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Death and the Maiden: A Daniel Jacobus Mystery by Gerald Elias
Cover Artist: Photo: Stephen Carroll / Arcangel  Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312678340
Date: 16 August 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

String quartets have a history of being plagued with turmoil. The New Magini String Quartet is not only being sued by a disgruntled former member, Crispin Short, but its 1st violinist, Aaron Kortovsky, has disappeared. Kortovsky is feared dead when severed fingers are found in the instrument cases of all the members of the string quartet, including that of Ivan Lipinski, who was hired to replace Kortovsky. Blind, irascible violinist, Daniel Jacobus, is compelled to identify a serial killer who is intent on preventing the New Magini String Quartet from performing a modern re-imagining of Franz Schubert's Death and the Maiden.

The reader does not need to be a music major, though it helps, in order to enjoy Gerald Elias' superb Death and the Maiden. As for me, I played the trumpet, badly, in middle school, and have sung in church choirs for most of my life. I was familiar with many of the musical terms used throughout the novel; thankfully, I had a dictionary app on my iPhone for those terms that stumped me. Nevertheless, Death and the Maiden was a highly enjoyable serial killer mystery that had a good body count. During the last fifty pages, it shot into high gear like a sprinter approaching the finish line. The novel was impossible to put aside as the body count increased.

Daniel Jacobus is the most unique PI I have ever encountered in literature. Struck blind in the prime of his life by a rare disease (foveomacular dystrophy), Jacobus has naturally been left bitter and angry; he employs self-deprecating humor and wiseass remarks in order to cope. He enjoys playing Scrabble (he identifies letters by feeling their grooves) and teaches violin. One of his students is the lovely Yumi Shinagawa, 2nd violinist for the New Magini String Quartet; she serves as a type of damsel (or maiden) in distress. Jacobus has a strange seeing-eye dog: a large, ugly, slobbering bulldog named Trotsky. "Why is he named Trotsky?" everyone asks. To which, Jacobus always replies, "Because he can't runsky."

If Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot was blind, he might resemble Daniel Jacobus. However, Jacobus reminded me more of Columbo because of the manner in which he analytically deduces in great length the identity and motive of the serial killer--a serial killer who is truly insane. He/she will commit any depravity in order to sabotage the New Magini String Quartet and prevent them from performing Death and the Maiden. In this manner, the killer reminded me of the scarred, disfigured Phantom of the classic Phantom of the Opera. However, Death and the Maiden lacks the strong romantic element of this immortal tale.

Not only is Death and the Maiden a serial killer murder mystery but it is also a psychological thriller. It delves deep into the psyches of both the killer and the amateur PI, Daniel Jacobus. Both possess similar qualities. Both have suffered unbearable tragedies. The different outcomes are based on the different choices that each character has made. A damp, wet New York City setting; unique characters (both endearing and villainous); multiple murders; and numerous, horrifying shocks make Death and the Maiden a highly recommended murder mystery.

I could kick myself for not having read the first two novels in the series, Devil's Trill and Danse Macabre. However, I will definitely be reading the next one from Gerald Elias.

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