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Death and Transfiguration: A Daniel Jacobus Novel by Gerald Elias
Cover Artist: Photo: Bill Miles
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312678357
Date: 19 June 2012 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Daniel Jacobus, blind musician and amateur sleuth, reluctantly gives Scheherazade "Sherry" O'Brien a private violin lesson. She will soon be auditioning for the concertmaster position in the traveling Harmonium orchestra. However, the true reason for her visit is to convince the crotchety Jacobus to investigate the past behavior of one of the world's greatest orchestra conductors, Vaclav Herza; a conceited, snobbish tyrant, Herza has been mercilessly harassing her. Jacobus reluctantly declines. After a disastrous audition, Sherry tries to commit suicide. Sick with guilt, Jacobus employs the help of his friends, Cato Hashimoto and Nathaniel Williams, to travel around the globe, researching Herza's past in hopes of indicting him on criminal activity and, therefore, avenging Sherry's humiliation.

OMG! Gerard Elias's Death and Transfiguration is a great novel for many reasons. I'll begin with the story's villain, the maestro from Hell, Vaclav Herza, who is the epitome of evilness. In fact, he is one of the most despicable villains I've read in a long time. Readers will agree with me when I say, "This man deserves to die." The first half of the novel was very interesting. It dealt with heated contract negotiations, nerve-wracking auditions, and board meetings for increasing ticket sales. The reader is given a crash course on the cutthroat politics involved in opening Harmonium Hall, a new concert hall and permanent home for the Harmonium orchestra. However, I was wondering where all this drama was leading. "Where's the mystery?" I kept asking myself. Then Sherry tries to commit suicide in the middle of the novel and the action escalates to a shocking crescendo.

Having played (or pretended to play) a trumpet in a high school band and sung in church choirs for most of my life, I have an appreciation for music. I am vaguely familiar with the famous musicians, names of symphonies, and musical terms used throughout this novel. However, one doesn't have to possess a musical background to appreciate and enjoy all the human drama that occurs in Death and Transfiguration. There is the evil antagonist, represented by Herza, and there is the good, albeit flawed, protagonist Daniel Jacobus.

Jacobus's blindness is a source of much of the novel's light-hearted humor. For example, he complains about putting lids back on canisters because the mice that are drawn to the food leave droppings on the kitchen floor. At a hospital waiting room, he becomes highly agitated when he accidentally sits down in a fat woman's lap. (She liked it.) On the other side of the coin, Jacobus's blindness, which came on suddenly the night before his audition for concertmaster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is a source of sorrow. I can't help but feel sorry for him and I understand why he is cynical and irascible. I would be too in his circumstances. Furthermore, from Jacobus, the reader catches a glimpse of how blind people live daily from pouring liquid into a glass to counting money. We take our sight for granted.

Most importantly, in Death and Transfiguration, the reader will learn more about Jacobus's tragic past, which actually began when he was a child. A German Jew, he was able to come to America and play the violin, thus escaping the Nazi death camps. The rest of his family was not so fortunate. He suffers from survivalist guilt. Sherry's suicide attempt amplifies this guilt. Thus, he is determined more than ever to destroy Vaclav who is a racist. (This ancient, hideous man mutters numerous racial slurs throughout the plot.)

The novel is aptly named Death and Transfiguration because Jacobus experiences a radical transfiguration. Refusing to remain apathetic, he is goaded into becoming proactive. In other words, instead of sitting idly by and being acted upon, he will be the one taking action. His decision (or transfiguration) leads to a shocking denouement.

Music lovers and mystery fans alike have rejoiced since the debut of Gerald Elias's Daniel Jacobus series. I understand why. I jumped into the series with the third novel, Death and the Maiden, and was glad I did. Eventually, I'll have to read his first two works, Devil's Trill and Danse Macabre.

If you enjoy a complex whodunit with an evil villain, a unique PI, an international setting that takes one from Manhattan to Tokyo to Prague, and a shocking climax, then I highly recommend Elias's Death and Transfiguration. Read this one and you will be transfigured into a devout Daniel Jacobus fan.

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