Daniel Jacobus lives in self-imposed exile in rural New England. He spends his time chain smoking and berating students in the hope that they will flee. Jacobus, however, is drawn back into the world he left behind when he decides to attend the Grimsley Competition at Carnegie Hall. The winner of this competition is granted the honor of playing the ‘Piccolino Stradivarius,' a uniquely dazzling violin that has brought misfortune to all who possessed it over the centuries. Nine–year–old Kamryn Vander wins the competition, but before she can get an opportunity to play the priceless violin, it is stolen. Jacobus becomes the primary suspect and with the help of his friend and former musical partner Nathaniel Williams, and his new student, Yumi Shinagawa, sets out to prove his innocence.
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
The Life and Death of Matteo Cherubino, “Il Piccolino,” by Lucca Pallottelli (ca. 1785), translated by Jonathan Gardner (1846)
The wintry midday light, cold and unforgiving, passed through the stained-glass image of the Madonna high above, casting the bloodred of her velvet-covered bosom onto the sleeping face of Matteo Cherubino. The unnatural ray harshly highlighted its features—deep, worried furrows etched in his brow; darkened shadows of his unshaven cheek masking faint scars of youthful smallpox; the latent insolence of his protruding chin and its resultant underbite. Indolent dust particles floating in the chamber were momentarily radiated as they strayed without purpose into the column of pale crimson.
“Porca Madonna,” muttered Cherubino. He turned his back on the Virgin’s light and tugged the coverlet over his head. But was it this light or was it the distant sound of horses’ hooves on cobblestones that had roused him? He was gripped by an undefined sense of doom. He felt suffocated by the dense mass of a feather pillow in which he had buried his head.
Awakening with his head on an unfamiliar pillow was not the specific cause of his anxiety or an altogether unusual circumstance for Matteo Cherubino. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely for this reason, it took him a moment to recall whose lithe form was snoring contentedly beside him, still in the shadows.
“M—!” he said to himself in disgust.
That grave, intangible feeling of oppression increased in proportion to Cherubino’s level of consciousness. Layers of heavy wool weighed down upon him. The Duchess’s arm, which only a few hours before had been so magically graceful, now was a heavy iron chain across his chest, strapping him down like the Inquisitor’s instrument of torture. Yet he was reluctant to move it, lest she wake.
From the cavernous fireplace, he was assailed by the acrid odor of damp ash. Those same ashes were the humble remains of the great flame that had blazed along with their ardor and had so recently cast their undulating silhouettes on the chamber’s massive stone walls.
He turned his head toward an unlikely sound. A rat brazenly gnawed at the same pigeon carcass on which they themselves had feasted and then had carelessly tossed, between bouts of familiar intimacy, in the general direction of the hearth.
Paolina Barbino, Duchess of Padua, continued to sleep. Cherubino smelled her spittle, which had traced its way from the side of her mouth to his pillow. The scent of her quiet exhalations mingled the earthy black truffles and chestnuts with which the pigeons had been stuffed with Tuscan red wine.
Cherubino also smelled himself. He wanted to dress and leave.
“M—,” he repeated to himself.
He, Matteo Cherubino, the great Piccolino, surrounded by such opulence—human and otherwise. Who would have believed it? Who would have imagined he would be repulsed by it?
Born in a cold, leaky hut on February 29, 1656, on the outskirts of the Umbrian hamlet of San Fatucchio, Matteo was the thirteenth and last child in a family of traveling entertainers—actors, acrobats, musicians. As he grew—or, more precisely, grew older—Matteo became aware of two things: the small stature of the family circus and of himself. Having been born on the one day that occurred only every fourth year, he seemed to have been cursed with a body that was growing at the same unnaturally slow rate. After a while Matteo stopped growing altogether. Siblings began calling him Piccolino, “Little One.” With such a large family it was easier to remember this appellation than his Christian name.
Matteo’s size disrupted the timing of the family’s acrobatics routine, and any of his efforts at dramatic acting were inevitably received with howls of laughter. Matteo was given the jobs of providing background music and of passing the hat to collect meager offerings. Year after year the family wound its way along endless trails of San Fatucchios through the Umbrian hills, by and large following the same trail Hannibal forged thousands of years before in his victorious campaign against the Romans on the shore of Lake Trasimeno. The Cherubinos, however, were less in search of glory than in having enough food to evade their own enemy, starvation.
Thus they plodded from town to town—Castiglione del Lago, Tuoro, Passignano—on and on, day after day, through the malaria-infested swamps of the lowlands, setting up their little circus on what ever day the local market was held. And always they sought out the prime location next to the porchetta stall, where sweaty townspeople swarmed to feast on whole pig being roasted on a spit, stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel, the pig’s own liver, and olive oil. At every opportunity, the Cherubino family would pilfer samples, especially the outer layer of crispy skin and thick fat, darting in while the vendor was serving paying customers. If they were caught, the Cherubinos would shout, “Hey, fair is fair! You watch our act for free! This makes things even!” The porchetta vendors, blackened by greasy smoke, would usually respond lustily with a hand gesture signifying more than a difference of opinion but rarely pursued it further.
Matteo began his musical career on plucked instruments—lutes, guitars, mandolins. They provided good accompaniment—quiet and unobtrusive. He could patter on for hours improvising lilting melodies or lively rhythms, depending on the drama at hand. However, after some time Matteo grew restless with these instruments. In his heart he heard music that was bigger, grander, and brilliant.
These lutes are fine for a dwarf, he thought. But that’s all.
Matteo traded some of his collection for a few of the more popular bowed instruments—gambas and viols. There were all shapes and sizes of these, so he had little trouble finding ones suitable for his diminutive stature. He quickly taught himself how to be expert in the use of the bow, whether playing gambas between the legs or viols held on the shoulder.
These instruments opened up a whole new world of expressive possibilities. The family’s tragedies seemed to become more tragic and the comedies more comic. More coins from the audiences began to be tossed in their direction, and as they multiplied, Matteo’s newfound skill gained the appreciation of the Cherubinos, since feeding a family of fifteen was no easy task, even in the best of times.
Matteo, though, was not content. He wanted more sound. More brilliance. More power. More passion. More! More! Morose and defiant he became. His dissatisfaction was beginning to disrupt his family’s equilibrium.
His siblings, with gathering annoyance, constantly scolded him. “Stop moping! Stop complaining!” they shouted, and threatened to expel him from their family troupe.
They don’t understand, thought Matteo, and he came to despise their small minds and smaller vision.
“This song in my heart is just beginning to blossom, but now it is only a seedling. In my soul a majestic willow is growing!” he once confessed to a peasant girl who had rejected his amorous advances. He made an oath to himself that someday what he alone heard in his own heart would make another’s break.
One day in November—a cold, cloudy day with a damp, relentless west wind at their backs—Piccolino and the family troupe reached the monumental Etruscan stone gates of the mighty Umbrian capital of Perugia. Their hearts chilled by the Pope’s monolithic fortress of the Rocca Paolina, they wound their way up and up under its oppressive shadow, through a maze of cobbled lanes—lanes so steep they often required steps—in search of the town square.
By the time they arrived on the Corso, Piccolino’s legs were aching; it was pitch-dark but for flickering torches held fast in the stone walls of buildings surrounding the square. One of these buildings was an inn from which exuded the savory aroma of stewing cinghiale, wild boar, so the “famiglia cherubini” decided to set up their gear right there for the next day’s per for mance. Few people passed, and those who did scuttled by furtively, eyes downcast. Every hour or so a dark horse man cantered past. Piccolino protected his arms from the horse’s hooves, which echoed ominously on the paved stones. No one bothered them, but as they bedded down the family wondered if their theater was doomed to fail within this atmosphere of dread.
The Cherubinos slept. From deep within Matteo’s restless dreams, the sound of music—heavenly music—woke him in the dark. He shook his head in order to dispel the dream and return to his sleep on the cold stone, but the music persisted. The music was real. Matteo rose, standing perfectly still, his head slightly raised, using his ears to ascertain the origin of the sound as a dog would use its nose to seek out the source of the scent of stewing cinghiale.
Wandering off in the dark, he tripped along ever-narrowing alleyways turning this way and that, ancient alleyways that were already ancient when the Romans conquered this Etruscan city. Sometimes the music grew more distant as he turned in the wrong direction. He worked his way back, feeling his way with his hands on the walls of the connected stone buildings lining the way. He tripped in the stone gutters and stepped in cold effluent, but he hardly cared.
He turned a corner into a lane barely wide enough to walk through. Then, from inside a formidable stone house, Matteo heard the sound he had been searching for, the sound of his own heart. It was of a string instrument with a voice like a winged angel, soaring and swooping, luminescent as the light of heaven.
What was this sound? In frantic agitation, little Matteo jumped as high as he could, over and over again, in desperation to see into the window from which pale light beckoned. A lone passerby backed away, fearful that what appeared to be a demented dwarf was in the grip of some diabolical fit. She muttered, “Gesù Cristo, salvemi,” and gave him the hand sign to ward off evil contagion.
Matteo catapulted himself against the massive wooden front door with all his might. The pitiful thud of his body silenced the music. Matteo leaned against the stone wall, panting from his exertions. From inside the house came the sound of approaching footsteps.
A bolt slid. The door opened a crack. A shadowed face, momentarily perplexed at not seeing anyone or anything, finally looked down upon Matteo’s heaving little frame.
“Sì? E che vuoi?” the face said, with cultivated disdain.
“You must tell me . . . You must tell me . . . That instrument . . . What is that instrument you are playing?” gasped Matteo.
“Why,” said the face, smugly amused, “that instrument is a violin. Everyone’s playing it these days. Didn’t you know?”
A sound came from deep within the house—a woman’s sound—and the rustling of sheets. The face turned away and then briefly back to Matteo, but without further effort at civility. The door to the house closed, but the door to Matteo’s heart opened.
In Italy, the golden age of the violin had been blazing with blinding brilliance. Matteo sold all of his old lutes and gambas to get this new kind of instrument. He wasn’t the only one either. Within just a few generations, the violin had swept across the musical world of Europe, overwhelming the traditional string instrument families like a tidal wave. Cascading along its uncharted currents came the great Italian makers—the Amati family, the Guarneris, Stradivari; and the virtuosi composers—Tartini, Corelli, Vivaldi, Locatelli, Albinoni, Geminiani, Torelli. It was a period of musical virtuosity never equaled before or since. But among these giants, no one was greater—or smaller—than Piccolino.
Piccolino’s talent blossomed into genius. With unfailing memory he could play the compositions of any of the other virtuosi after a single hearing, and he never had the need to write down a note of his own music. He had the ability to improvise the most dazzling, difficult, and beautiful music imaginable. No longer did he play in the background. Now it was the rest of his family that collected the money, the gifts, the jewels. Weighted pockets brought the return of their equilibrium, as is so often the case.
Cherubino’s fame spread, particularly among the ladies. This surprised him at first. He knew that in part it was due to his playing. Another part was due to his enlarged male anatomy, the only physical asset Nature had endowed upon him. However, he knew that for the most part he was regarded as a plaything. He became their prize. It depressed him.
Piccolino, pierced by the chill of the bedchamber, gazed with sad affection at the sleeping Duchess. Distant footsteps from within the palace barely disturbed the surrounding silence.
If only I were a foot or two taller, he thought. If only I had been born to a family other than one of roving entertainers. If only! I would exchange all these secret trysts for one woman who truly loved me.
Would I exchange my musical genius for love?
A much more difficult question, he thought, as he tried to slip away undetected from the arm under whose weight he was still pinned. But as he did so the body beside him stirred, responding to his movement, perhaps even his thoughts. Her deep brown eyes fluttered open.
“Porca Madonna,” Piccolino muttered again. He hadn’t even made it out of the bed.
“Ah, my little man.” She smiled. With long white fingers she combed back her disheveled mane of black hair, which had settled over her eyes and thin delicate nose during her sleep.
Her movements, her sleepy wildness, stirred him against his better judgment.
“At your ser vice, my Lady,” replied Piccolino softly.
“Again? And so soon?” she cooed.
“Your wish is my command, my Lady.”
“Ah! Then my command is”—she stifled a yawn—“Rise, gran signor, and prick my heartstrings with your divine instrument.”
“That might be a bit impractical, at least for the moment, my Lady.”
“You miss my point, Piccolino,” said the Duchess, turning on her side to face him. As she propped herself upon her elbow, her cheek resting on her hand, the wool blanket slipped off her torso, exposing the curving line of her long neck, her exquisite collarbone, and her small, soft bosom, the deep crimson of the blanket emphasizing the pale whiteness of her skin.
Piccolino tried not to look at her.
Her tongue lightly traced the line of her upper lip. “I do miss your point dearly, but it is your violin I wish you to play for me.”
“Ah. I see,” said Piccolino, as his eyes followed the rising line of her hip under the blanket. “But even so, my Lady, the Duke . . . he may arrive any moment.”
“Oh, yes, the Duke. He’s probably still in Siena or Firenze plotting something revolting against Pisa. Don’t worry, dear Piccolino. It needn’t be long. This time.”
“But my Lady,” persisted Piccolino, increasingly anxious, “I haven’t a stitch of clothing on. The fire is out—I could catch a cold from the draft.”
“But Piccolino,” said the Duchess, seductively batting her long eyelashes, “I will keep you warm. Besides, I have a very special present for your birthday today. Your thirteenth, isn’t it?”
“Actually, my fifty-second, though I was born on leap day.”
“Well, young man nevertheless, it’s a very special present, one that you will hold very close to you.”
“My Lady, you have already given me such a present.”
“This one, I promise, you will love even more than me, until your last moment on earth,” said the Duchess.
First the poverty of youth. Now the poverty of riches, thought Piccolino.
“Very well, my Lady.”
Piccolino lowered himself from the bed until his feet touched the ground. Still feeling the effects of last night’s wine, he stumbled across the cold stone tiles to the heavy wooden table along the side of the room. Only a few hours before he had put his violin down next to the remains of their stuffed pigeon, now being shared by a pair of flies luxuriating in the musty pungency of stale truffle. The flies ignored the empty bottles of wine, more bottles than Piccolino had remembered.
Piccolino picked up the cold violin and casually strummed its strings, gauging the acoustics of the chamber, trying to forget he was naked and shivering. The stone, brick, plaster, wood, and high ceilings alone would give the room a harsh echoey resonance. He squinted his eyes and gazed at the light coming through the figure of the Madonna in the stained-glass window, her loving gaze eternally fixed not upon him but upon the Infant at her teat. He looked approvingly at the immense tapestry hanging on one wall. Fortunately, the violin’s sound would be dampened by it, eliminating the echo but not the luster. The subject of the huge tapestry, woven in rich greens, blues, reds, and golds, was the gruesome biblical tale of the Slaughter of the Innocents. Piccolino had never understood the popularity of the subject. To him, the portrayal of heavily armed soldiers massacring children still clinging desperately to their mothers’ breasts was sickening and disconcerting.
“So here is my audience.” He sighed. “My lover, the Virgin, dying babies, and,” detecting movement at the hearth, “a rat. Well, I’ve had worse.”
Consistent with his mood and his audience, Piccolino began to improvise a sad but sweet sarabanda.
Ah, the ladies always like a sarabanda, he mused, a dance the Roman Church, in its benevolent wisdom, had banned. Too sensual for public consumption. If only the Church heard this performance—let them see it too!—no doubt they’d ban it for eternity.
The seductive melody resonated softly off the frescoed walls and vaulted ceiling. The Duchess, enthralled, unconsciously twirled a strand of her hair around her forefinger, chewing on it with small white teeth.
Piccolino watched her as he played, watched her gaze with longing at his diminutive but stocky muscular physique.
Maybe I’m shorter and hairier than your past lovers, he thought, but I haven’t heard you complain. He noted with approval and self-approval the deepening movement of her torso as she inhaled, her warm, moist breath condensing in the chamber’s cold air.
“Caro Piccolino,” the Duchess whispered throatily after the final, plaintive note died away. Only some distant commotion from within the palace walls disturbed the room’s silence.
“And now you shall have my gift, Piccolino.” With a graceful flourish, the Duchess reached under the bed. In her hand she held a violin.
But it was not just another violin, Piccolino immediately saw with widening eyes. It was a violin unlike any he had ever seen. The grain of the wood appeared to be in flame. The varnish was ablaze—now red, now orange, now golden.
As the Duchess placed the violin in his hands, he could see that the purfling—the fine inlay bordering the edge of the violin that was usually made of wood, straw, or even paper—was here made with pure gold. The pegs were gargoyles of engraved ivory. Breathing all this fire was a scroll in the shape of a dragon’s head whose glowing ruby eyes stared defiantly into his.
“What man could create something such as this?” said Piccolino, staring. He could not move.
“Oh, I commissioned it from a handsome young man in Cremona. Antonio Stradivari,” replied the Duchess. “Did he get the size right? I told him it must be built to your . . . dimensions.”
“This is perfection. Perfection!” Piccolino suddenly shook himself from his reverie. “But, my Lady, the cost?”
“No, no. Antonio was very reasonable. He said, ‘Someday I will be as famous as Signor Amati!’ so he was very willing to make this one in order to enhance his reputation. Plus, he did owe me a little favor.”
Without speculating on why he owed her a little favor, Piccolino raised the violin to his shoulder, shuddering with greater desire than he had ever felt. So overcome with emotion was he that for a moment he was physically unable to put the bow on the string. Then he was ready, ready to hear the ultimate song of his heart.
“Oh, one more thing,” said the Duchess. “Look inside.”
There inside the violin was a label bearing the statement: “To the great Piccolino on his 13th birthday, the only small violin I will ever make.” It was signed “Antonio Stradivari, Cremona,” and dated February 29, 1708.
“My Lady, I am forever in your debt.”
As he said this, the heavy wooden door to the room was viciously kicked open, rebounding repeatedly against the stone wall, sounding in the cavernous room like the drumbeat of Death. It frightened even the rat, which skittered away from its bony breakfast. Enrico Barbino, Duke of Padua, brandished a long, glistening sword in his gloved hand.
“You!” he shouted, black of eye.
“Ah, Dio! Ah, Dio!” cried the Duchess. She pulled the blanket up to her neck to cover her nakedness.
“Addio! Addio!” bellowed the Duke.
“My Lord!” she wailed. “Caro mio! Forgive me! Forgive me for having lost my head.”
“Thus you lose it twice!” he said, swinging the sword with deadly accuracy.
Piccolino gaped in horror as the Duchess’s life ended with dazzling swiftness. Her brown eyes, more bewildered than pained, gazed vacantly from the floor only to see the rest of her supple body at some distance, still lying languorously upon the bed.
Piccolino, wearing no more than on the day he was born, stood frozen in terror.
“Madonna,” he whispered.
Then, gathering as much dignity as he could, he choked out an inaudible, “My Lord.” Clearing his throat, he repeated in full voice, echoing through the chamber, “My Lord, I must apologize completely to you for losing my heart to the Duchess. It will never happen again.”
He immediately realized the inflammatory truth of his remark, but it was too late in any case.
“Fool! Court jester!” shouted the Duke, as his sword thrust forward.
Piccolino raised his violin bow to parry the Duke’s attack, but to no avail. With a single deft maneuver the Duke sliced the bow in half and pierced Piccolino’s heart. Piccolino felt himself being lifted off the ground.
Piccolino’s eyes widened with surprise. His life ebbing, Piccolino clutched at his violin. The Duke shook the skewered Piccolino to force him to drop the violin, to shatter it on the cold stone floor. Piccolino would not satisfy the Duke’s revenge.
Finally, the Duke lowered Piccolino with grudging respect, but mainly so that Piccolino’s weight wouldn’t break his sword. As his knees buckled, Piccolino’s final act was to place his beloved Stradivarius, yet un-played, gently upon the table. As his body crumpled just a small distance to the now red-puddled floor, a transient cloud passed between the sun and the stained-glass image of the impassive Madonna, blocking its light.
And thus ended the life of Matteo Cherubino, and began the life of the Piccolino Stradivarius, born in the blood of debauchery, lust, and death.
Excerpted from Devil's Trill by Gerald Elias.
Copyright 2009 by Gerald Elias.
Published in 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Anyone who is a musician knows of the legend of the famous seventeenth century Piccolino. The Piccolino is only three-quarters in size and worth eight million dollars. As impressive as the violin is¿it is said to be cursed. Everyone who has possessed the violin has come into horrible misfortune. Daniel Jacobus, a former child prodigy and former Grimsley contestant has been invited to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall. He will also get the chance to play the Piccolino. Before Daniel can set a finger on the Piccolino, it goes missing. Daniel becomes the prime suspect. Devil¿s Trill is new author Gerald Elias¿s debut novel. He fuses his love for music with mystery and mayhem to produce music to my ears! Daniel isn¿t only book smart but also street smart. He handled the disappearance of the Piccolino better than some of the best detectives in novels I have read. Daniel seemed quiet but don¿t let that quietness fool you. He is just thinking and calculating his next move. I can¿t wait to see what Mr. Elias comes up with next.
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. Devil's Trill started out strong and interesting, talking about the history of the Piccolino Stradivarius and drawing out the characters. It slowed down some as it got into the mystery of the missing violin and its ultimate recovery.Knowledgable classical music lovers will enjoy the music references and their ability to recognize the pieces mentioned will enhance the story for them.Gerald Elias is an author to watch and I'd certainly try anaother one of his books.
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.
Thoroughly enjoyed the novel musical setting, characters and plot.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
Stradivarius violins, musical prodigies, they are fascinating.
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.
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.
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