Sunday, January 24, 2010

Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias

Protagonist: Daniel Jacobus
Setting: Berkshires and New York City
Rating: 3.7
At the Grimsley Competition for young violinists at Carnegie Hall, a rare and valuable Stradivarius violin is stolen, even though it had been in a locked room and guarded by two security guards. Daniel Jacobus, a blind, reclusive and crotchety former violinist who now teaches, is a suspect -- he dislikes the competition and the group that hosts it, the Musical Arts Project Group. As he tries to help solve the theft -- with Nathaniel Williams, the investigator for the company that had insured the violin, and Yumi Shinagawa, a 19-year-old student fresh from Japan -- a MAP member is murdered, and Jacobus is a suspect in the murder, as well. The story is written by someone who has been a violinist, composer, conductor and teacher -- so there's much insight into the world of music, and the fierce competition that is sometimes seen. And Jacobus, for unlikable as he can be, is a compelling protagonist. For a debut novel, Devil's Trill is good. But there are still some annoying quirks. For example, the author tries to be too cutesy with puns. It's not just one character who loves musical puns -- but just about every character. After awhile, it grates, and actually lowers the enjoyment of what otherwise is a good mystery.

Trivia: The Devil's Trill is indeed a real-life sonata, by Giuseppe Tartini. There are various versions on YouTube -- all the more enjoyable for having read the book. Here's one performed by Elias himself.

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