In 2019, Stephen Downes was awarded a PhD in creative writing from Monash, its major part was what he describes on his website as a “prototype” of this novel. The Hands of Pianistsis, as well as much else, concerned with the early deaths – at 31 – of three almost forgotten yet once internationally-famous pianists. They were an Australian, Noel Mewton-Wood, who died by his own hand after drinking prussic acid; an American, William Kapell, was killed in a plane crash on returning to San Francisco from an Australian tour; and New Zealander Richard Farrell died in a car accident in Sussex in the south of England.

The Hands of Pianists

The novel’s narrator has become handily convinced that their deaths were caused by the piano. He, described as a “neurotic freelance journalist”, is suffering guilt not only for accidentally severing some of his sister’s fingers, but also because she had been on the verge of a piano career and then killed herself.

To be fair, one can see connections here – if not to the severed fingers, which could...