Devil's Trill (Daniel Jacobus Series #1) [NOOK Book]


From concert violinist Gerald Elias comes this debut set in the classical music world about the theft of a priceless violin.

Daniel Jacobus is a blind, reclusive, crotchety violin teacher living in self-imposed exile in rural New England. He spends his time chain-smoking, listening to old LPs, and occasionally taking on new students, whom he berates in the hope that they will flee.

Jacobus is drawn back into the world he left behind when he ...

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Devil's Trill (Daniel Jacobus Series #1)

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From concert violinist Gerald Elias comes this debut set in the classical music world about the theft of a priceless violin.

Daniel Jacobus is a blind, reclusive, crotchety violin teacher living in self-imposed exile in rural New England. He spends his time chain-smoking, listening to old LPs, and occasionally taking on new students, whom he berates in the hope that they will flee.

Jacobus is drawn back into the world he left behind when he decides to attend The Grimsley Competition at Carnegie Hall. The young winner of this competition is granted the honor of playing the Piccolino Stradivarius, a uniquely dazzling three-quarter-size violin that has brought misfortune to all who possessed it over the centuries. But the violin is stolen before the winner of the competition has a chance to play it, and Jacobus is the primary suspect.

With the help of his friend and former musical partner, Nathaniel Williams, his new student,Yumi Shinagawa, and several quirky sidekicks, Jacobus sets out to prove his innocence and find the stolen Piccolino Strad. Will he be successful? The quest takes him through the halls of wealth and culture, across continents to Japan, and leads him to a…murder.

Devil’s Trill gives the reader a peek into the world of classical music, with its backstabbing teachers and performers, venal patrons, and shady violin dealers. It is the remarkable beginning of a wonderful new series.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A drop of blood. An aged Stradivarius. A garroting. And a shady cast of characters. Sound like the elite world of classical music, or a great game of Clue? The first mystery from Elias is a bit of both as he transports readers into the refined world of the most gifted musicians -- and their teachers, agents, and instrument dealers -- where we're surprised to learn that great musical talent can often flourish amid unseemly circumstances. How is it possible for brilliant music to exist in an atmosphere of crass consumerism? And how far will one man go to separate the two?

\ \ That question is at the crux of this mystery, focused on the fabled Piccolino Stradivarius, the venerable Grimsley Competition, and a cantankerous blind violin teacher named Daniel Jacobus. From Carnegie Hall to Japan, this mystery -- not unlike Clue -- abounds in potential villains. From a music conservatory to the plush home of a child prodigy to a sleazy Manhattan talent-booking office, Elias keeps readers guessing at the outcome until the final page is turned. Who stole the Strad and committed the murder, and why? Jacobus is a natural suspect. He even admits to the theft, but can he find the instrument and the real killer before he's locked up for life?

\ \ Rich in music detail and featuring a fabulously roguish cast, Devil's Trill will delight music lovers and mystery fans alike. \ (Holiday 2009 Selection)
Publishers Weekly
Elias, a violinist and music professor, puts a priceless violin at the center of his taut debut. The violin in question is part of the highly exclusive Grimsley Competition, open only to child prodigies under the age of 13, held every 13 years at New York's Carnegie Hall. The winner receives cash, symphonic appearances and, most coveted, the use of the world's only three-quarter-size Stradivarius, the legendary Piccolino, for a Carnegie Hall performance. Daniel Jacobus, a former Grimsley contestant who eschews the modern music world in his belief that it destroys gifted children, is accused, first, of the theft of the Piccolino and, second, of a rival violin teacher's murder. Blind, bitter and determined to destroy those who have turned classical music into a greed-saturated industry, Jacobus sets out to find the Piccolino and clear his reputation. This richly plotted mystery will thrill music lovers, while those not so musically inclined will find it equally enjoyable. (Aug.)
Library Journal
First the Piccolino Stradivarius, a tiny violin, is stolen before it can be played by the winner of the Grimsley Competition at Carnegie Hall. Then, the main rival of blind, cranky violin teacher Daniel Jacobus is murdered, and Daniel falls under police suspicion. With his friend and former musical partner, William, who represents the insurance company that must pay out $8 million if the violin is not found, Daniel searches for the instrument in an effort to prove his innocence. VERDICT This captivating and wholly originally debut by a former concert violinist is packed with insider tidbits on the classical music scene in New York City. The mystery, though a bit weak, still leads readers on a merry chase. Meeting the wily Jacobus only wets our appetite for more. A good choice for mystery fans wanting something new and music lovers who do not usually consider crime fiction.
Kirkus Reviews
Dueling violin aficionados disrupt Carnegie Hall. The Grimsley Competition, held once every 13 years, offers its preteen winner a chance to play the Piccolino Stradivarius, currently valued at $8 million. Child prodigy Kamryn Vander is about to be honored when the three-quarter-sized violin is stolen from a locked room in Carnegie Hall, to the horror of the Music Arts Project group (MAP) responsible for the gala. Also on hand, but more chagrined than horrified by the failure of his plan to smash the Piccolino to smithereens, is blind curmudgeon Daniel Jacobus, who since losing out in the competition years ago has tutored aspiring musicians of dubious skills. When his pal Nathaniel, an insurance investigator, asks his help in recovering the Piccolino, Daniel agrees and drags along his newest pupil: Yumi, a green-eyed Japanese girl with several family secrets. Combining the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes with the rhetorical finesse of Don Rickles, Daniel tracks the 17th-century origins of the Piccolino and the motives and whereabouts of MAP and its competitors past and present. Falling under suspicion himself, he sidesteps the law and the killer by fleeing to Japan, where the author unfurls dandy plot twists. Fans of ratiocination will be pleased with Utah concertmaster Elias' witty and acerbic debut, which is critical of the classical-music industry and so passionate about the music that you'll run out to buy a recording of Beethoven's Ninth, or even take up the violin. Agent: Josh Getzler/Writers House
From the Publisher
“Captivating... wholly original...” —Library Journal *STARRED REVIEW*

“A thoroughly engaging mystery…packed with violin and concert lore.” —Booklist

“This richly plotted mystery will thrill music lovers, while those not so musically inclined will find it equally enjoyable.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429935630
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/18/2009
  • Series: Daniel Jacobus Series , #1
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 466,139
  • File size: 337 KB

Meet the Author

Gerald Elias

A graduate of Yale, GERALD ELIAS has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

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Read an Excerpt


The third movement of Mozart’s Symphony Number 39 in E-flat Major, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, spun on the Victrola. The clarinetist was playing the solo in the minuet with simple if somewhat maudlin elegance. In midphrase, Jacobus wrenched the LP off the turntable, the stylus ripping nastily into the disc with a horrible screech, like car brakes before a fatal collision. He flung the record against the wall, shattering it. Jacobus collapsed back exhausted into his secondhand swivel chair, his frayed green plaid flannel shirt sticking to the torn brown Naugahyde seat back.

"Damn Krauts," he muttered, panting. "Think they own the sole rights to Mozart."

Jacobus had awoken that morning of July 8, 1983, drenched in sweat. Night had brought no relief to the relentless heat wave that had wilted New England, browning the leaves two months before their time, and though it was only dawn it was already searingly hot, hazy, and humid. But more than the heat, it was Jacobus’s recurring ivy-and-eyes dream that had wrenched him from his uneasy sleep.

It wasn’t that Jacobus enjoyed gardening. Actually, he hated it. He had planted the ivy—years ago, when he could still see—because Don at the garden center had told him how easy it was to grow, how little care it needed, how, trellised to the walls, it would make his house look so quaint, and, the clincher, how it would choke out all the weeds so he wouldn’t have to do any yard work.

At first, everything Don had told him was true, and Jacobus was very pleased with his slyness. What he hadn’t been told, though, was that once the ivy’s roots started spreading, it would choke out not just the weeds but every other living thing, that its tenacious grip on the side of the house would loosen the mortar and rot the siding, that unless you cut it back, year after year after year, it would overwhelm the entire house in a deadly embrace. After Jacobus became blind, sitting in his personal darkness, he could feel—he swore he could even hear—the ivy making its slow, inexorable ascent around him, mocking him, consuming him. It was when the ivy had wrapped itself around him in the dream, pinning him down, suffocating him, that the eye appeared above him. A blazing ruby-red eye, it seared its gaze into Jacobus, immobilized by the ivy, burning his flesh. It was the same bejeweled eye that Stradivari had embedded in the dragon head of the violin he had made for Matteo Cherubino hundreds of years ago, the violin that had eluded Jacobus decades before and now taunted him without surcease. An eye that mocked him for his blindness and for his weakness.

Jacobus lay in his sweat. It was an understatement to say he didn’t feel like teaching the violin on that July eighth. Nor had he felt like teaching on July sixth or seventh. The truth was he hadn’t felt like teaching the violin for a long time. He was hot. He was tired. The prospect of having to communicate with another human—he hesitated to use that term in reference to a mere student—depressed him. In fact, it revolted him. Rummaging with fumbling fingers through the ashtray for a half-smoked Camel cigarette butt, he finally found one long enough and relit it. Why can’t they leave me in peace? he thought. Peace. What’s that? If being blind, friendless, and put out to pasture is peace, then I guess I’ve found it.

He dragged his way to his studio and collapsed into his chair. Would he go to Carnegie Hall that night for the coronation of the young girl he often referred to as the "Infanta," the child prodigy Kamryn Vander (formerly Vanderblick), student of Victoria Jablonski? The Victoria Jablonski. Jacobus felt the bile rise in his throat. His belief that great music was great enough to be played without conceit, without hype, without the dog and pony show was now considered old-fashioned, out of touch with modern lifestyle tastes. Why indeed should he go to this concert and witness the triumph of everything he had striven against his entire life? To torture himself? Was there another reason?

The silence surrounding Jacobus oppressed him. The sporadic gurgling of his antiquated refrigerator and an occasional car passing up the hill on Route 41, engines muffled by ever-encroaching woods, were the only white noises intruding upon his black, bleak solitude. Yet when somewhere out there a crow’s shrill caw interjected itself, Jacobus cursed that too. He removed his violin from the case that he never bothered to close. The violin, like everything else, had been neglected. The fingerboard was caked with accumulated rosin, and the strings, unchanged for years, were blackened and frayed. He couldn’t remember the last time he had his bow rehaired.

The next familiar sound was the knocking at the door—the student. Jacobus sat motionless in the silence, holding his violin on his knee. He sat long after the cigarette butt was cold, long after the knocking on the door had ceased, long after the student’s footsteps had receded into the silence. Only gradually did he allow the sound of his own panting wheeze to resume.

That was how his day had begun. Now, nine hours later, the cab he was in lurched to a halt, propelling his forehead into the Plexiglas shield, knocking his dark glasses to the floor. "Coggy-ool," said the driver in an almost incomprehensible foreign accent.

"It’s pronounced ‘Carnegie Hall,’ asshole," Jacobus croaked, groping to retrieve his glasses.

Jacobus got out of the car grudgingly, licking his dry lips, a condemned prisoner staggering to the guillotine. Stumbling from the cab into the sweltering July heat, he cursed the driver and slammed the door. He again asked himself why he had made this trip, but unaccustomed to introspection he received no clear answer. Was it only to hear this dexterous preadolescent pretend to be an artist? Was it to flagellate himself with cynical self-righteousness while everyone else rose to a standing ovation? After all, hadn’t she just won the prestigious Grimsley Competition? What would he do when the smug New York intelligentsia fawned over this baby as if it knew the difference between show and artistry?

Dressed in his tattered gray tweed jacket, sleeves too short, which he had thrown over his flannel shirt, and stained wool pants with frayed cuffs, Jacobus was ignored by the tuxedos swirling around him. Just another street person—and a blind one at that—in a city of street people, as unseen to the gathering concert crowd as they were to him, he trudged toward the imposing brown brick walls of Carnegie Hall, his personal Bastille, awash in the evening’s growing shadows. The vision of the ivy-and-eye dream returned. The vision of his own demise. He spat on the sidewalk.

Excerpted from Devil’s Trill by Gerald Elias.
Copyright 2009 by Gerald Elias.
Published in August 2009 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2013

    The Blind Musical Detective... Awsome!!!

    To see music through your ears instead of the eyes is sometimes hard, for music is very commercialized. To see detective work in a musical way is very refreshing and fun. All of the characters were easy to relate to, even more if you are any type of string musician or just muscian for that matter... very eccentric personalities that are not so far of from the truth. Loved this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    Excellent read!

    Thoroughly enjoyed the novel musical setting, characters and plot.

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  • Posted February 16, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating musical detective

    The Devil's Trill introduces a fascinating new detective to the literary scene at the musical hand of author Gerald Elias. Blind violinist Daniel Jacobus ekes out a bitter existence criticizing students and chain-smoking cigarettes. His few remaining friends scarcely see him and meet only scorn when they do. But The Grimsley Competition at Carnegie Hall draws Jacobus' curiosity as well as his ire, and his plot to end its dominance over young violinists ends in disaster when the precious "Piccolino" Stradivarius is stolen.

    There's a history behind Jacobus, once on the brink of a brilliant future, that's told in quiet "program-notes" style in the Prologue. There's a mystery behind the Piccolino too, played musically in the oddly resonant Introduction, and drawn from later like a curious refrain. The story moves to Exposition, music and musicians taking the stage, suspects, bystanders, detectives and entourage; to Development, where themes come together and the truth that music is more than perfect notes reflects itself in less than perfect people; to Recapitulation, where thickened plots swirl back to reveal their secrets; and to Coda with the final truth of it all.

    A reader could learn to love classical music here, or jazz if they prefer; to appreciate the difference between perfection and beauty; and to mourn the way performance gets in the way of developing skills when unformed children are forced to compete for praise. The reader might learn to love old Jacobus too, a blind man who sees while the sighted are merely distracted, somewhat reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes-who also played violin. The Devil's Trill introduces readers to the world of competitive music, to performance and concert lore, and to well-plotted, richly-played-out mystery. The author's second book, Danse Macabre ,should be a thrilling sequel and I'll be looking out for it.

    Disclosure: A visiting friend left a copy of this book behind for me to read and I really enjoyed it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2010

    A must Read!

    I loved this book. The story flowed easily and the characters were interesting. A terrific look into the music world. I can't wait to read more by this author.

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  • Posted September 14, 2010


    A very disappointing read. Sophomoric writing and worse than rudimentary inclusion of the classical music world into a basic mystery. Wordy writing that had me skipping pages to get to some action. An editor worth his 2 cents would have pared this down to a short story. A waste of time to read.

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  • Posted June 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The anti-hero hero

    "Paul Adam's PAGANINI'S GHOST, a wonderful book, is a mystery concerning a Guarnieri violin played every two years by a contest winner. THE DEVIL'S TRILL is a mystery concerning the disappearance of a Stradivarius violin played every thirteen years by a concert winner. Beyond this the books are completely different. Paul Adam peoples his story with warm, likeable characters, devoted to music for the sake of music. Gerald Elias peoples his story with dark, greedy, nasty characters, the chief of whom is Daniel Jacobus, the "hero" of the story.

    Jacobus was a child prodigy, a losing contestant in the Grimsley Competition, the winner of which gets to play the only 3/4 size Stradivarius known to have been made. It is considered perfect in form and in sound. Jacobus is a man dogged by a dark cloud; he wins the coveted role of concertmaster with the Boston Symphony Orchestra but loses it with the sudden onset of blindness. Angry, misanthropic, brilliant, and possessed of a vile temper, Jacobus does his best to infuriate and insult everyone with whom he comes in contact. He withdraws to a house in the Berkshires where he earns his living by teaching the violin to students who are nearly as good as he was and he spends every moment trying to get them to hate him so much they quit.

    THE DEVIL'S TRILL is set in 1983. Jacobus is drawn to the Carnegie Hall concert of the newest winner and, in his own style wearing a flannel shirt that is worn and none too clean, "Jake" mixes with the classical aristocracy, dressed to annoy. The one thing he hates more than the Grimsley Competition is the child-centered Musical Arts Program Group which sucks the life and the talent out of the children they agree to represent in the artificial and demeaning world of perfomance art. Jake is not shy about making his opinions known and when the Piccolino Stradivarius is stolen in the middle of the reception, Jake becomes the prime suspect.

    Jake, his newest student, Yumi Shinagawa, and his one, true friend, Nathanial Williams begin an investigation to find the violin and clear Jake's name. The search takes them to Japan and to the Grimsley Competition of 1931 and to a satisfying conclusion that reveals the soul-destroying depths of failure.

    Some people who read THE DEVIL'S TRILL were put off by the character of Daniel Jacobus to the point that they did not like the book. Jacobus is unpleasant, has questionable hygiene, and isn't above using his lack of vision to get what he wants. Jacobus is why the book is so good. He hates the manipulation of the child prodigies who make money for record labels, concert venues, and managers and who often lose the gift that brought them so much attention because they are rushed to perform in a manner that their bodies are not yet able to manage. He hates the Piccolino Stradivarius because it is the competition to play the "perfect" instrument that pushes the children, and their parents, into the Grimsley Competition. Jacobus was one of those children and none who competed or won went on the fulfill the promise of their musical genius. A nice-guy hero couldn't be nearly so ruthless.

    I hope that Gerald Elias brings Daniel Jacobus back for further investigations. Jacobus grows on the reader slowly but steadily.

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  • Posted April 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Love mysteries....

    Stradivarius violins, musical prodigies, they are fascinating.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    good read

    Very interesting characters. I really enjoyed the splatters of Japanese culture and of course the classical violin culture.
    If you read this book just for the 'mystery' aspect, you will likely be disappointed, because it is the trip and not the destination that is worth-while here.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    not just another Bb mystery

    As a non violinist colleague in the symphonic world, I can highly recommend Jerry's tale. His dry wit and deep passions rise to the surface in this clever and highly enjoyable read. As an "insider", I found myself chuckling on every other page as the personalities grew more and more familiar, though never entirely predictable. A great creation with wonderfully eccentric characters and a twisting plot containing many unexpected key changes.

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  • Posted July 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is a super amateur sleuth tale with a musical twist

    Every thirteen years the Grimsley Competition is held for prodigies under thirteen years of age at Carnegie Hall. The winner receives money, appearances with the New York Symphonic and use of the renowned seventeenth century Piccolino valued at $8 million for a Carnegie Hall performance.

    Blind Daniel Jacobus was once a losing participant, but since feels strongly that the competition and similar music venues destroy the gifted young. Child prodigy Kamryn Vander is this year's winner, but to the shock of the members if the Music Arts Project responsible for the gala, someone stole the revered Piccolino, the only known three-quarter-size Stradivarius. The police blame Daniel, who was at the scene of the crime when the locked door was opened and found empty and has voiced a loud motive to end the competition by breaking the violin. Encouraged by insurance investigator friend Nathanial, grumpy Daniel accompanied by his current student Yumi, whose green eyes are his vision, searches for the missing Piccolino. Murder has the almost maestro and his protégé fleeing to Japan before they become the second act of the killer.

    This is a super amateur sleuth tale with a musical twist as Daniel with the help of Yumi tries to track down the missing Piccolino. Fans will enjoy the blind teacher turned detective as the almost famous but now infamous Daniel understands the irony of his predicament; he wanted to end the competition that he feels harms children yet now must find the instrument that is the prize of the contest if he is to prove his innocence. Fans will enjoy his profound cantankerous view of the state of classical music in this engaging mystery.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted December 29, 2011

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    Posted April 17, 2011

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    Posted July 15, 2010

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