The Book: Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias
The Challenge: A book written by someone older than you
Quick bit of music trivia for you: Devil's Trill takes its name from "The Devil's Sonata" composed by Giuseppe Tartini. According to legend, he had a dream one night that the Devil visited him and played so magnificent a piece of music on the violin that Tartini woke up suddenly and attempted to write down the music. "The Devil's Sonata" was the result, but the composer was so frustrated by his inability to capture the music he heard in the dream, that he said he would destroy his violin if he had another way of making his living.
The above story is covered on the opening page of Devil's Trill, a musically themed mystery by Gerald Elias. The plot is fairly straight forward: when a famous Stradivarius violin is stolen after a competition at Carnegie Hall, a bitter, blind violinist named Daniel Jacobus is called in by a friend to help with the investigation due to his insider's knowledge of the competition and people involved. What seems like a simple theft turns deadly, and Jacobus, his friend, and his new student have to flee when he becomes implicated in the crimes. Throughout it all, they are pulled into the vicious world of competitive classical music, specifically youth competitions.
I was impressed by this book. The mystery is well paced, intriguing, and like all good books in the genre, the reader is given all the necessary clues for solving the crimes. (It is actually one of my pet peeves when a mystery novel reveals the solution to be something the reader could never have figured out over the course of reading the novel, but I digress). As for the main character, Daniel Jacobus is tricky to explain. His blindness and subsequent departure from the classical music industry caused him no small amount of emotional trauma, which has left him an extreme misanthrope. Nevertheless, his gruffness is at times endearing. (At times). In addition, while one would think his blindness would be a hinderance when it comes to solving a mystery, he manages to offset this by his having trained his other senses incredibly well.
Gerald Elias is himself a violinist, having played for the Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as having been a music director and professor. Naturally, his book is full of interesting tidbits and insights about music, composers, and the classical music industry. I defy any reader to finish this book and not have learned something about classical music. As I read this to complete the "A book written by someone older than you" challenge, it seems appropriate to add this comment: I think this book cannot have been written by someone closer to my age. Jacobus' frustration with the music industry and his extensive knowledge of music, instruments, and teaching methods are clearly not the work of research, but of a life lived among those. Elias clearly knows his stuff, to put it mildly, and seems to have formed quite a few opinions over the years (the author's introduction is well worth a read in order to learn those), all of which come out in this novel.
Devil's Trill will, I think, delight fans of both music and mysteries. It offers a unique look into a world that people might not be quite as familiar with while still managing to be a well composed mystery.