Just after his Carnegie Hall swansong and before his imminent departure for retirement in France, beloved violinist and humanitarian Rene Allard is brutally murdered with a mysterious weapon. His young African American rival, crossover artist BTower, is spotted at the scene of the crime hovering over the contorted body of Allard with blood on his hands. In short order the aloof and arrogant BTower is convicted and sentenced to death, in part the result of the testimony of blind and curmudgeonly violin pedagogue Daniel Jacobus, like millions of others, an ardent admirer of Allard. Justice has been done...or has it? Jacobus is dragged back into the case kicking and screaming, and reluctantly follows a trail of broken violins and broken lives as it leads inexorably to the truth, and to his own mortal peril.
About the Author
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.
Read an Excerpt
By Gerald Elias
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Gerald Elias
All rights reserved.
"Can't you get this thing to go at one speed?" Malachi asked. "It's bad enough I have to inspect a corpse at this time of night."
"I'm doin' the best I can, Detective," said Fuente. "Ziggy's the full-time elevator boy. I gave him the night off after he found the body. He was all shook up."
The vintage, manually controlled 1904 Otis elevator needed skill to manipulate, and Fuente didn't possess it. Under his untrained hand, the antique jolted upward in fits and starts, and even at its quaint seventy-five feet per minute, Malachi's stomach lurched downward.
"If you don't smooth it out, I'm going to be all shook up all over the floor."
Mercifully, they arrived at the fourth floor, but before the elevator came to a halt, Fuente cautioned Malachi, "Careful you don't trip over him."
The door swung open on silent, oiled runners. Malachi took a deep breath and entered the crime scene. He wasn't the first cop there. In the eerily funereal hallway, dimly lit by low-watt wall sconces, with its dark green flocked wallpaper, aging and faded, and maroon wall-to-wall runner, Flannery was already in action snapping one photo after another for purposes of analysis and protection for the NYPD in anticipation of the inevitable complaints. Otherwise the hallway was quiet, undisturbed by nervous whispering behind closed doors.
Allard had taken only a step or two from the elevator before he had been cut down. Dressed in his immaculate concert dress of white tie and tails under a black cashmere overcoat, his body was frozen in a strange position on the carpet, like a statue of an obsequious beggar kowtowing to a rich overlord with his shoulders on the ground and his legs pulled underneath him. Malachi couldn't see Allard's head from where he stood directly behind the body, so he slowly began a counterclockwise circumnavigation, continuing to breathe deeply, trying to ward off something distinctly disagreeable he felt creeping uninvited into his gut.
Allard's right arm was under his torso, as was his violin case, which he was still clutching with his right hand. It appeared to have been unmoved since Allard collapsed upon it, which would tend to rule out theft as a motive, unless the killer had been spotted and made his escape before he could wrest the priceless instrument from his victim.
The position of Allard's left arm gave Malachi the impression of a beggar. The arm was partially extended with only the elbow touching the ground; the fingers of the raised open hand were in a clawlike formation like an arthritic awaiting alms. Presumably, rigor mortis had begun to set in.
As Flannery, now kneeling for close-ups, continued to shoot, Malachi resumed his slow inspection. He stepped in front of the body, where Allard's head should have been. Disconcertingly, it seemed to be missing. Malachi knelt down and, as he peered under Allard's chest, saw that it was the head as well as the violin case that had propped up the torso from underneath.
Malachi quickly rose and took three frantic strides to get behind the photographer, and made it to the standing ashtray by the elevator before throwing up. Flannery wheeled around and took a photo of him retching. "The boys at the precinct will have a ball with that one!" Flannery said. Malachi, doubled over, could respond only with an upraised middle finger.
Holding a handkerchief at the ready, Detective Malachi returned to his examination, forcing himself to kneel down and peer once more at the Picasso-reorganized head. The neck had not been cut in the strict sense but was attached to the body by only a frail thread of dreadfully bruised and twisted tissue that had been bent forward so that the head was facing directly upward into the chest and rotated so that the chin was where the forehead should be. Then with the weight of the body on it, the head had been turned another ninety degrees so that it faced the left hand. The neck must have been crushed with great and sudden force, like whacking a salami with a sledgehammer, as a multihued variety of fluids extruded from every orifice in the head — eyes, ears, nose, and mouth — gluing strands of Allard's famous mane of white hair to his face. The eyes and tongue themselves had shot out from the face. There were also superficial — certainly not lethal — lacerations in the area of Allard's temples, but overall the head was such a gooey mess that there was little to read into that.
"So, Detective, what kinda weapon you suppose did that kind of damage?
"Between you and me," Malachi said, "offhand I would say I don't have a clue."
"You and me both," Flannery replied. "You and me both."
Malachi pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, wiping his mouth with the handkerchief. He made sure Flannery got all the shots he needed — of the corpse, not him — and instructed him to wait there until forensics arrived, to protect the crime scene and make sure no one came back to steal the violin.
He buzzed for the elevator and when it finally arrived said to Fuente, "You say Ms. Henrique is in 4B?"
"Well, that's where she lives, but she's not there right now."
"Where is she, then?"
"Mount Sinai. She went into shock. The ambulance took her there before you got here."
"What about the elevator guy?" Malachi consulted the scrawls on his notepad. "Sigmund Gottfried."
"Ziggy? Like I said, I sent him home. He was almost as bad off as Hennie."
"Downstairs. Basement Two. Want me to take you there?"
"Can you do it slow and smooth?"
The entire back wall of the elevator was a mirror — a single sheet of beveled, leaded glass, so Malachi had an unobstructed view of himself with the contorted corpse of René Allard behind him as he reentered. At that moment it was a toss-up who was paler and, in his worn gray wool jacket and coffee-stained plaid tie, Malachi was not nearly as well dressed as the body behind him. As the elevator descended, he had time to take more than a perfunctory glance at the rest of the interior. The side walls were oil-finished mahogany, as was the ceiling, which also had an elegantly paneled emergency trapdoor and detailed molding suitable for Versailles. The black rotary phone next to the door, a later addition no doubt, had not a single visible fingerprint, nor did the cherrywood stool have a scratch. The glossily polished parquet floor had an Escher-like border framing an intricately inlaid lyre in alternating colored hardwoods. The latticed safety door and the antique levers used to operate the elevator were gleaming brass.
"They don't make them like this anymore," he said.
"You're not kidding," said Fuente. "Last year one of the gears wore out and we had to shut down for three months to have Otis make a new one from scratch. Forty-seven hundred bucks for one little piece of lead."
"Where are the buttons for the floors?" Malachi asked.
"Prebutton era. Just a buzzer to tell which floor to go to. As you said, they don't make 'em like this no more."
The buzzer went off.
"Main floor," said Fuente. "Mind if we stop?"
The buzzer sounded again from the main floor. Then again. Then one constant, irritating nonstop buzz.
"Who the hell's so impatient?" asked Fuente.
"Forensics, maybe," said Malachi, going over his notes one more time. "Get there before the crime scene's disturbed. Or the medics. Maybe a Halloween reveler."
"With a lead finger," said Fuente.
The elevator bounced several times like a Ping-Pong ball before coming to a stop. Fuente swung the door open. Malachi glanced up from his notebook.
"Jacobus!" he said.CHAPTER 2
"Malachi!" said Jacobus, instantly recognizing the voice of his nemesis.
The two men had not encountered one another for several years and, at least from Jacobus's perspective, he had hoped that status quo would continue for the remainder of his natural life. Daniel Jacobus, a blind, aging, and increasingly eccentric and reclusive violin teacher, had lived in self-imposed exile on the fringes of the music world for decades, less bitter over the loss of his sight than what he perceived as the corrosion of the aesthetics of his art and the ethics of his profession. What was hailed as progress when the newest wunderkinds hit the scene he termed "regress." Music had become a job rather than an art, pension trumped practice, and new compositions being written for the concert stage were, in his not-so-humble estimation, crap. So Jacobus withdrew from the world. He'd reveled in, yet railed against his isolation until he had been drawn kicking and screaming back into eye of the storm by his friend Nathaniel Williams when the infamous Piccolino Stradivarius was stolen from Carnegie Hall, and the two men had become improbable partners solving crime rooted in the classical music world.
During that investigation, Jacobus had been the primary suspect not only in the theft but also in the subsequent murder of his self-professed rival pedagogue, Victoria Jablonski. Malachi had tracked Jacobus halfway across the world to a small mountain town in Japan, where Jacobus had fled with his student, Yumi Shinagawa, and Williams, and brought them back to the United States to face charges of theft and murder. Ultimately, Jacobus found the missing Strad and the murderer of Victoria Jablonski, and he and his friends were exonerated, but the respect he and Malachi bore each other was grudging and tentative.
The most unexpected result of the escapade, however, was that the notoriety Jacobus had received thrust him back into the limelight of the musical world. He had become the talk of the town, was invited to sit on the boards of cultural institutions and faculties of conservatories, and letters and calls from would-be students pestered him incessantly. When he bothered to respond at all, he turned everything down, teaching only a handful of students recommended to him by the few people in his field he trusted.
Both Nathaniel Williams and Yumi Shinagawa were now with Jacobus, standing before Malachi. Yumi held a bouquet of roses in her hand.
"Well, if it isn't the Mod Squad," said Malachi. "What brings you here on such an auspicious occasion?"
"We're here to pay our respects," said Jacobus.
"How did you know?" asked Malachi. "It's been less than two hours."
"What are you talking about, Malachi? We went to his recital at Carnegie tonight. René invited us to his soirée. So we're a little late. Big deal."
"Sorry to break the news even to you, Jacobus, but the party's on hold. Permanently." He then told them, leaving out almost all the details, of the murder of René Allard.
Jacobus was devastated. Allard was among the last of the artists from the "old school," whose dedication to music and only music was unimpaired by onstage theatrics and offstage politicking. Allard was one of the few violinists whose recordings, along with those of great opera singers, were required listening for his students. His death was a loss to Jacobus not only on a personal level — though his acquaintance with Allard had been sporadic and superficial — but on a profoundly spiritual level, as music was Jacobus's only religion.
Yumi Shinagawa, still holding the roses, asked Malachi if they could take them up to Hennie. Malachi explained that even if she were there he couldn't allow them up to the fourth floor at this time. He did, however, ask, "Do any of you know a Sigmund Gottfried, the elevator operator? I'm on my way to talk to him."
"For about half a century," Jacobus said. "He was in that elevator when I was just a kid going up to Dedubian's shop on the twelfth floor to get my fiddle fixed. Sweet guy. Knows all the violinists who come here."
Yumi recalled how polite he was the first time she came to the Bonderman Building with Jacobus. Nathaniel Williams concurred and suggested it might be a good idea to go with Malachi in order to help make Gottfried more comfortable talking to a stranger.
They arrived at Basement Two with a soft thud. Malachi's stomach arrived shortly thereafter.
"You remember," Malachi asked Jacobus, "when you once told me the expectation of viewing a corpse was no different from the expectation of going onstage to play a concerto? That once you were confronted with the reality of it, the nausea went away?"
"Yeah. So what?"
"You're full of shit."
Fuente slid open the safety grate, which was so well-balanced it almost opened on its own.
"Welcome to Shangri-la," said Fuente. "Let me know if you need anything."
The four of them — Malachi, Jacobus, Williams, and Shinagawa — were immediately struck by the gloom. And by the music.
"You believe in ghosts?" Jacobus asked Malachi.
"That's 'Danse Macabre'!" said Yumi. "That's René Allard playing!"
The spectral waltz, "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns, was eerie enough under any circumstances, but as all the world knew, the piece was the signature encore of Allard, who had performed it with piano accompaniment at Carnegie Hall only a few hours before.
"But unless there's an orchestra down here," said Williams, "that's a recording. An old one too. The one he did with Barbirolli and London, I'd say."
"Shangri-la!" said Malachi. "More like Dante's Inferno."
Jacobus could feel the dark, dripping, and dismal gloom seep into his pores. He could hear and feel the rumbling of subways passing somewhere underneath, to the side of, or perhaps even above the basement. It was hard to tell. Dominating the entire floor, like Scylla and Charybdis, an ancient black furnace and incinerator stood side by side, caked with decades of blackened grease and dust. Jacobus heard their banging and hissing, throbbing and knocking as they blasted heat and hot water through numberless ducts.
"I don't like it down here," said Yumi.
"I'll second you on that," said Nathaniel.
Around the perimeter of the furnace and incinerator were some rooms that were obviously later add-ons. A laundry room with industrial-sized but long obsolete machines. A rusting and foul-smelling bathroom with toilet, sink, and curtainless shower stall, paint peeling, faucets dripping. A closet cluttered with mops, buckets, and cleaning supplies. Another one, or maybe a changing room, with a bench and some plastic hooks on the wall.
"Don't worry, there's nothing too ominous," said Malachi. "This place looks like Disneyland compared to some of the lovely back alleys I've been to."
"Thanks for inviting us," said Jacobus. "I'm a big fan of theme parks."
The four followed the music to a closed door. Malachi knocked, and it was opened almost immediately by a short, stocky, bald man with gray hair well trimmed around bigger-than-usual ears. His small eyes were swollen, tear brimmed, and red. He was dressed in heavy, cuffed gray wool pants that came almost all the way up to his armpits and were held up by a black belt and red suspenders stretched over a clean white T-shirt. A key chain attached to his belt led to a pocket, and he held a sodden handkerchief in his hand.
"Detective Malachi, NYPD."
"Welcome, Detective Malachi," said the man, wiping his eyes with the handkerchief. "I was told to expect you." He narrowed his eyes, gazing beyond Malachi into the gloom. "And, can it be? My old friends! Mr. Jacobus! Mr. Williams! And the young lady ..."
"Yumi Shinagawa," she prompted.
"Of course. Of course. Please come in. Please."
"Long time," said Jacobus. "Sorry ... the circumstances."
Sigmund Gottfried's one-room apartment was not exactly cheery by Martha Stewart standards, but it was a welcome oasis from the drear of the basement around it. Lit only by a single incandescent bulb in the center of a yellowing plaster ceiling veined with cracks, everything was tidy, well organized, and immaculate. On the wall opposite the door was the source of the music, an old-fashioned console Victrola with its trademark acoustical horn, on which the nasal and raspy 78 recording of "Danse Macabre" was spinning.
"Please have a seat, Detective, friends," said Gottfried, offering them the bed next to the Victrola. Gottfried sat in the only chair, a folding one, at the secondhand wooden desk, which had three drawers. Jacobus felt the link chain of the ceiling light clatter against his dark glasses as Yumi escorted him to his seat.
"So you're a music lover," said Malachi, more as a comment than a question.
Gottfried's lips quivered. He pointed to the Victrola, handkerchief in hand, as if that would explain everything, and began to cry.
Excerpted from Danse Macabre by Gerald Elias. Copyright © 2010 Gerald Elias. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
People interested in music and/or mysteries would enjoy this. I read Elias' first book and plan to read the 3rd and 4th.
I loved the many references to music and musicians. Elias' wry humor is a delight.
"DANSE MACABRE is the second book in the series featuring blind violin teacher and reluctant member of the human race, Daniel Jacobus. In this book, Daniel has almost willingly journeyed from the Berkshires in Massachusetts to Carnegie Hall in order to attend the farewell concert of fabled violinist Rene Allard. Allard is retiring to his native France and Jacobus, more or less happily, agrees to attend a private party at Allard's home after the concert. Accompanied by his best friend, Nathaniel Williams, and his student, Yumi Shinagawa, Daniel arrives at the Bonderman Building to learn that Allard has been murdered in a manner both grotesque and grisly. Inspector Malachi, the investigator in Daniel's previous brush with the law, is playing the same role in the death of Rene Allard. Daniel was a frequent visitor to the Bonderman Building when he was active in the classical music world. Daniel, Nathaniel, and Yumi decide to accompany Inspector Malachi to talk with Sigmund Gottfried, the elevator operator who found Allard's body. Ziggy was a fixture of the building, even living in the basement, and Daniel and his friends find him distraught over the death of the Maestro. Before they have finished consoling Ziggy, a witness comes forward and names the killer. B'Tower, a young violin virtuoso who was a huge crossover hit, is identified as the killer, seen standing over Allard's body with blood on his hands. At the trial, Daniel is called as a character witness for Allard and by the time Daniel and the press are finished, Allard is shown to be a cross between Mother Theresa and Gandhi. B'Tower, birth name Shelby Freeman, Jr., is cast as the jealous musician who, knowing he can never be as good as Allard, attacks him in a jealous rage. In record time, B'Tower is found guilty and sentenced to death. A week before the scheduled execution, B'Tower's attorney is desperate. Despite the conviction, the prosecution could never show how Allard was murdered and the murder weapon was never found. Rosenthal plays on Daniel's sympathies and his experience as an unjustly accused murder suspect. Daniel remembers all too well how a man can be made to look guilty even when he is innocent. Although B'Tower has ordered his lawyers to cease pursuing an appeal, Daniel decides that he has an obligation to take another look at the man he helped convict and that means he has to take another look at Rene Allard. As Daniel, Nathaniel, and Yumi examine the life of Allard the man, rather than the icon, they discover someone quite different from his public persona. Fraud, greed, envy, and long-buried sins are revealed; secrets are exposed. And the reader even learns about differences in naming musical notes. Gerald Elias has made Daniel more likable, more human in this second book. Daniel even displays a sense of humor. He and his friends are eating at a French bistro in Salt Lake City. "Maurice Chevalier was now singing 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.' Jacobus called the waiter over and asked if they could play some Marcel Marceau. The waiter said he would ask." Jacobus grows on the reader; he is a very different kind of hero.