Knife Music

David Carnoy
Knife Music
(Overlook, 2010)

Black Sharpies and bold lettering accent David Carnoy’s debut novel, Knife Music.  This doctor versus detective thriller belongs on the shelf with Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, or Chuck Hogan.  Trauma alerts, cops, and teenagers lace the narrative in a high-pressure mix of empathy, encouragement, and contempt. This seesaw of compassion is maintained skillfully throughout the book.

The title’s origin is from a CD label “neatly handwritten in permanent black ink, in all caps, are the words, ‘KNIFE MUSIC.’” The CD’s owner is Dr. Ted Cogan and the label refers to “a term surgeons sometimes use to describe the music they play in the operating room.” Good to know my own tonsils were likely being sliced to rhythms of John Mayer. This also leads me to ponder surgery music in general. Are certain tunes better for certain surgeries? Is The Ready Set great for heart bypass surgery but will it box a guy, (a term used in the book to refer to patients who die), during an appendectomy? Would my Uncle George have lived longer if the doc’s Kings of Leon CD didn’t have a scratch? Should we verify our surgeons are not country fans before anesthesia?

Carnoy’s thorough research and narrative flare combine, frequently providing interesting glimpses in the corridors beyond public view. We see and hear private moments from behind the scenes at hospitals, to police stations, to frat houses where the “hardwood floors, sorely in need of a fresh coat of polyurethane, are still damp with beer.” We also learn interesting facts non-abrasively woven into the text such as “Non-declarative memory is a learned habit, such as riding a bike or driving a car, that once learned is not forgotten.”

The secondary characters are developed and relatable. My standout favorite was Detective Pastorini, whose way of cutting down on caffeine is to switch its form, “from espresso to regular coffee ... from iced coffee to Diet Coke.”

Reading Knife Music was my first cross-platform digital experience, having bounced from my iPad to my iPhone a number of times. The ability to dip into the book on the train, in line at the bank, and once on a long lunch break made me a bigger proponent of digital publishing than ever. Knife Music also has a free iOS app developed by Alexandru Brie that features the first half of the book. As an extra payoff, Carnoy’s novel provides us with a playlist from the Knife Music CD.  An eclectic mix of contemporary tunes including: Snow Patrol, Zwan, Modest Mouse, and of course The Killers. It was too much to resist having the iTunes icon a few pixels away. And I’m writing these closing words rocking out to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs


Bruce Seymour


OCT 2011

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