Devil’s Trill, a first-time novel written by violinist, composer and conductor Gerald Elias, is a fascinating story that explores the complex and tumultuous underworld of classical music, priceless violins and virtuoso performers.
Our protagonist, Daniel Jacobus, is a blind, old, antisocial and reclusive violinist living in New England. Though he doesn’t perform anymore, his mind is incredibly sharp — something not always appreciated by his students due to his easily ignited and volatile personality.
Our story begins when Jacobus decides to attend a Grimsley Competition concert at Carnegie Hall, where the young winner is granted the opportunity to play with a precious violin — the infamous, three-quarter-size Piccollo Stradivarius. Legend has it that this violin has brought nothing but tragedy and misfortune to all who own it.
But then, after the concert, the violin is found missing, and Jacobus becomes the prime suspect.
Together with the help of his bright new student, Yumi Shinagawa, and an old music partner, Jacobus sets out to discover the true thief and prove his innocence.
The story has a simple premise, but one that is brought to a higher level by the music/violin angle. As a late student of the violin, I found Elias’ writing absorbing and mesmerizing, not so much because of the mystery itself, but because of all the details, information and description that the author includes about violins and the lives of violinists.
The author often halts the flow of the story, using his protagonist Jacobus — in order to give us some new information about violins — but it’s actually these intrusions that I loved the most while reading this book. So, if anything, this is a novel that will be thoroughly enjoyed by musicians and fans of violin music.
Elias also puts a lot of effort into the plot, and the mystery is well and carefully crafted. There are a lot of minor characters, and sometimes keeping up with names was a little confusing, especially at the beginning. Also, I felt that at times the dialogue was unnecessarily long and strayed from the main purpose of the story. But these are just minor imperfections.
Devil’s Trill is the first book in what is sure to become an interesting new series for mystery and music lovers. I’m already looking forward to reading book II.