Review: Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds by John Everson

Buy Here:

Flame Tree Publishing Website, Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Somebody is murdering the Songbirds…

A modern Giallo, Everson’s homage to the stylish Italian mystery thrillers. Somebody is murdering the Songbirds. When Eve Springer arrives in Belgium to study with the world famous Prof. Ernest Von Klein at The Eyrie, an exclusive music conservatory, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But that dream is soon to become a nightmare.

When the star of the school’s piano program is strangled with a piano wire, the only clue to the killer is a grainy picture of the victim during her final moments, mouth wide and screaming, posted on the girl’s own Facebook account, alongside a classic music video. What does it mean? Eve soon finds herself taking the girl’s place as the enclave’s star pupil, in line for a coveted scholarship and a new member of the famed jazz combo, the Songbirds.

When Eve is drugged and another Songbird murdered at a campus party, she suddenly finds herself on the list of suspects. Another picture is posted online of the victim in her final moments, and this time, Eve is sure the hands around the girl’s throat… are hers! Could she have killed the girl while under the influence of whatever someone had slipped in her drink? The police and others at the Eyrie are suspicious; the murders began when she arrived. Her new boyfriend Richard insists that she could not be the killer. But who would want the Songbirds dead? One of the other Songbirds, like Gianna, the snarky sax player who seems to hate everyone? Or Philip, the creepy building caretaker and occasional night watchman? Or could it be Prof. Von Klein himself, who seems very handy with a camera and has a secret locked room behind his office where the light always seems to be on after dark?

Whoever it is, Eve knows she needs to figure it out. Because when a dead canary is left as a bloody message on the keys of her piano, she knows her own life may be in deadly danger.

Review:

There is something about Giallo movies. Every horror fan, whether they like them or not, has seen at least one or two Giallo movies. I am not the biggest fan of them myself, but I know the tropes, I know the things that make a Giallo film a Giallo film, and John Everson has written a pitch perfect tribute to the genre. With the black gloved killer, the wild kills, the red herrings, and a title and cover that tells me it is a Giallo without even reading the first page, I cannot think of a better of a modern take on this subgenre than Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds.

The novel starts with Eve arriving at a prestigious music school in Belgium. As soon as she arrives, people start to die. The people who are murdered are killed with musical instruments. Every single kill is bizarre and disturbing. While Eve is trying to navigate this new school, she becomes part of the Songbirds, a jazz group that plays in a coffee shop in town. The killer seems to be specifically killing members of the group, and this puts them all in danger. Between rehearsals, meeting new friends, and trying to figure out who is killing all of her friends, Eve feels like she can be the next victim at any given time. This tension caused by Eve’s fear is strong and believable. Even though she is in the heroine role, she could very easily be a victim instead. John Everson is a great writer and a great plotter. He is able to lead us through this dark maze of a story without losing us while making us fear what might be around the next corner. 

With the novel trying to feel like a Giallo story, the pacing is spot on, the mystery is strong and unpredictable, and all of the tropes are there. The only thing that might be missing is that some of the Giallo films I see have moments and scenes that do not make much sense to the film. Everson does not do any of this. He has written a Giallo novel that does not stray away from the story, and for this, Five Deaths for Seven Songbirds, is not only a good Giallo novel but one of the first things I will point to if someone asks me for recommendations about this genre. 

I received this as an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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