Let it be said Barbara Bowen never had a beef with a bassoonist.
One might think otherwise, considering the former professional oboe and English horn player turned novelist kills one off in her new book, “Music is Murder.”
Released in June, Bowen’s cozy mystery is set in Monroe, Colo., a city inspired by Colorado Springs. In this fine city is a fine symphony, much like the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. But whereas no murders have taken place among our own popular orchestra, there is blood in the water at the Monroe Symphony, when a bassoonist is bludgeoned to death with her own instrument, and second flutist Emily Wilson is the prime suspect.
For those scratching their head at the words cozy mystery, prime examples are the Nancy Drew series and mysteries by Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Janet Evanovich. In the popular genre, there’s always a murder, but the bloodshed takes place off the page. There’s no sex, no cursing and it’s often set in a small town with a quirky cast of characters.
“The bad guy always gets it in the end,” said Bowen, a Colorado Springs resident. “If you were involved in a murder in real life, you would be really freaked. But the murder in cozies — if there isn’t humor, there’s a light touch. The main focus of the book is on the relationships and the mystery.”
Bowen played with the Colorado Springs Symphony from 1984-2003, before it declared bankruptcy in early 2003 and reemerged that year as the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. She followed the advice every fiction writer hears: Write what you know.
“There’s so much that goes on onstage and backstage, but she was good with the amount of information,” said violinist Cynthia Robinson, who’s played for 40 years in the Colorado Springs Symphony and Colorado Springs Philharmonic. “It was enough that you felt like you could be there. It was very fun.”
The book is available locally through Poor Richard’s Bookstore and A Likely Story, and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and Bookshop.
She went with the bassoon because the usually two-person section sat behind her oboe section in the symphony, and killing off another musician, such as a violinist, would have meant cluttering up the page with a lot more characters — violinists substantially outnumber bassoonists in an orchestra.
And why not an oboe player as her protagonist? It was a choice likely made due to her mother, who played flute through her childhood, and Christopher Wilkins, a former music director of the Colorado Springs Symphony and an oboist.
“He had a teacher who told him you should never pick on your own instrument or make comments about it,” Bowen said. “You’re just too close to it.”
Bowen picked up the oboe at 11, after trying the piano and flute, and took to it so quickly that she began to play with adult groups in the Denver area, where she grew up, including an amateur group with her flutist mother. After college at Boston University, she took a job with a chamber orchestra in Mexico. Then it was back to Colorado, where she eventually wound up playing full time with the Springs symphony.
“Music is Murder” is 27 years in the making, and is the first of a three-part series set at the very murderous Monroe Symphony. Bowen hopes the second book, “Ballistics at the Ballet,” will come out around Christmas.
Her first book took root after a divorce, when she joined a writing group at the now-defunct used bookstore La Dolce Vita. After the store closed, she set the manuscript aside, but picked it up two decades later after quitting working to care for her mother before she died two years ago.
“It was such a lifesaver,” she said of the book, “because you get bogged down in medications and changing diapers and cleaning house and cooking. This was just an escape.”