Musician turns to murder – How Calderdale organist has drawn inspiration from music research for latest crime fiction novel

He began playing the church organ at the age of 12 and Professor David Baker, founder and director of the Halifax Organ Academy, has some 20 non-fiction books to his name.

Now he’s combined his love of music with his talent for writing, with the publication of his second detective novel The Organ Loft Murders.

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The Calderdale-based musician turned author turned his hand to crime fiction during the long months of isolation imposed by the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Professor David Baker has a new crime fiction novel out, inspired by his research into music.

His first novel, A Month of Murder, was published late last year and features the fictitious town of Hartley, which is inspired by Halifax and Mytholmroyd, the latter of which Prof Baker calls home.

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Set in the North of England in 1879, The Organ Loft Murders sees the town ripped apart by a series of murders in the church organ loft that bring out the rich-poor divide, greed, corruption and hypocrisy of sacred and secular leadership.

Bradford-born Prof Baker, who is a Royal College of Organists tutor, says the inspiration came from research into music making in churches and concert halls in the North of England in the 19th century, and in particular, the difficult lives of ordinary working people .

The new novel introduces readers to a whole host of characters, including Detective Chief Inspector Wright Watson, head of Hartley CID, The Rev Percy Banks, devious and manipulative Vicar of Hartley and Doctor Thomas Burchill, murdered organist of the parish church.

“I’m hoping that readers who enjoyed A Month of Murder will also enjoy this new plot and the characters involved,” Prof Baker says.

“It reflects life in Victorian England and has human stories of love and conflict, ambition and failure, greed and altruism.

“Once again I have really enjoyed creating the characters and bringing them to life and although they are of course, all completely fictitious, some of them have been inspired by people I’ve met in the past.”

By the time Prof Baker was 16, he was an Associate of the Royal College of Organists.

He gained his Fellowship the following year and in 1970 he was elected Organ Scholar of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduating with a First Class Honors degree in music three years’ later.

He has remained active as a musician and musicologist, with the first edition of his book The Organ in 1991 selling over 10,000 copies.

Prof Baker is a regular writer and reviewer of organ and choral music and recordings and was previously editor of The Organ magazine.

He now focuses on teaching the organ and in 2011 he founded the Halifax Organ Academy, which aims to offer high quality tuition and support to organists of all ages and backgrounds within West Yorkshire.

Prof Baker is also planning to realize an ambition of bringing his ‘Bach-a-thon’ to Halifax – playing all of Bach’s 241 organ pieces over a series of 26 recitals – which had to be put on hold due to the pandemic.

There’s more books in the pipeline too. He is well on his way to completing a follow up to A Month of Murder and has more detective novels in mind.

As for The Organ Loft Murders, “I want the reader to feel immersed in the book, to enjoy it, to reflect, and naturally, to come away wanting more,” he says.

“I have received some lovely feedback from readers who enjoyed ‘A Month of Murder’ so I am hoping that they will enjoy The Organ Loft Murders just as much.

“Once again, I have included plenty of red herrings and twists and turns which I hope will keep readers gripped from the start.”

The Organ Loft Murders is out now.

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