STARRED REVIEW
November 03, 2015

A secret melody’s shadowy history

By Tess Gerritsen
Review by

Violinist Julia Ansdell is the troubled heroine of Playing with Fire, a haunting new literary suspense novel by Tess Gerritsen, the best-selling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series and a number of standalone thrillers such as The Bone Garden and Harvest.

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Violinist Julia Ansdell is the troubled heroine of Playing with Fire, a haunting new literary suspense novel by Tess Gerritsen, the best-selling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series and a number of standalone thrillers such as The Bone Garden and Harvest.

On a trip to Rome, Julia finds a strange piece of anonymous music penciled on a loose sheet tucked inside an old book of gypsy melodies. Upon returning to Boston, she plays the piece on her violin, only to find that the music seems to spark violent behavior in her 3-year-old daughter, Lily. Though no one believes her about Lily’s odd violent episodes, Julia becomes increasingly concerned and finally returns to Italy to seek out the music's strange origins.

Alternate sections of Playing with Fire flash back to another story, that of a young Jewish violinist named Lorenzo Todesco in World War II-era Italy, a time of horror and cruelty when fascists come to power and anti-Semitism reaches its apex. This parallel narrative weaves its way toward Julia as she searches for the music’s composer and the origins of its evocative yet disturbing melody.

Gerritsen, a former practicing physician as well as a talented amateur musician, dramatically evokes the strange, stirring melody that imprints itself in the past and present. The author created the musical piece titled “Incendio” that simmers at the heart of Playing with Fire. The melody simply appeared in her head one morning, and immediately she knew the book would center on “the power of music to transform.”

Accurate historical details about an Italy on the brink of terrible war raise this story well above that of an ordinary thriller. Tension rises from readers’ historical hindsight and the sad knowledge of events that will soon unfold. As Playing with Fire reaches its stirring conclusion, the two stories combine into one melody, bringing to light the terrors of past events, the beauty of an innocent love and one young man’s courage that transformed and transcended history’s inerasable marks.

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Playing with Fire

Playing with Fire

By Tess Gerritsen
Ballantine
ISBN 9781101884348

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