Like watching a once-great athlete who continues to compete long past his physical prime, or seeing a once-great beauty whose face has been pulled tauter than a tightrope by a surgeon’s knife, reading Violin, Anne Rice’s 13th supernatural tome (13! — she should have known) is a depressing experience.

Her ability to create alluring, if far-fetched, characters, which has given her vampire books remarkably long lives, isn’t apparent here. The central characters — Triana, a middle-aged New Orleans widow, and Stefan, the ghost of a centuries-old Russian aristocrat with a paranormal talent for the violin — are laughable in their posturing. And Rice’s overwrought prose has gone grotesquely rococo.

The plot is simple: Upon the death of her second husband from AIDS, Triana enters an extended period of psychosis in which she blames herself for her mother’s death, her younger sister Faye’s disappearance or death, her small daughter’s death, and the death of her first marriage. Her despair attracts Stefan and his ghostly Stradivarius; inevitably, he drags her back into his spirit world to witness the terrible wrong that was done to him and caused his death. Then, in a theoretically uplifting catharsis, which takes place under the gaze of the enormous Christ over Rio, they set each other free from their respective burdens of guilt and hate. (Stefan also bequeaths a great talent for the violin to Triana, who’s always worshiped the instrument.) Beethoven’s ghost makes a cameo appearance, as does Paganini’s, but even they can’t rescue this off-key work.

Fans, be warned — disillusion lies within. Better to go back to Lestat and rediscover Rice in her prime. F

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