Inspired by true events, Claudette on the Keys is the story of Ida Fernley, whose stage name is Claudette, and her husband Harry, a Toronto-based duo piano team called the Black and White Spotters. At the height of the Great Depression, the pair are hanging onto their livelihoods by their fingernails. It is the winter of 1936, with the unemployment rate at 17 percent, when they find out that they are being laid off from their live weekly radio program on CKCL due to a pullout by the sponsor, Shirriff’s Marmalade. After their home is re-possessed, they and their two young sons move into Harry’s parents’ home where they try to figure out their next steps. When Ida plays free of charge for a charity concert at Shea’s Hippodrome, she happens to meet a British talent agent who is impressed by her virtuosic rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” He invites her and Harry to come to London to work, where Ida experiences firsthand the rise of fascism and becomes embroiled in pre-war intrigue. Whenever she finds herself in a tough spot, she draws inspiration from her movie-star hero Claudette Colbert. A gripping read for fans of The Gown by Jennifer Robson and The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff.
The world of Depression-era musicians – and especially the musical world of Ida, or Claudette – is superbly rendered. The highs and lows of a performer’s life, from anxious insecurity to concert euphoria, feels wonderfully authentic. And the book’s many details about the era’s popular songs and performers give the novel great authenticity and bring the story to sparkling life.
- Barbara Kyle, author of The Man from Spirit Creek