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Danse Macabre - a novel by Gerald Elias

August 2011Kirkus Reviews

Discordance threatens a chamber music quartet.

Now that it’s being sued by its former second violinist the New Magini String Quartet is trying to tamp down the negative publicity by agreeing to a Carnegie Hall presentation of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” that will feature film animation, artwork, live dance and enough special effects for a rock band. Daniel Jacobus (Danse Macabre, 2010, etc.) plans on attending, although he fears the production will denigrate the music as well as the playing of his student and quartet member Yumi Shinagawa. Problems arise at rehearsal, when Kortovsky, the first violinist, never arrives from Lima, Peru, where the quartet played its most recent paying engagement. What may be a part of him, a severed finger, appears on the rehearsal stage in one of the musicians’ instrument cases, to be joined later by three other dismembered fingers. Meanwhile, the quartet’s manager tries to arrange a replacement for him. Her choices are quickly narrowed down to the fired musician who is suing and the man Yumi beat out for inclusion in the quartet. With help from his pal Nathaniel, some gossip among émigrés from Russian and a Lima detective, Jacobus unravels a complicated tangle of relationships that includes an illicit liaison, a castrato’s revenge and as many onstage deaths as a Shakespearean tragedy.
Blind Jacobus, a curmudgeon to the nth degree, redeems himself when he steps in to take the lead in “Death and the Maiden” and performs with such emotional commitment that you’ll want to race right out and buy the CD.

September 2011Library Journal - STARRED REVIEW

This latest mystery from Elias (Danse Macabre), featuring almost-too-irascible-to-be-lovable Daniel Jacobus, a brilliant violinist whose career was ended by blindness, has a headline-based premise. In 2005, a violinist fired by the Audubon Quartet sued his former colleagues, causing some to lose their homes and even their instruments. Here, Jacobus’s former pupil Yumi now plays with the New Magini String Quartet, replacing an impossible colleague who had been forced out. The quartet is set to rehearse Schubert’s sublime “Death and the Maiden” for a multimedia event at Carnegie Hall, but first violinist Aaron Kortovsky is missing in action. Jacobus is drafted to find him, though he’s stymied by the musicians’ business-only attitude; even violist Annika hasn’t kept track of Kortovsky, and she’s married to him. Soon, Jacobus is on the phone with a chamber music–loving policeman in Peru, Kortovsky’s last known whereabouts, while worrying about that scorned colleague and the temporary replacement for Kortovsky, a wild Russian who happens to be the cellist’s son.

VERDICT Though a few near caricatures might make some readers wince, this fast-paced and punchily written mystery will entertain most fans, even as it delivers a fluid understanding of classical music. —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Elias, Gerald. Death and the Maiden. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2011. c.304p. ISBN 9780312678340. $25.99

September 2011Publishers Weekly

Things are looking up for the celebrated New Magini String Quartet in Elias's talky, less than compelling third mystery featuring blind violin teacher Daniel Jacobus (after 2010's Danse Macabre) once the quartet settles a major lawsuit and is slated to perform in an avant-garde presentation of Schubert's renowned Death and the Maiden at Carnegie Hall. Then first violinist Aaron Kortovsky fails to return from vacation, and a severed finger is found in another member's instrument case. Jacobus grumpily agrees to investigate, but his quest turns urgent when his beloved former student, Yumi Shinagawa, the quartet's second violinist, becomes the maiden Death threatens. Jacobus's hostile personality sometimes strikes a sour note, and readers will struggle to relate emotionally to many of the characters. The book's real heart is the detailed behind-the-scenes glimpse of the classical music scene provided by the author, a violinist and music professor himself.
Gerald Elias. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-67834-0

October 2011Salt Lake City Weekly

"Write what you know,” goes the adage, and University of Utah music professor and accomplished violinist Gerald Elias has certainly done just that by setting his mystery series starring blind, misanthropic ex-musician and amateur sleuth Daniel Jacobus (Devil’s Trill, Danse Macabre) in the world of classical music. We’ll assume he knows a bit less about murder.

But murder seems to be on the menu when the leader of a famed string quartet disappears after a concert in South America, shortly before a disfigured corpse appears. Yumi, a former student of Jacobus, is also part of the quartet and could be caught up in the disturbing events, even as the quartet also faces a potentially crippling legal battle with the fired violinist Yumi replaced.

Elias folds fascinating details about the fragile egos and high stakes of the classical-music world into familiar genre elements, anchored by an appealingly crusty protagonist. Whether you’re new to Jacobus’ world or already a fan, you’ll find this mystery pitch-perfect.
(Scott Renshaw)

October 2011The Mystery Reader

Blind violin teacher Daniel Jacobus is a crank and curmudgeon by his own admission. The New Magini String Quartet is being sued by a former violinist Crispin Short on the claim that the Quartet illegally fired him. His replacement is Yumi Shinagawa, one of Jacobus's former students of whom Jacobus is very fond. The quartet is scheduled to perform Schubert's Death and the Maiden, in a multi-media presentation at Carnegie Hall, something of which stuffy Jacobus does not entirely approve.

When first violinist Aaron Kortovsky, who is a bit of a playboy, does not return from his vacation in Peru, the quartet's rehearsal schedule is disrupted. Jacobus is asked to find the violinist and when a severed finger appears in an instrument case, members of the quartet fear it may be Kortovsky's, but they cannot imagine what message someone is trying to send them. When other musicians disappear and more severed body parts appear, Jacobus begrudgingly steps in, with some help from old friend Nathaniel Williams and a Peruvian detective, to untangle what is going on.

There is much strife and drama among the quartet, from Kortovsky's wife, to his replacement, a Russian who is also the cellist's son. It seems strange that a group so at odds with itself would be able to perform cohesively as a small ensemble. The characters are not very sympathetic and Jacobus could be a very interesting character, but is often unpleasant and caustic rather than merely eccentric. His career as a violinist came to an abrupt halt when he became blind, leaving him to teach and listen to, in his opinion, subpar orchestras play the great classical composers.

Yumi is an interesting young woman and offers a good counterpoint to her older teacher. The mystery is simply plotted, reminiscent of many traditional murder mysteries and will have a familiar feel to it. Elias, a virtuoso violinist himself, excels when writing about the classical music world from the works of classical composers and history of those works, to the business end of classical performance and much insider lore offering much for readers who enjoy classical music.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry
Gerald Elias. Minotaur, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-67834-0

October 2011Salt Lake Tribune

Elias pulls the strings of mystery

Casting a skeptical eye on artists who cast their talents toward two different endeavors has long proved warranted. So here comes professional violinist and mystery novelist Gerald Elias to prove them all wrong—and for a third time, no less.

The mellifluous phrasing and colors of prose, it turns out, share more than a little in common with crafting a persuasive musical line.

Elias’ debut novel, The Devil’s Trill, proved more than a flash in the pan back in 2010. It also created a fine character in Daniel Jacobus, the churlish violinist disillusioned with the classical music industry who also happens to be blind. Danse Macabre gave Elias fans a second installment. Now, with his third novel inspired by the famous Franz Schubert quartet of its name, Death and the Maiden follows a professional string quartet on the verge of not just collapse, but a murderer who begins picking off its members piecemeal.

Elias’ new book is draped in expectation from those who enjoyed his past efforts, and an Elias book reading always promises more than just the reading and signing itself. As a matter of almost tradition, they’re followed by intriguing questions from the audience followed up by Elias’ invigorating answers. Don’t be surprised if he packs his fiddle along, either.