Allen Johnson ’85 PhD
Boroughs Publishing Group: 2021
He’s older. She’s younger. He’s White. She’s Black. They come from different New York City neighborhoods—and different eras.
Set in both 1924 and 2019, this time-travelling romantic thriller tells the incredible story of Tony Marco, who becomes enchanted with a piano and the ghost of its former owner, the sultry jazz pianist and vocalist Athena Cruz. He travels back in time, into her world, and into her heart.
Inspired by the jazz scene of the Harlem Renaissance, Athena’s Piano features a cast of real-life characters with cameo appearances: Billie Holiday as a young girl, poet and playwright Langston Hughes, and legendary jazz pianist and composer Fletcher Henderson.
But the story centers around the sinister and lecherous nightclub owner Cal Craven, who gives Cruz the Steinway Duo-Art Pianola at the beginning of the book. It opens in Harlem in 1924, then flip-flops back and forth for several chapters between that time and place to the modern era. Marco is a 35-year-old surgeon, Iraq War veteran, avid cyclist, and musician who—in Greenwich Village in 2019—begins dreaming of Cruz.
She’s a 28-year-old jazz pianist and vocalist. And, after repeatedly declining Craven’s advances, her life is in danger. When a handsome visitor from the future falls into her life, they bond over their shared love of Charles Dickens, he writes a song for her which he performs in a “feathery baritone,” and the plot thickens.
This fast-paced, adventurous romance features issues of race and gender, corruption, heart-quickening chases, a Russian assassin, and a love that transcends time and space. Author Allen Johnson, a psychologist, jazz vocalist and instrumentalist, and avid cyclist who lives in the Tri-Cities and is a former guest columnist for the Tri-City Herald, wraps it all up tightly and conveniently.