The Glass Harmonica

ABOUT Richard Milton

Richard Milton
I'm a British writer and journalist, and author of a dozen titles, both fiction and non-fiction.


Julia Franklin is an international concert pianist who is losing her nerve.  Thousands of adoring fans pack the concert halls on both sides  of the Atlantic.  But Julia can’t shake off her nightmares or the fear that her career may be over. What Julia doesn’t know is that stage fright is the least of her problems.  She has no idea that she is heir to a 200-year-old bequest worth a billion dollars - enough to bankrupt America's oldest bank when the bequest it holds in trust matures.

Miles Bartholemew, son of the president of Bartholemew Equity and Trust, is trying to atone for his wild youth by working in the public defender’s office in Sacramento, California, helping kids get off crime charges.  Miles is stunned to learn on TV news that his grandfather, Nathaniel Bartholemew, has blown his brains out at the age of 91. Miles hasn’t had any contact with the family for six years but now he receives a letter from his father in Boston. It contains a $1,000 dollar bill and a single line of shaky handwriting:

“I must talk to you urgently. Please come home.”

His father tells Miles that the family bank was subject to a financial experiment by U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Over 200 years, the small account left by Franklin has amassed more than a billion dollars in interest - and the account is due to mature in two months’ time. It will wipe out the family bank - unless Miles can find the beneficiaries of the Franklin trust and deal with them - permanently - before time runs out.

“There is a way we can use this information if you've got the balls for it,” Charlie said. “We can use it to stack the deck in our favour.”

Miles finds himself in a remote town, engaging the services of an unsavoury ex-cop turned private eye to find all the Franklin heirs still living in the U.S. so that he can pay them a visit.

Julia receives disquieting news from her agent about a distant relative in the States - a warehouse manager who claimed descent from Franklin. He died as the victim of a bizarre “accident”. Other people are victims of equally mysterious “accidents” - a woman teacher drowns in a boating lake. An academic researcher has his neck broken by a falling window. 

Julia is contacted by Emil Roland, head of a secretive society dedicated to the Glass Harmonica - a keyboard instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin, and reputed to have the power both to heal sick minds - and to drive listeners insane. Roland explains that his secret society is one of the Franklin heirs and offers his protection.  Julia also seeks help from an exotic and dominating music therapist, Valentina Dresden.

Miles Bartholemew arrives anonymously in Britain and visits the east end to engage seedy private detective ‘Dixie’ Dixwell. The detective uncovers evidence of crime but before he can pass it on, he too falls victim to a mystery “accident”.

Miles contrives a meeting with Julia and flatters her. The charming young Bostonian invites her to meet him for a visit to a piano factory in the East End of London.  But when she arrives Julia, too, is victim of a near fatal accident - almost falling into a vat of molten glass.

Julia tries to get the London police to act but the by-the-book inspector she talks to insists there is no evidence of foul play.  Julia retreats to the safety of Valentina Dresden’s home and a super-exclusive country club for the super wealthy. Here Valentina inveigles her into a bizarre human hunt - before persuading Julia to stand up to the man who is threatening her by hunting him down.

She has no inkling that the secret society protecting her has been waiting and watching in the shadows for two centuries for its moment to fulfil an ancient destiny by arranging fatal ‘accidents’ for all the beneficiaries of the Franklin bequest and claim the prize.


As a journalist, I first became intrigued by the story of Benjamin Franklin when the bank accounts he left in trust matured some years ago. They had mounted up to many millions and the banks with which he had deposited them had to negotiate a settlement with the cities who inherited the cash. What would happen, I wondered, if there was another account - an even bigger one, worth a billion? What would happen to the bank? What about the person who inherited it? It sounded like a great motive for murder! When I discovered that Ben Franklin had also invented an extraordinary musical instrument called the glass harmonica, and the instrument had been accused of driving people insane, I knew I had the makings of a juicy murder mystery. Much of the historical background of the book - perhaps surprisingly - is perfectly true. Anton Mesmer really was a virtuoso of the glass harmonica and really did attempt to cure his patients by playing to them. He really did cure concert pianist Marie Paradies of hysterical blindness. And one other thing I must mention. I’m indebted to a very beautiful and talented concert pianist for confiding in me her nightmare - that of walking onto the stage to play and finding herself with no clothes on!

When you're in love with a fictional woman, you know it's hard, 4 Mar. 2015 By Hal Marshall (From - five stars)

"This is, without question, a superb literary effort. The next book I read will have to be out of a secret little compartment at the back of someone's 'top drawer' to be able to grab me like this one. And, let's face it - that's probably not very likely. Unless - or until - the hero of this book, Julia Franklin, reappears in future novels."