Gerald Elias is author of the award-winning Daniel Jacobus mystery series, published by St. Martin’s Press. Elias brings 35 years as an internationally recognized concert violinist, conductor, composer, and teacher to his novels, which take place in the murky recesses of the classical music world. He draws upon his intimate familiarity with the unseen drama behind the curtain to shed an eerie light on the deceptively staid world of the concert stage. A native New Yorker, Elias now resides in Salt Lake City, Utah, and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Congrats on the release of Death and the Maiden, the third instalment in your violinist mystery series. What was your inspiration for this particular story?
If you’ve ever played in a string quartet, you’ll know it doesn’t take very long before everyone wants to kill each other. That makes it slam dunk material for the setting of a murder mystery. Then, given that the titles of my books are also the names of classical music pieces having to do with death, I would have been a knucklehead to overlook Schubert’s masterpiece, the Quartet in D Minor, "Death and the Maiden." He derived the music for the quartet from a song he composed in which a young woman struggles against the figure of Death, who has come to take her with him to the beyond. The story in my book was inspired by that encounter.
Are you a fan of Agatha Christie?
Not only dear Aunt Agatha, but many of the other English mystery writers as well: Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Dick Francis, John LeCarre, and of course the grand-daddy of them all, Mr. Conan Doyle.
Tell us about your amateur sleuth protagonist, Daniel Jacobus. I hear he’s quite a character. How did he come to be how he is?
Daniel Jacobus has about as flinty an exterior as one can imagine, but deep down inside he has a heart of pure gold…maybe. As a young man his career as a concert violinist started with great promise, but with the onset of blindness he became increasingly reclusive, embittered not with music itself, but with the world in which it is created. Now, in his old age, he has to be dragged kicking and screaming to solve mysteries in the world that he shunned.
Having been part of that world for most of my life, I’ve taken the frustrations that most of us in my profession have had do deal with, in which compromises to musical integrity are sometimes imposed upon us, and have consolidated them into the persona of Jacobus to a real bitchy level. The reason for his blindness is two-fold: first, by being blind his other senses, especially hearing, are extraordinarily enhanced, enabling him to solve mysteries that those with sight cannot; and second, in an almost metaphorical sense, by being blind, he perceives music the way it should be — with his ears — and isn’t distracted by the superficialities surrounding its creation.