believes there is a conspiracy in the Department of Social Services and the State Legislature to give her ex-husband Robert Sullivan visitation rights. Priscilla is a shrill harpy, easily enraged. But Cecil has known her since they were children, and he had a crush on her sister, Jane Marie, so he agrees to work for her. She wants him to follow her ex-husband Robert around Seattle where he is working, watching how he is with their six-year-old son, Young Bob. Cecil suspects what Priscilla really wants is her son kidnapped and brought back to her in Alaska. He won't do that, but he'll take her money and follow Robert. He wakes up some time later in a Sitka psych ward, diagnosed with a transitory ischemic incident. What happened? After awhile, he thinks he remembers he got hit on the head with a wine bottle by Robert. He is released with antidepressants in his pocket. Dickie Stein, Cecil's lawyer, shows up at Cecil's house to catch Cecil up on the custody case. Robert wants to settle with Priscilla, and he has a disbarred lawyer, Harrison Teller, that he wants Stein to contact. Teller knows important people despite his disbarment and still works as a sort-of lawyer. Ok then. But Cecil gets a phone call the next morning. Priscilla has murdered a state senator, Wilfred Taylor. Maybe. Wtf? Then things really gets crazy. The series is interesting. Everyone knows everyone like the way it usually is in all small towns, but Alaskans seem to be very much the rugged individualistic types. Alaskans seemingly aren't like people who are small fish and large fish in a small pond, it's more like everyone is a different kind of fish who swim about in their own small pond and they don't care or judge too heavily on what the other types of fish do in their ponds. Truth is definitely slippery!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Nolan

    This was really fun. You start out with a lackluster main character and get thrown into a plot twisting exciting mystery. I loved the Alaska archipelago setting, the details of nautical navigation and small bush plane knowledge that made the adventure more entertaining. Of course the plot and it's twists were sometimes outrageous, but that was part of it. The 90s references comically dated the story and setting. I picked this book up from a free book exchange at the airport in paperback. This was really fun. You start out with a lackluster main character and get thrown into a plot twisting exciting mystery. I loved the Alaska archipelago setting, the details of nautical navigation and small bush plane knowledge that made the adventure more entertaining. Of course the plot and it's twists were sometimes outrageous, but that was part of it. The 90s references comically dated the story and setting. I picked this book up from a free book exchange at the airport in paperback.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    I’m 73 now… been reading constantly for as long as I’ve been able – which is well over 65 years. Always have had a book in the works during that time, don’t know how many that would be, but quite a few. I think in that time I’ve become a pretty fair judge of good writing. I do know that there are some popular ‘authors’ around who, in my view are barely literate. I can’t imagine why anyone would publish what they write, but…. I’d read the previous Cecil Younger books by John Straley when I picked I’m 73 now… been reading constantly for as long as I’ve been able – which is well over 65 years. Always have had a book in the works during that time, don’t know how many that would be, but quite a few. I think in that time I’ve become a pretty fair judge of good writing. I do know that there are some popular ‘authors’ around who, in my view are barely literate. I can’t imagine why anyone would publish what they write, but…. I’d read the previous Cecil Younger books by John Straley when I picked up a copy of ‘The Music of What Happens” at the used book store. I’d found his previous work to be OK, if not stellar, at least interesting enough to read another one. The Alaskan Panhandle setting is interesting to me – I’ve spent some time there, and like the area. But this book has got to be one of the worst-written books I’ve read in recent years. It’s pretty bad, in my view. I won’t be looking for any more Straley books after this one. One of the reasons I enjoy a good novel is because I feel some liking and maybe empathy for the characters and their situation. I want to see what happens, and how they deal with it and how things come out, because I’ve acquired an affinity for them. There are some authors – some very highly regarded by the critics – who have written books in which all the characters are unsympathetic. I was reading some books by Ian McEwan – one of the ‘highly regarded’ and found them thoughtful… but got partway through one, as I recall it was entitled Solar (but could be mistaken), and found that every character in the book was an unrepentant asshole. Couldn’t finish it, and haven’t read another of his books. I was having those thoughts about ‘The Music of What Happens” after a couple of chapters. The protagonist – Cecil Younger, has never been a particularly likeable guy in any of the books I’ve read. Straley portrays him pretty much as a self-admitted loser. And I’ve never found any particularly redeeming qualities in his characterization to encourage that affinity that makes for some investment in his ‘story.’ And in this book, I found that the other characters were similarly pretty lacking in redeeming qualities. Toddy is OK, but not really part of the ‘story’ – Priscilla and her Ex-husband were portrayed as assholes. Jane Marie was OK, but pretty thinly characterized in my view. Dickie – is truly a ‘character’ I’ve come to see as portrayed by Harry Anderson – the ‘Judge’ on Night Court – kind of a clown, but fun and well-meaning. But like Toddy – Dickie is not really part of the story either. Harrison Teller the other major character in this book, was clearly another asshole. The bit-players beyond that were Gunk, and the child Bob. No investment possible for me in Gunk. And little Bob was deserving of some sympathy, but it’s pretty tough for him to carry an entire book. Aside from the characters, the ‘story’ is abysmal. After 50 pages, I was wondering if there was ever going to BE an actual ‘story’. Up to that stage, there had been just this enormous (20% of the book) ‘expository lump’ of explaining how Cecil and the De Angelo girls, et. al. had evolved as acquaintances… and various other seemingly irrelevant cogitations of Cecil’s that apparently are supposed to lead to insight about his actions or reactions, but never seem to. And then pretty much nothing happens to advance the ‘story’ for about another 100 pages (my issue of the book was 242 pages total). After that, things kind of move along – start to make some sense… and the final 90-odd pages really aren’t too bad. Actually, Straley is capable of some pretty good writing – his dialogue is usually pretty good, and he can create some sympathy for characters… but I think he’s bought into the ‘Cecil is a Loser’ concept a bit too much. And in this case, the story structure just wasn’t sustained in a readable way. That this book won a ‘Spotted Owl’ award tells me something about the ‘Award.’ Meh…. By mid-book, I was just proceeding to see just How Bad this book would be…. At the end there was a Teaser for the next in the series - “Death and the Language of Happiness” which indicates that Jane Marie will be along for the next ‘story’. I wish her luck.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James

    I didn't enjoy this third entry in the series as much as the first two. Can't put my finger on a single cause for this feeling. Part of it is that some of the characters I'd gotten to know didn't really come along for the ride. No Hannah. Did she and Cecil say goodbye in the second book and I missed it? There was no mention of her at all in this one. I had become used to Cecil's referring to her as "the woman who used to love me." No George Doggy. Maybe I just liked the name; I couldn't decide ov I didn't enjoy this third entry in the series as much as the first two. Can't put my finger on a single cause for this feeling. Part of it is that some of the characters I'd gotten to know didn't really come along for the ride. No Hannah. Did she and Cecil say goodbye in the second book and I missed it? There was no mention of her at all in this one. I had become used to Cecil's referring to her as "the woman who used to love me." No George Doggy. Maybe I just liked the name; I couldn't decide overall if I liked the character or not. Toddy's presence in "Music" was a cameo at best. Dickie Stein came along for the ride, but I can't say that his character was developed any further in this one. Another part is that the plot didn't grab me. Cecil basically chases after these bickering people and every time he catches up to them, they bicker some more and take off, trying to lose him, and the chase is on again. The big reveal didn't seem all that momentous. You need a tolerance for vagueness and ambiguity to appreciate Straley. I think I got too much of it for too little payback in this one. But I liked it well enough to move on to the next in the series.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    I like the settings and the stories are full of twists, but I find it a little hard to connect with the main character. He's sort of a reformed drunk and Columbo sort of guy in the wilds of Alaska. Actually much more bumbling than Columbo. Had to characterize but rugged and wild. I like the settings and the stories are full of twists, but I find it a little hard to connect with the main character. He's sort of a reformed drunk and Columbo sort of guy in the wilds of Alaska. Actually much more bumbling than Columbo. Had to characterize but rugged and wild.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Again Straley is a little weird but eventually I get into the story.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Art

    Cecil Younger may be the world's worst private investigator. But he sticks with it, asks questions and often finds his way to the truth. The Sitka, Alaska, setting and John Straley's musical prose set this series apart. And Cecil, who does not fight or carry a weapon, begins to grow on you as he is beaten by others. This time he is just out of the psych ward, assured he is not crazy but the victim of being hit in the head by his client's ex-husband. The client is convinced her ex-husband and others Cecil Younger may be the world's worst private investigator. But he sticks with it, asks questions and often finds his way to the truth. The Sitka, Alaska, setting and John Straley's musical prose set this series apart. And Cecil, who does not fight or carry a weapon, begins to grow on you as he is beaten by others. This time he is just out of the psych ward, assured he is not crazy but the victim of being hit in the head by his client's ex-husband. The client is convinced her ex-husband and others are conspiring against her to win custody of her son. When the state senator she sees as the center of the conspiracy dies, she is the prime suspect. Cecil is moving on from the woman who used to love him, which I see as a good thing. This book introduces new recurring characters and solidifies this as a series to read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I spent the first half of this book marveling over Straley's language, metaphors, originality. I was in awe. The description of fear of flying combined with a collapsed canoe, the story of a dinner table run amok; they were exquisite. And I still feel that way. Unfortunately, at the end, the plot just unraveled. Things had to be explained with the after-the-end conversation. I'm going to read more because I am thoroughly hooked on his way of looking at the world, but this one fell apart for me a I spent the first half of this book marveling over Straley's language, metaphors, originality. I was in awe. The description of fear of flying combined with a collapsed canoe, the story of a dinner table run amok; they were exquisite. And I still feel that way. Unfortunately, at the end, the plot just unraveled. Things had to be explained with the after-the-end conversation. I'm going to read more because I am thoroughly hooked on his way of looking at the world, but this one fell apart for me at the end.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Alan Grapin

    Cecil Younger was just released from the hospital psyche ward were he was recovering from a head injury and a history of substance abuse. His job as a private investigator for an attorney was about to bring him into contact with a woman on whom he'd had a crush back in high school, her sister was in jail for the murder of a crooked politician that may have factored into her divorce and the custody battle for her six year old son. A delightful story that takes place in Alaska, full of quirky char Cecil Younger was just released from the hospital psyche ward were he was recovering from a head injury and a history of substance abuse. His job as a private investigator for an attorney was about to bring him into contact with a woman on whom he'd had a crush back in high school, her sister was in jail for the murder of a crooked politician that may have factored into her divorce and the custody battle for her six year old son. A delightful story that takes place in Alaska, full of quirky characters and adventure.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    This was of that genre of detective novels with the quirky detective and other eccentric characters. While it was an easy read, an enjoyable enough, I did not find myself caring much about what happened or about any of the characters.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lfirish

    Witty banter and immersion in the locale make up for a less than stellar plot.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brett Mclay

    Goddam this book was fun. Wry wit throughout.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mike Sigler

    Strong local setting. Good characters.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Huffey

    Audiobook, not my favourite, bit confusing in the beginning.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Hayes

    Excellent writer. I didn’t personally care for the characters personalities but loved reading the book cover to cover. In my opinion the mark of a great writer.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lyn

    Could not get at the library, but wanted so much to listen to it that I bought it at Audible. Well Worth It!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alan Spinrad

    Great sense of Alaska. Typical convoluted Straley plot linew.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    Good plot and believable characters. Atmospheric and interesting. Recommended to the normal crew.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Agent Annie

    This is 3rd in a series so there would have been more introduction to the main character in those first two novels. When I started the novel, I felt a bit out of the loop because there were references that weren’t completely clear. However, since the narrator isn’t terribly reliable (lot’s of drug induced memory loss and muddled thinking), it may have been written this way on purpose. It was fast paced and the rest of the characters were well written. I especially liked Harrison Teller since he This is 3rd in a series so there would have been more introduction to the main character in those first two novels. When I started the novel, I felt a bit out of the loop because there were references that weren’t completely clear. However, since the narrator isn’t terribly reliable (lot’s of drug induced memory loss and muddled thinking), it may have been written this way on purpose. It was fast paced and the rest of the characters were well written. I especially liked Harrison Teller since he was so outlandish. The mystery itself wasn’t as neat as I prefer. I felt the author wrapped things up too easily and used information outside of what the narrator knew that would have made it impossible for the reader to learn things to help resolve the mystery. I liked this book because it had a different setting than most mysteries I’ve read. There isn’t much out there that takes place in Alaska. The culture of Alaska is described in a way that makes the book very interesting and the main character spends a lot of time paying attention to the messages that different birds and animals give him: Crow plays a large part in guiding him and laughing when he makes a mistake. Native American culture has a much stronger connection to the animal world than mainstream America which is what makes this book entertaining. I give it a 3.5.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Charles Kerns

    Straley’s book tries to be music. One thing: it is not mystery. People die, get hit, blown up, fight, but there is only confusion, not anything truly hidden--well, one thing is pulled on the reader to end the book, but it doesn't really matter. The plot really gives Cecil, the inept but persistent investigator, reasons to listen to everyone, watch everything, and sometimes be helpful. He also gets to travel through Alaska and describe the geography, peoples, and creatures in great detail. The wr Straley’s book tries to be music. One thing: it is not mystery. People die, get hit, blown up, fight, but there is only confusion, not anything truly hidden--well, one thing is pulled on the reader to end the book, but it doesn't really matter. The plot really gives Cecil, the inept but persistent investigator, reasons to listen to everyone, watch everything, and sometimes be helpful. He also gets to travel through Alaska and describe the geography, peoples, and creatures in great detail. The writing flows when he stops to talk about nature, which he often does in the middle of the action. The descriptions of everything natural or human is in close focus. You could draw the scenes after reading them. And the people are never completely bad--alcoholic, deranged, crazed, doped out, or woman-chasing, maybe, but not evil in the Sherlock Holmes tradition. The main thing to remember is this book worships Alaska first, dwells on the characters next, and finally has a plot. But as I have said about his other books, that's fine with me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dion Oreilly

    The strongest part of this book is the setting, Sitka, which is lovingly described and whose features strongly influence the plot. I also became very interested whenever Cecil, the protagonist-detective received mystical signs from ravens that helped him undercover the truth — a cool injection of weirdness. I have to say that, despite my frustration at really "getting" the erstwhile yet bumbling main character, I found him likable because he solves cases by listening and not forming judgments. I The strongest part of this book is the setting, Sitka, which is lovingly described and whose features strongly influence the plot. I also became very interested whenever Cecil, the protagonist-detective received mystical signs from ravens that helped him undercover the truth — a cool injection of weirdness. I have to say that, despite my frustration at really "getting" the erstwhile yet bumbling main character, I found him likable because he solves cases by listening and not forming judgments. I had a hard time understanding the motivations of the characters, and I was not bowled over by the final reveal, but maybe I was disappointed by the detective genre, a style I haven't read in years. I might try another in this series; it have a feeling it takes a few tries to get a handle on this highly-flawed, drug-addicted private sleuth.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    This is the first Straley book I've read. The plot went places I didn't expect and I liked that the location was someplace I didn't know anything about. It took me a chapter or two to get into but I like writers with an odd style, a la Kate Atkinson, so this was very enjoyable. Plan to go read the rest of this series in order. This is the first Straley book I've read. The plot went places I didn't expect and I liked that the location was someplace I didn't know anything about. It took me a chapter or two to get into but I like writers with an odd style, a la Kate Atkinson, so this was very enjoyable. Plan to go read the rest of this series in order.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matt Heavner

    I remember Straley's other books were similar: starting out a bit slow, getting better, better, and still better, then they are over. I love the story placed in the crazy side of Alaskan life (Southeast, specifically). I loved the description of Tenakee in this book -- just like I remember our visits out there. If you love Southeast, this crazy story is a fun romp through the area. I remember Straley's other books were similar: starting out a bit slow, getting better, better, and still better, then they are over. I love the story placed in the crazy side of Alaskan life (Southeast, specifically). I loved the description of Tenakee in this book -- just like I remember our visits out there. If you love Southeast, this crazy story is a fun romp through the area.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Gravley

    The third installment in Straley's Cecil Younger series. The defense investigator continues to struggle with his own demons as he looks for truth in the unforgiving, and often monstrous, environment of Alaska. A solid series. The third installment in Straley's Cecil Younger series. The defense investigator continues to struggle with his own demons as he looks for truth in the unforgiving, and often monstrous, environment of Alaska. A solid series.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Debbi

    Easy read - good airplane read. Not great literature. Fun for me because it happens in Alaska.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Excellent (though a bit rustic/regional for my taste). Intelligent and entertaining writer.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eliana

    Set in the Pacific Northwest, really well written mysteries.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    A good Alaska mystery.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eldon

    I like this author. A southest Alaska "mystery" writer who is unconventional and has a good eye for the ordinary. And his books are not all the same. I like this author. A southest Alaska "mystery" writer who is unconventional and has a good eye for the ordinary. And his books are not all the same.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    Another great Cecil Younger mystery. Maybe the best I have read so far.

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