“Playing With Fire” by Tess Gerritsen (Ballantine, $28) is a stand-alone
novel by the author of the best-selling Rizzoli and Isles medical
This is a disturbing tale that’s set in the present - and in the past;
it’s a love story – and a hate story. There’s music and laughter -
there’s death and destruction.
It’s not what Gerritsen’s loyal fans are used to, but it’s a
well-crafted, carefully plotted, unusual literary thriller.
It begins when violinist Julia Ansdell discovers a unique hand-written
piece of music inside of an old book that she purchases at an antique
shop in Rome.
Back home in Boston, Julia plays the captivating composition in front of
Lisa, her 3-year old daughter, getting violent, unexpected results.
Gerritsen then flashes back to Venice in 1938, focusing on 18-year-old
Lorenzo Todesco. He’s a young Jewish student who has inherited a violin
that once belonged to his grandfather’s grandfather.
Lorenzo’s father has a small violin repair shop; one of his customers,
Professor Balboni, has a 17-year-old daughter, Laura, who plays the
The professor suggests that the 2 students play together at a music
competition held at a local university. Before he meets her, Lorenzo is
reluctant; he has a vivid imagination, but is pleasantly surprised.
Lorenzo creates a complex piece of music for the competition – the
Incendio waltz – a distinctive composition that seems to have a life of
Gerritsen then returns to the present, with Julia trying to figure out
what’s causing her young daughter’s reactions.
In her search for answers, Julia goes to Venice, where she traces the
lives of Lorenzo, Laura and their families. The novel gets more complex
as the plots intertwine; Julia discovers that she is in dangerous
territory; she’s become a target for a family with deadly secrets.
The author masterfully increases the tension, exposing many dark aspects
and horrors of life in Fascist Italy and nearby areas, before and during
World War II.
In a section of historical notes, Gerritsen discloses why she wrote the
novel and the challenges she faced in researching it. There’s also a
brief useful bibliography.
“Playing with Fire” is a thought-provoking tale with images likely to
linger long after the last page is turned.
More information is available online at tessgerritsen.com.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.
Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on December 6, 2015.