Gerald Elias, who composed and performed "The Raven: a Monodrama" to kick off the Edgar Allan Poe Conference last week (read my account here) has also written his first novel, Devil's Trill, which won the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award this Fall. Appropriately enough (at least for the Poeists) it is a mystery novel (the genre created by Poe) set in the classical music world. A legendary three-quarter size "Piccolino Stradivarius" violin has been stolen. The violin has a sordid history and seems to curse all those who come into contact with it. Daniel Jacobus, a blind, reclusive, chain-smoking music teacher, is supected of the theft, so he sets out to find the violin. Murder and musical mayhem ensue.
Devil's Trill is a lively book with a finely worked plot, but Jacobus, is the real treat. He's like a blind Sherlock, able to read the emotions and thoughts of other characters just by listening to them. He's also caustic and mercilessly devoted to exposing the chicanery and abuse of the classical performing world where child prodigies are drained of everything they can give, then abandoned when they burn out as young adults.
I asked Elias about the characters in the book. Had he based them on people he knew from the musical world?
Elias: Lots of characters in that book have almost a one to one correlation with people I know in the real world, but Jacobus is more complex. He’s really a combination of many different influences and people I know. And more than fifty percent of him is totally from my own imagination.
I also asked if Jacobus, a kind of deranged Mr Holland, yet pure at heart, is the kind of music teacher he wishes he had:
Elias: At the onset of the book, I think his bitterness overshadows even his integrity. And it is only over the course of the story that he realizes there is something within himself that has been missing for a long time. That transformation, even though it’s not overt or very plain, is for me the crucial process of the story.
You have deftly included in the novel a good amount of musical instruction or advice to young musicians as Jacobus teaches a student not only how to play, but why.
Elias: Devil's Trill began as a fictional "how to" book for musicians, then over the years (it took me ten years to write) transformed into a mystery.
Do you read mysteries? Who are your favorite authors?
Elias: I do read mysteries. I like John LeCarre, Lawrence Sanders, Walter Mosely.
What's next for you?
Elias: I've already finished my second book with Daniel Jacobus. And it took me only two years to write this one. It's called Danse Macabre and will be out next summer.
Read more about musician and author Gerald Elias at his website.