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Danse Macabre - a novel by Gerald Elias

September 2010 Salt Lake Tribune

By Celia R. Baker - Special to The Tribune - September 3, 2010

Blind violinist Daniel Jacobus is at it again ó getting himself into and out of mortal peril while going behind the scenes of the classical-music world to solve a murder mystery.
And that means Utah Symphony associate concertmaster Gerald Elias has been at it again, too ó tapping away on his computer to create another mystery novel.
Elias conjured up the curmudgeonly Jacobus for Devilís Trill, which debuted last year, after he spent more than 10 years writing the mystery. Eliasí first encore in his Jacobus series, Danse Macabre was written in only 18 months. The new mystery was released by Minotaur Books (a division of St. Martinís Press) on Aug. 31.
Elias said knowing how to construct a mystery, and who his central characters would be, sped up the writing process. He was also motivated by the success of Devilís Trill, and heís hungry for more of it. So are his publishers.
The first novel was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick last fall, and considered promising enough that Minotaur asked for a second installment before the first was released. Now, Devilís Trill is being printed in paperback, and Minotaur has ordered two more installments in the Jacobus series.
Elias is working on Death and the Maiden and has an outline ready for Death and Transfiguration.
The fourth book is the one his musical colleagues have been asking for, Elias joked. Their question? ďWhen are you going to kill the conductor?Ē
As music aficionados know, the books are named for famous works. Danse Macabre bears the title of a Camille Saint-SaŽns tone poem featuring a virtuosic violin solo.
In the book, itís the signature encore piece for violin superstar Renť Allard, whose horrific murder in a New York City apartment building sets the plot in motion. A rival violinist, the unconventional crossover artist BTower, is found at the scene with blood on his hands, then tried, convicted and sentenced to die.
Though Jacobusí court testimony helps to convict BTower, the crotchety sleuth becomes convinced that the wrong person was convicted and goes hunting for the real killer.
The trail leads to a place Elias knows well ó Utah, where Jacobus travels to attend the Antelope Island Music Festival. The festival is fictional, but Elias once thought about trying to start up a chamber-music festival on the Great Salt Lakeís largest island.
ďI saw the potential for it, and the difficulties of ever accomplishing such a thing,Ē he said. ďI decided just to make one up. Thatís a lot easier than doing it in real life.Ē
Not surprisingly, Jacobusí trip West includes some piquant glimpses into Utah culture ó inscrutable liquor laws, a large family of blond violin students with a vacuous stage mother, and minor characters with names like LíNorma and Orin.
The New Yorkers of Eliasí tale are equally quirky, and Jacobusí descriptions prove him an equal-opportunity ironist. ďUtahns can enjoy making fun of the New Yorkers, and New Yorkers can make fun of the Utahns,Ē Elias said. While the characters of Eliasí sleuth and sidekicks, Nathaniel and Yumi, were developed in Devilís Trill, still Elias found it challenging in the second book to bring readers new to the series up to date without slowing plot development for those returning to the story. That will be a continuing writing challenge throughout the series.
As in the first book, classical-music insiders might enjoy characters and situations that seem all too familiar. Jacobus is a sometimes-vulgar misanthrope who hides his more likable traits beneath a veneer of sarcasm. His world concerns big talents with big egos, nefarious dealing in priceless musical instruments, and backstage shenanigans.
The book also should also appeal to mystery fans who like delving into an unfamiliar milieu. The Jacobus stories are finding a niche among readers who like amateur sleuth mysteries and enjoy glimpsing the dedication and passion of classical musicians. Drawing upon that subject authority is one of Eliasí greatest strengths as a writer.
Minotaur Books doesnít release sales figures, even to Elias. But press agent Bridget Hartzler said Devilís Trill was well-received for a book by an unknown author. ďWe would love to push him up to the top and get him some more recognition,Ē Hartzler said. ďHeís one of those great authors who really gets at the heart of what a classical mystery is supposed to be about, and thatís not necessarily gore and bloody murder. There is an elegance to solving the paradox within and answering the question of why people do what they do. Thatís the ultimate reason to read and love mysteries.Ē
Success as a writer has turned Eliasí performing life into a complicated juggling act. He soloed at Oregonís Sunriver Music festival a few weeks ago, preparing to play Saint-SaŽnsí Third Violin Concertro while in the midst of editing his third book. Since then, heís been wending his way across the United States for book-tour engagements that have him pulling out his violin to perform music mentioned in Danse Macabre before settling in to sign.
Elias will be in his accustomed seat on the Abravanel Hall stage when the Utah Symphony opens its season this weekend, and will continue teaching and performing in Utah. Another love, music composition, has taken a back seat lately, but he hopes to return to it.
Doing several things at once is nothing new for Elias, said his wife, Cecily Patton, who teaches sixth grade at Salt Lake Cityís Canyon Rim Academy.
ďIf you need something done, ask Jerry,Ē she said. ďAround here, he is the cook and does all the food shopping. He loves it.Ē
Patton is pleased that Elias has found an exciting auxiliary career to go along with his decades of violin-playing. So far, the demands of her husbandís dual career havenít been difficult to accommodate, she said.
ďIf it ever comes to the point that his computer takes over and he is no longer willing to cook, there might be some issues then,Ē she said with a laugh. ďSo far, itís gone pretty smoothly.Ē
Copyright 2010. The Salt lake Tribune.All rights reserved.

August 2010 Booklist

When internationally celebrated violin virtuoso Rene Allard is found grotesquely murdered, blind violin teacher and former concertmaster Daniel Jacobus finds himself reluctantly involved in what seems to be an open-and-shut case. For Allardís rival, the sensational crossover violinist and former Allard student who calls himself BTower, has been observed at the scene of the crime with blood on his hands. Jacobus, the protagonist of Eliasí first novel, Devilís Trill (2009), remains an irascible and not always likable amateur sleuth, but with the help of a formidable presence and, like a terrier, never lets go. Elias is no stylist, but the twists and turns of his plotting will keep readers guessing. The real hook here, however, is the insiderís view of the musical world; Elias is a well-known violinist and professor of music.
Michele Leber
Gerald Elias - Danse Macabre Sept. 2010. 304p. Minotaur $24.99 (9780312541897).

July 2010Library Journal - STARRED REVIEW

After playing his last concert at Carnegie Hall, violinist Rene Allard goes home for a grand reception but is murdered instead. Blind violin teacher Daniel Jacobus is one of the main witnesses at the murder trial of Allardís former student and up-and-coming rival who is convicted of the crime and now resides on death row. Jacobus is asked to find the real killer and does so reluctantly.

VERDICT Elias, a former symphony violinist, concertmaster, and music professor, gives us a glimpse into the soul of a musician and the relationships among the artist, the music, and the instrument. And then there is one-of-a-kind virtuoso Jacobus, perhaps one of the most unique protagonists in mysteries. Eliasís debut, Devilís Trill, was a great reading experience; his new book is outstanding. A musical feast for mystery and music lovers.
Elias, Gerald. Danse Macabre. Minotaur: St. Martinís. Sept. 2010. c.278p. ISBN 978-0-312-5419-7. $24.99

June 2010Publishers Weekly

The murder of a virtuoso violinist and a death sentence for a possibly innocent man launch Elias's deft follow-up to Devil's Trill (2009).
Blind and cranky Daniel Jacobus, a former concert violinist, reluctantly agrees to investigate the murder of maestro Renť Allard after flamboyant African-American musician BTower, who had a tumultuous relationship with Allard, is seen standing over the body literally with blood on his hands. As BTower sits on death row with the clock ticking down, Jacobus talks to the figures who formed the arrogant Allard's offstage world, and uncovers shady activities on Allard's part. Puzzling transactions involving violins, an attempt on Jacobus's life, and the suicide of an elevator operator indicate that Jacobus may be closing in on uncomfortable truths.
The refreshingly caustic Jacobus, a cast of superbly drawn supporting characters, an interesting classical music milieu accessible to aficionados and neophytes alike, an unexpected twist or two, and a unique murder method combine for an engrossing read.
Gerald Elias, Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-54189-7

June 2010Kirkus Reviews

Two maestros, one dead and one about to be.
Itís been a year since flashy, unconventional violinist BTower was sentenced to death for the murder of beloved, classically oriented Rene Allard, his sometime mentor. Now BTowerís attorney, who has only one week to win a stay of execution, appeals to blind musical savant Daniel Jacobus (Devilís Trill, 2009), who offered damning testimony at the trial. Can Jacobus find the murder weapon and uncover another suspect? Perhaps. With the help of his pal Nathaniel Williams, an insurance consultant specializing in stolen instruments, Jacobus returns to New Yorkís Bonderman Building, the scene of the crime, and discovers that Ziggy, the elevator operator, has retired to Utah; an Allard maid had been fired for stealing a valuable musical score; Allardís accompanist has had difficulty finding work; and thereís apparently been a thriving business in smuggled violins. Off Jacobus goes to Utah to attend a recital of his former student Yumi Shinagawa and question Ziggy. Itís not a great trip: An attempt is made on his life, and Ziggy commits suicide. Back in New York, secrets about BTowerís parentage come to light, along with unpleasantries about Allard, including a rape. Finally Jacobus discovers a clue in a restaging of Allardís murder that offers proof of whodunit and how.
A scrambled plot with far too many references to Jacobusís debut, but there are riveting insights into violin bowing, maestrosí mannerisms and the interpretation of musical scores.