Imagine a female James Bond, who has a fondness for black leather and rides a motorcycle. Then picture the lovely lady clad in expensive evening gowns, playing her Stradivarius in major concert venues throughout the world. You are entering the domain of Leslie Frost, a virtuoso violinist who also happens to be a spy. The novel Frost the Fiddler, written by Janice Weber, is a corker of a book. The eponymous protagonist is jaded about life but lusty when it comes to love. In her spy guise she goes by the codename of Smith; a moniker that is a reference to one of America’s historically female “Seven Sisters,” a group of prestige liberal arts schools somewhat akin to the Ivy League. Of the seven U.S. women spies bearing those academic institutions’ codenames, only Smith and Barnard have remained alive. When reading Smith’s/Frost’s first-person narration, it is abundantly evident that she is a survivor. Her sardonic cynicism is reminiscent of a hardboiled detective’s. But instead of walking the mean streets in a film noir, she globally gallivants to pursue her quarry.
As a renowned musician, Frost has the cachet to cross borders without too much official scrutiny. This enables her to witness the fallout occurring just prior to Germany’s reunification and observe that as “Berlin partied, legions of spies were running wild, snatching the opportunities which bloomed only in chaos.” In Leipzig she covertly watches as a policeman is murdered, kicking her Smith persona into high gear. The homicide sets her on a trail that leads to a nest of enemy spies involved in very unsettling activities. Along the way, Smith/Frost engages in a passionate romance with Emil Flick, an East German official who she recognizes as the policeman’s killer. Flick fits the criteria for Frost’s rules of attraction: He satisfies her penchant for sophisticated older men and is a fervent violin aficionado. Plus, the danger factor is sublimely arousing. While the Berlin Wall is crumbling, their ardor crescendos.
The heat of their passion does not preclude the violinist from fiddling around elsewhere. Especially when attractive and talented sound engineer Toby Chance flirts with her. While he may not stir her the way Emil does, he is convenient; often traveling to New York and the international locales where she is concertizing and recording. She is perhaps stringing Toby along, but their connection is mutually beneficial as well as dicey—on many levels.
Suffice to say, Frost/Smith’s entanglements with men are tricky. Her relationships with women are also mindboggling in their intricacy. Maxine, the enigmatic creator of the all-female espionage organization and runner of its operatives, is Frost’s brother’s lover. The sibling owns a nightspot in Berlin where sultry Maxine moonlights as a Blues singer. The African American chanteuse knows how to hold the spotlight offstage as well as on; her choice of clothing perpetually accentuating her stunning body. Frost, who is no slouch in holding an audience’s attention, marvels at her boss’s onstage attire: “Half the red gown wanted to melt away and the other half crushed its contents in a pythonian death grip. I wondered where she had gotten it; a rig like that would come in handy next time I had to play an atonal concerto.”
Frost has less admiration for driven show biz publicity maven Sydney Bolt, a glamorous woman who views entertainers as fodder for lucrative public consumption. Debasement of her high-profile clients is merely part of the job. One of Sydney’s schemes to rake in the profits involves having the violinist romantically pursued by a rock star. Frost is not impressed by singer’s vocal skills, noting that “He sounded like a castrato Godzilla” but the ensuing media blitz creates the desired pandemonium. Frost’s neurotic accompanist gets taken along for the ride, hilariously pushing the harried pianist into the public eye in ways he never dreamed of.
While Sydney is a pain in the derrière, an elusive redhead named Hannah is a major thorn in Frost’s side. The antipathy is reciprocated in spades. Both women are involved with Emil, but Hannah’s demands on him are ostensibly in the line of duty. History plays a huge role in how the lives of these individuals overlap-intertwine. For Frost/Smith there are revelations that reinforce her notion that “Love was the enemy’s most gorgeous deception.”
Frost the Fiddler was published by St. Martin’s Press in 1992. The book nicely reflects post-Glasnost and pre-unification tension. Author Weber, a concert pianist who had a Carnegie Recital Hall debut when she was nine years old, knowledgeably orchestrates the backstage dramas replete with temperamental artistes and conductors. Weber concocted a refreshing protagonist in Frost/Smith. The character is an alluring blend of discipline and intensity; attributes that serve a virtuoso artist—and a spy—well. The author wrote a sequel entitled Hot Ticket (1998), in which Frost gets a more than a warm welcome from the U.S. President. It was a disappointing follow-up, in some measure because caricaturing the man in office at the time was utterly facile. Despite the letdown of Frost’s sophomore appearance, it is hard not to be grateful to Janice Weber for creating the libidinous Leslie: a fitting counterpart to James Bond.