Brodie Moncur, the protagonist of William Boyd’s latest novel, has a gift: His perfect pitch and attention to detail make him a once-in-a-generation piano tuner, employable anywhere in the world. He takes his skills from Edinburgh to Paris and St. Petersburg, working with some of the most renowned musicians of the late 19th century. Even bloody bouts of tuberculosis don’t dim his prospects.
But his brilliance is threatened by his love for an unattainable woman. Lika Blum, a mediocre Russian singer, lives with John Kilbarron, one of Brodie’s main clients. Brodie is drawn to Lika’s blonde beauty, her kindness and the way she fills him with contentment “like a powerful liquor; like some ambrosial, aphrodisiacal tonic invading every blood vessel and capillary in his body.”
Soon enough, though, it becomes clear that Brodie gives in to his feelings at his own peril. Kilbarron is a drunk and a drug user, and his manager brother is not above threats to get the best deal for his brother—and himself. After their illicit love affair turns deadly, Brodie and Lika find themselves on the run across Europe, and Lika faces a terrible choice to ensure her lover’s safety.
Boyd, the author of more than a dozen novels, including Any Human Heart and A Good Man in Africa, is exceptionally good at evoking a vivid sense of place. He takes us to the gloomy Scottish countryside and the Mediterranean shores of Nice, enveloping the reader in a time in European history when horses are being replaced by cars, women still have few choices, and men can settle their feuds without the interference of law. Love Is Blind is a cautionary tale in how passion can both lift up and destroy lives.