October 26, 2015

Book Review: Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Publication Date: October 27, 2015

Source: Vine

In a shadowy antiques shop in Rome, violinist Julia Ansdell happens upon a curious piece of music—the Incendio waltz—and is immediately entranced by its unusual composition. Full of passion, torment, and chilling beauty, and seemingly unknown to the world, the waltz, its mournful minor key, its feverish arpeggios, appear to dance with a strange life of their own. Julia is determined to master the complex work and make its melody heard.

Back home in Boston, from the moment Julia’s bow moves across the strings, drawing the waltz’s fiery notes into the air, something strange is stirred—and Julia’s world comes under threat. The music has a terrifying and inexplicable effect on her young daughter, who seems violently transformed. Convinced that the hypnotic strains of Incendio are weaving a malevolent spell, Julia sets out to discover the man and the meaning behind the score.

Her quest beckons Julia to the ancient city of Venice, where she uncovers a dark, decades-old secret involving a dangerously powerful family that will stop at nothing to keep Julia from bringing the truth to light.

Playing with Fire starts in a way that immediately portends that I’m in for an amazing story. 

“From the doorway I can already smell the scent of old books, a perfume of crumbling pages and time-worn leather … I step into a gloom so thick that my eyes need a moment to adjust. Outside it’s sweltering, but in here it’s strangely cool, as though I’ve entered a cave where neither heat nor light can penetrate. Slowly, shapes take form in the shadows and I see book-crammed shelves, old steamer trunks, and in the corner a medieval suit of armor.”

Old books, a mysterious antique shop – already I’m intrigued. But if you think that the first chapter is all about slowly setting the scene, you’d be wrong. Gerritsen loses no time in seizing your attention and doesn’t relinquish it until the last page.

Something horrifying happens soon after Julia brings home the sheet music purchased from the shop. With each shocking event that occurs, Julia begins to think that the Incendio waltz is somehow responsible. People around her begin to doubt her sanity. Is she mentally ill or does the waltz have a supernatural and evil power that only she believes in? Just when you think you know where the book is going, it twists and turns in surprising ways.

Alternating with Julia’s narrative is the background  of the Incendio waltz, which has to do with forbidden love, despair, and unspeakable tragedy in World War II-era Italy. As compelling as Julia’s narrative is, the harrowing story of the past moved me immeasurably. I am always grateful to novels that have historical basis in fact, which leads me to learn something important I didn’t know about before.

Like the Incendio waltz itself, Playing with Fire increases in suspense and pathos with each turn of the page. Warning: you might forget to eat dinner, like I did, so absorbed was I in finishing this book.

New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen earned international acclaim for her first novel of suspense, Harvest. She introduced Detective Jane Rizzoli in The Surgeon (2001) and Dr. Maura Isles in The Apprentice (2002) and has gone on to write numerous other titles in the celebrated Rizzoli & Isles series, most recently The Mephisto Club, The Keepsake, Ice Cold, The Silent Girl, Last to Die, and Die Again. Her latest novel is the standalone thriller Playing with Fire. A physician, Tess Gerritsen lives in Maine.

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