Tess Gerritsen’s ‘Playing With Fire’ is compelling story
Tess Gerritsen, author of the series featuring Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and coroner Maura Isles, delivers an outstanding story that’s totally different with “Playing With Fire.”
Violinist Julia Ansdell is visiting Rome. She stumbles into an antiques store and buys some music. Inside the book is a loose page with an unknown composition titled the “Incendio” waltz. Ansdell is intrigued, but when she gets home and begins to play the music, her 3-year-old daughter has a violent reaction to the piece.
The author of the waltz is a young man named Lorenzo who lived in Venice, Italy, before the start of World War II. His family recognizes his talent as a violinist and teams him with a young musician named Laura to compete as a duo in a local contest. Lorenzo and Laura begin to develop feelings for each other, but his Jewish heritage will soon collide with their hopes and dreams.
The novel jumps back and forth between the tales, and both are equally compelling and read like a beautiful symphony.
“Incendio,” the musical piece that ties the two stories together, was composed by Gerritsen. Internationally renowned violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou performs the work, and visitors to their websites can download the music. It’s worth a listen.
Fans of Gerritsen will be won over by the story line and characters of “Playing With Fire.” Readers who have been debating whether to read one of her novels, or those who are looking for a gripping historical tale, shouldn’t worry about being burned.
Kirkus Review (starred)
A suspenseful thriller about mysterious music and a violinist’s fear of her child.
Julia Ansdell is a violinist with a 3-year-old daughter, Lily. While in Italy, Julia buys an old piece of sheet music titled Incendio by an L. Todesco, whom she’s never heard of. When she plays the composition at home in the U.S., Lily appears to go crazy, killing their cat, stabbing Julia in the leg with a shard of glass, and causing her to fall down a flight of stairs. Does the music possess an evil quality? Or does the problem lie within Julia herself, as her husband, Rob, thinks? “I know how absurd I sound,” she says, “claiming that a 3-year-old plotted to kill me.” Afraid Rob wants her committed, she flies to Italy to try to learn more about the music’s origin. In a parallel story, Lorenzo Todesco is a young violinist in 1940s Italy. He practices for a duet competition with 17-year-old cellist Laura Balboni. They play beautifully together and know they will win—perhaps they’ll even marry one day. But this is Mussolini’s Italy, and a brutal war is on. As the plotlines converge, people die, and Julia places herself and others in mortal danger. In fact, the stakes are even higher than she knows. A friend tells Julia, “The seasons don’t care how many corpses lie rotting in the fields; the flowers will still bloom.” This stand-alone novel has no bearing on the author’s Rizzoli & Isles series, but the crafting is equally masterful. For example, the musical descriptions are perfect: “The melody twists and turns, jarred by accidentals.…I feel as if my bow takes off on its own, that it’s moving as if bewitched and I’m just struggling to hang on to it.”
Clear your schedule for this one—you won’t want to put it down until you’re finished.
Gerritsen’s stand-alone novel (after Last To Die) may surprise the fans of her popular “Rizzoli and Isles” series. This intriguing literary thriller seesaws between the past and present in a world very different from that inhabited by Gerritsen’s usual characters. After performing abroad, professional violinist Julia Ansdell finds an enigmatic piece of music tucked into an old book in a dusty antique shop in Rome. When she arrives home and plays the haunting waltz, it sets off a succession of disturbing events involving her young daughter, Lily. Concerned with Lily’s mental state and seeking to prove her own sanity, Julia returns to Italy to investigate the origins of the tune. In alternating chapters, the tale of Lorenzo Todesc, a Jewish violinist living in Venice in the days immediately prior to World War II, unfolds. He pursues his musical career, ignoring the looming threat to all he holds dear. VERDICT The historical details and subtle twists take this nicely paced novel out of the realm of an ordinary thriller. The pages fly by as the fates of Julia and Lorenzo are revealed. This might appeal to readers who enjoyed Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book.
On a trip to Rome, violinist Julia Ansdell, the narrator of this haunting standalone from bestseller Gerritsen (The Bone Garden), buys an old music book titled Gypsyfrom an antique shop. Inside the book, on a loose sheet of paper, is a handwritten waltz, Incendio, by one L. Todesco. Back home in Boston, Julia plays Incendio on her violin, but doing so appears to set off a series of calamities, starting with the death of the family cat, that upset her relationships with her husband, Rob, and their three-year-old daughter, Lily. Julia subsequently travels to Venice, to try to learn more about the music and its Jewish composer, Lorenzo Todesco. Flashbacks spanning 1938 to 1944 chronicle Lorenzo’s tragic story, in particular his romance with Catholic Laura Balboni, as the Fascist regime’s ever harsher anti-Semitic laws tear families and friends apart. Gerritsen movingly depicts Julia’s search, which has some surprising repercussions and builds to a satisfying crescendo.
Musician Julia Ansdell is playing in Rome with her orchestra when she stumbles upon a mysterious music shop and an ancient-looking collection of Gypsy tunes she can’t help but purchase. Once home, she finds that a single page of the manuscript falls loose – Incendio, a haunting melody that seems to elicit a series of violent acts from Julia’s daughter, Lily. Julia’s claims that Lily has been possessed by the song and is trying to hurt her mother are met with skepticism and concern for Julia’s health, an attitude that is buoyed by Julia’s family history of psychosis on her mother’s side. As Julia seeks the origins of Incendio and the life of its composer, Gerritsen’s narrative weaves back and forth between Julia’s time and that of musical prodigy Lorenzo Toedesco, who faces the growing anti-Semitism in WWII Italy. These story likes arch, intertwine, and combust in a riveting finale. This is amoving, powerful story about struggle, love, and music during some of history’s darkest moments.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This one is tailor-made for literary-thriller fans, and the planned PR campaign and library-marketing promotions will help get the book into the right readers’ hands.
NYT-bestselling author David Baldacci:
“Tess Gerritsen has long been on my list of top mystery writers. With PLAYING WITH FIRE she has catapulted in a whole new direction. I defy you to read the first chapter and not singe your fingers reading all the rest. It’s that compelling. It’s that good.”