A Simple Scale

David Llewellyn
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
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‘Beautifully told and beautifully written’ – Philip Reeve (author of Mortal Engines)

‘Masterly interweaving of narratives, time periods and places, David Llewellyn’s A Simple Scale is a symphony of mysteries and passions.’ – Paul Smith

‘A Simple Scale is a work of self-assured persuasive power, and the resounding artistic statement of a writer who has truly arrived. It is bold, it is brave, and it is the real deal.​’ – Wales Arts Review​

‘A compelling and suspenseful novel​’ – Buzz Magazine

A single piece of music starts a story that takes us from Soviet Russia and McCarthyite Hollywood to post-9/11 New York. A single piece of music, and two composers – one American, the other Soviet – but which of them wrote it? How did their lives cross? How were their fortunes shaped by history, and what were the consequences for those they loved?

A young Russian, Pavel Grekov, arrives in New York in the October of 2001, and accuses ageing TV composer Sol Conrad of plagiarising a work by his grandfather, Sergey. Conrad’s young PA Natalie is determined to defend her boss, but as she digs deeper she discovers worlds she barely knew about – the labour camps of Siberia, the “Red Scare” of 1950s Hollywood, government oppression, and the plight of gay men in the USA and USSR of the mid-20th Century.

Natalie, Sol and Sergey’s stories range across decades and continents, and A Simple Scale moves through narratives of love, death, deceit, the secret police, atom bombs, Classical music and the last days of Hollywood’s “Golden Age”. In a dramatic conclusion, the past and present catches up with them, as the secrecies and betrayals of Sol and Sergey’s lives inform events in 2001, when history is just about to repeat itself. 

Rich in detail and atmosphere, David Llewellyn explores the points at which the personal and political meet. Throughout, his depiction of ’30s Leningrad, ’50s California and post-9/11 New York is only too believable.


Review by Gary Raymond, The Lonely Crowd

Friday, December 14, 2018

I think it’s been a rich year in Welsh publishing, although maybe not as much has come out as has in previous years – that means it’s very difficult to choose the best, because so much of it has been really good. In fiction, though, David Llewellyn’s A Simple Scale is the one that stood out for me. Llewellyn is the real deal – it’s a thoughtful, superbly written story that drips with largely realised literary ambitions. As you’d expect from someone who writes a lot of audio drama, his dialogue pings, particularly in the sections of the book set in golden era Hollywood. But he’s not afraid to evoke the ghosts of Solzhenitsyn when the story then moves to the Gulags. Not an easy switch to pull off, but A Simple Scale is a classy complex utterly satisfying literary novel.


Review by Philip Reeve, author of Mortal Engines

Monday, December 3, 2018

There’s a slight echo of Beautiful Ruins plot in A Simple Scale by David Llewellyn: in the 1930s a Soviet composer falls foul of the party and his work is suppressed; in 1970s Hollywood an American composer borrows a piece of his music for the theme to a Battlestar Galactica-type TV show, and in 2001 the Russian’s son and the American’s assistant try to work out what connected the two men. It’s beautifully told and beautifully written. I also read another of David’s novels, Ibrahim and Reenie, which is equally fine.

Review by Rhianon Holley, Buzz Magazine

Friday, October 5, 2018

An intriguing premise: music plagiarism forms the basis for this gripping and fast-paced novel. Spanning three decades and two countries, Welsh writer David Llewellyn’s dramatic story begins in New York during the aftermath of 9/11. Famous composer Sol Conrad’s PA Natalie is contacted by a Pavel Grekov, claiming that a popular TV theme tune attributed to Sol Conrad was in fact composed by his grandfather Sergey Grekov. What transpires, via Los Angeles and Leningrad, is the background story and Natalie’s attempts to investigate the allegations against her employer, who is suffering with dementia.
The relationships formed between the characters prove pivotal from the offset, managing to convey the varying strands of the storyline with conviction. What could have been a complex plot has been smartly managed by Llewellyn in the service of conveying a suspenseful narrative. The atmosphere of the novel is enhanced by the various locations, bringing each period to life. The foray into Russia between the 1930s and ’50s provides an atmospheric setting to parallel the dark times experienced in post-9/11 America. The deft descriptive work manages to set the scene, providing a sense of place. The tension is notched up similarly onto the scores on which the story is based until we discover the outcome. 

A Simple Scale is a compelling and suspenseful novel that this reader could not resist from the beginning, enhanced by its plot twists. With such vivid descriptions of each location, it’s difficult not to envisage and be swept away into that period of time.



Review by Craig Austin, Wales Arts Review

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


For a Cold War kid like me, the prospect of a new novel by a Welsh writer that plots its course through a bleak historic fog of McCarthyism, Soviet oppression and nuclear weapons testing sits firmly in the finely-honed and rarefied category of ‘right up my alley’. Toss a red-raw post 9/11 Manhattan landscape into the mix and it would be fair to say that a notable number of my overriding preoccupations would appear to be suitably catered for.

What I didn’t anticipate however is the degree to which A Simple Scale would draw me in and spit me out, nor the frequency with which I continue to return to it; a fairly remarkable achievement for a book that ostensibly sets out to discover nothing more that the true provenance of the theme tune to a one-time TV sci-fi series.

In the aftermath of the September terror attacks, Pavel Grekov arrives in New York determined to reclaim the musical legacy of his grandfather Sergey, a once-eminent Russian symphonist sent to the gulag by Stalin, from the acclaimed American composer Sol Conrad. Conrad’s PA Natalie, though determined to defend her now elderly employer, delves deeply into the past, uncovering worlds of which she was previously barely aware – Soviet labour camps, McCarthyism, oppressive state control and intrusion, and the compromised covert lives led by gay men in both the USA and USSR.

A Simple Scale by David Llewellyn

A Simple Scale is, at its core, a book about personal freedom, and the ultimately crushing impact upon the human spirit when those freedoms are either removed or repressed. The author’s expert handling of the key strands that act as a 20thcentury secret history of what it meant, and in many cases still means, to be a gay man are both deeply personal and inherently tragic and when a snatched clandestine liaison culminates in a bloody motel-room tragedy it tellingly does so in the searing white-heat aftermath of a nuclear test explosion. The world turned upside down, the personal and the political colliding with devastating consequences for all concerned.

A haunting sense of fatalism abounds throughout. Fleeting moments of hope and of raw human connection are clutched tightly and treasured as rare gifts as we are taken on a winding historic journey of love, death and deceit that displays no let up in either its intensity or preponderant sense of injustice. The impression of history being compelled to repeat itself pervades the novel’s concluding chapters and as the manipulations and betrayals at the centre of Sol and Sergey’s lives act as the defining elements of its 21st century denouement we arrive at two pivotal acts of self-determination and a blisteringly remorseless declaration:

The past is the past and the dead are dead and this is your life, so fuck every last one of them.

Llewellyn’s dialogue is underpinned by a vivid authenticity, and though this might be expected from an author who has previously turned his hand to scriptwriting these are conversations that positively crackle with life, invigorated as they are by the frailties and wonder of the human condition. The cat-and-mouse exchanges that populate Conrad’s personal and professional travails through an increasingly paranoid 50s Hollywood are deftly attuned to both the period and its location and I find myself still quietly applauding a smashing Montgomery Clift-themed flirtation that culminates in a line so mischievously perfect that it will make your heart skip a beat.

A Simple Scale is a work of self-assured persuasive power, and the resounding artistic statement of a writer who has truly arrived. It is bold, it is brave, and it is the real deal.



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