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Former Utah Symphony associate concertmaster pens first political thriller

“The Beethoven Sequence,” a new novel written by Gerald Elias, addresses the cult of personality concept through music and politics.
Photo by Shawn Simmons

For information about author Gerald Elias and “The Beethoven Sequence,” visit geraldeliasmanofmystery.wordpress.com.

Although the novel coronavirus muted the Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival this year, classical-music lovers can experience Beethoven’s influence through a new novel penned by Gerald Elias, former Utah Symphony associate concertmaster.

“The Beethoven Sequence” will be released on Sept. 8, and marks the first political thriller written by Elias, who is known for his ongoing series of mysteries featuring the blind and cranky investigator Daniel Jacobus.

The new book is about Layton Stolz, a small-town machine-shop worker who becomes the president of the United States.

“Layton had a tough childhood and was abused by his father,” Elias said. “His mother, on the other hand, was a musician. And through her he became obsessed by the music of Beethoven that has this recurring theme of freedom.”

Stolz eventually develops the Beethoven Sequence, a five-year plan where student orchestras perfect playing Beethoven symphonies and are imbued with the spirit of freedom, which has been historically linked to Beethoven’s music, according to Elias, who retired from the Utah Symphony in 2011.

“Long story short, Layton’s popularity rises thanks to the program and he eventually politicizes it to become president,” he said. “He begins to think of the Beethoven Sequence as a way to counter federal bureaucracy, and once he is power, he begins to obsesses that if things fall apart he will lose his influence.”

Although some readers may see a parallel in the story to what is happening in the country today, the idea for the story came to Elias a few years ago and was inspired in part by the Suzuki Method of music learning.

The method, created in the mid-20th century by Shinichi Suzuki, approaches learning a musical instrument in the same way a child learns to talk before they learn to read, Elias said.

“Although I’m not part of the Suzuki community, I’m familiar with how well organized it is and how dedicated the teachers and students are,” he said. “So I had this idea about an organization that was so well structured it turned into a cult of personality of its leader and became transformed into a political machine.”

Elias initially wrote a short story, but wanted to do more with the idea.

“I added more characters, and it morphed into a full-fledged thriller with murders, car chases, private investigators and cover-ups,” he said.

Stolz’s “enemies” include Ballard Whitmore, a Brigham Young University music-school graduate who was imprisoned on trumped-up sexual misconduct charges, and reporter Sandy Duckworthy.

“Sandy is my favorite character,” Elias said. “She’s tough, tenacious, funny and a damned good reporter.”

Transitioning from mystery to thriller was a smooth process, according Elias.

“There are similarities, of course, because you need a good story structure, and you need to understand the characters,” he said. “You need to allow them to grow in the course of the story, and you need to have their points of view transform through what’s going on in the story.”

One of the differences of writing a thriller compared to mystery is how you use these characters, Elias said.

“Usually with a mystery, readers see what’s going on through one character’s eyes, and that character solves the mystery step-by-step,” he said. “With a thriller, you often have a gradual build-up of different points of view, and there is the interweaving of these points until a moment of tension explodes at some point.”

The characters in “The Beethoven Sequence” are distillations of people Elias has seen in the public eye and reported on in the media.

“It got to the point when the 2016 elections came around, I shelved the manuscript because I was afraid people would think this book was a spin-off of reality,” he said.

As Elias thought more about the book and the present situation in the country, he decided he needed to print the book before the 2020 election.

After tossing around the idea of self-publishing, Elias reached out to Level Best Books, a crime-fiction publisher in Maryland, last year.

“I told them about the book and that I wanted to get this in print before the election,” he said. “Luckily, my book had already been professionally edited, and was ready to go. So they said, sure.”

Although “The Beethoven Sequence” is hitting the bookstores, Elias, the current conductor for Vivaldi By Candlelight fundraiser for Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy in Salt Lake City, has already finished writing three more Jacobus mysteries and another one set in the West.

“Retiring from the Utah Symphony has enabled me more time to write, and now with the COVID-19 quarantine, I have much more time to write,” he said.


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