Playing with Fire By Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen is one of my favorite authors when it comes to romantic suspense novels and medical thrillers. The author is a lady of multiple talents.

While many writers excel at focusing on one genre only (see Lee Child with his Jack Reacher series), others like Tess Gerritsen can easily juggle different genres in her writings, and this new book proves it once again.

Playing With Fire is yet another surprising offering by the author. It easily mixes suspense, thriller and historical mystery in one book. I honestly don’t remember to have read another historical thriller by Tess Gerritsen, so I was eager to buy the book once I’ve laid eyes on the blurb.

Julia Ansdell, a gifted violinist is on a trip to Italy with her quartet. While checking out an antique shop in Rome, she comes across an old book of Gypsy music and she buys it on an impulse. Much to her surprise, it also includes a folded paper with an unpublished handwritten piece called Incendio written by someone called Lorenzo Todesco.

As she soon finds out, the piece is quite the brain teasing and complicated waltz which she is eager to play. And playing she does, right after she returns home to Boston. And let’s just say, things do not end up well for the family cat.

Her 3 years old daughter is deeply changed – for the worse – every time Julia plays the piece, and ends up committing random violent acts, which are not at all like the daughter she knows from before. Not to mention that every time the piece is played on the violin, Julia herself forgets about time, her surroundings and even her life. She gets lost in the music with a complete abandon.

Soon Julia realizes that the music piece is somehow at fault here, even though her husband is just about to get her committed to the crazy house for her ideas and especially her behavior. Suspecting her 3 years old daughter to have committed these crimes and even want to kill her? Up to the nutty house you go, he says, albeit in a kinder tone.

Finally she decides to go back to Rome and try to learn the history of Incendio, the haunting piece that literally turned her entire life upside down. She escapes just short of having to go to the loony bin and flies back to Italy, tracing the history of the piece to Venice.

While she is busy working her way through history, Lorenzo, the composer of the piece, is living his life in the times of WWII, and we get to learn his fascinating story as well. The book shifts every now and then between the present and the past, and while I usually dislike this double alternate view, I really didn’t mind it in Playing With Fire. It was so skillfully executed, that I in fact was awaiting those moments when I could learn more about Lorenzo and his tragic life surrounding the love story of the Jewish musician living in the Nazi occupied Venice and Laura Balboni, a Catholic and a musician herself.

I found both stories fascinating. Julia being surrounded by something akin to creepy supernatural when playing Incendio (although the book itself is not a supernatural thriller), and her trying to find her way through the few clues that she can gather, to finally understand just what makes this piece so ever powerful.

Lorenzo has his own burden to bear, and once again we get a glimpse of just how atrocious and unforgiving the Nazi regime was with its antisemitic laws. How many lives it destroyed in its conquest to lead and rule all.

The characters are well fleshed out, and I could feel every emotion that both Julia in the present and Lorenzo in the past felt every step of the way.

The book is fast paced, full of creepy moments, evocative historical descriptions and powerful mysteries to solve, and I read it in two sittings in one afternoon. I knew Tess Gerritsen could deliver another bestseller, and deliver she did indeed.

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