One could say that Gerald Elias is a man of mystery. But only because the multi talented musician has turned his attention to writing mystery novels.
When he started writing mysteries, Elias didn’t think it would turn into a long term gig. Yet, that’s exactly what has happened. “When my first book was published, I had no idea it would grow into a full blown series,” Elias told Reichel Recommends. “It’s been very gratifying.”
That first novel, Devil’s Trill, introduced readers to the curmudgeonly yet strangely likable Daniel Jacobus. A highly respected violinist in his day on the verge of international success until blindness ended his concert career, Jacobus is an unlikely solver of mysteries. But that’s what he unwillingly ends up doing and his adventures in ferretting out the truth and finding the murderer has spawned two further books. “My contract was originally for two,” Elias said. “They did pretty well so they asked me for a third and a fourth.”
The third novel in the series, Death and the Maiden, was published last month, and has been selling well. As Elias found out, there is an audience out there for mysteries with a classical music bent. “They’re no Harry Potter in sales,” Elias said, “but they’ve found a niche among people.” And they’ve caught on within literary circles. Elias’ second book, Danse Macabre, has been selected as one of three finalists for the Utah Book Awards this year.
All of the characters in Elias’ novels are based on people he knows or has collaborated with over the years. “Most of them are composites of people I know or have known – or know of or have worked with,” he said. “But there are a few that have an almost one to one connection” with real people. One of these is Jacobus’ long time friend and sidekick Nathaniel Williams, who is based on one of Elias’ oldest friends. “His name is William Thomas, and he’s also a cellist like Nathaniel.” Elias and Thomas first met as students at Oberlin. Later, when both lived in Boston, they played in a piano trio together.
In Elias’ books, the world of classical music isn’t what it appears to be. There is a dark side that most aficionados never see – or can even imagine. Artistic integrity is often just something a musician hopes for, but which reality and the organizer’s bottom line often obliterates. “I’ve stretched things a little bit to make it more interesting,” Elias said, “but the business aspect of getting a contract often outweighs artistic considerations. It’s part and parcel of the profession and a delicate balance that musicians have to tread.”
In Death and the Maiden, the fictional New Magini Quartet agrees to a performance of Franz Schubert’s like named quartet in Carnegie Hall but with choreography, lighting effects and other non musical gimmickry. And that has murderous consequences. “This is a very real part and it makes having a career in classical music a challenge,” Elias said. “But I think artistic integrity will always prevail. And if great music, like Schubert’s quartet, is played well, then it will always be able to stand on its own.”
Elias is currently working his way across the country doing book signings. He has several engagements in Utah lined up for October. The author and former associate concertmaster of the Utah Symphony (he stepped down from that position at the end of last May) will also play his arrangements of parts of the Death and the Maiden Quartet at these events.
Below is a listing of local appearances. For more details, visit his website at www.geraldelias.com.
Oct. 4, 7 p.m.: King’s English Book Shop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City.
Oct. 8, 2:30 p.m.: Dolly’s Book Store, 510 Main St., Park City.
Oct. 12, 6 p.m.: Sam Weller’s Bookstore, 254 Main St., Salt Lake City.
A missing first violinist and a lawsuit filed by Crispin Short, the ousted second violinist of the New Magini String Quartet, that could ruin the careers and lives of the current members of the group are only the beginning of the troubles that plague this world renowned ensemble. The police have been unable to track down Aaron Kortovsky, the missing player, and it winds up in the hands of the blind, elderly, irascible and quite frankly likable Daniel Jacobus. He, together with his old friend Nathaniel Williams and his former student Yumi Shinagawa – who, incidentally is the new second violinist of the New Magini – gets on the trail and makes some startling discoveries.
But it seems as if every time Jacobus gets a lead it leads him into a dead end. Frustrated and angered by his lack of progress, Jacobus is on the verge of giving up and retreating to his rundown home in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. But a planned Carnegie Hall performance of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet by the New Magini with a last minute replacement in the first violin chair, brings things to a head because this isn’t going to be just a performance of the Schubert piece, but an event – a happening with choreography, lighting effects and other gimmicks. It brings out murderous instincts in a purist musician and through a convoluted series of events, Jacobus and Williams unearth the mystery behind the missing violinist, as well as a few seamy details about the quartet and the personal lives of its members.
Musician turned mystery writer Gerald Elias weaves a compelling tale out of these elements that has a surprising twist and which will keep the reader guessing until the final page. And while there are numerous references to classical works and composers, one doesn’t need to be well versed in classical music to appreciate the plot.
Elias has created an unforgettable protagonist in Jacobus – a dazzling violinist who had just accepted a position with the Boston Symphony and who was on the brink of becoming an internationally recognized virtuoso when blindness cut his career short. Bitter with his shattered dreams, he is now cynical and lives in a ramshackle cabin where he occasionally accepts highly gifted students. And to his chagrin, Jacobus also discovers he has an uncanny ability to solve problems that baffle the authorities.
Death and the Maiden is a fun read and should be on the bookshelf of anyone who enjoys offbeat mysteries with quirky characters.