I had always wanted to try something by Tess Gerritsen but had just never gotten around to picking up one of her books. Luckily, I got an advance review copy of her upcoming novel, “Playing with Fire,” so I finally got my chance. I was also happy to see that this was a stand-alone novel so I would get a chance to read a book and just be able to sit back and enjoy rather than having to work my way in the middle of a series.
Julia has an almost perfect life. Not only is she happily married with a perfect daughter, she has her dream job as a musician as a violinist in an all-women quartet. When the group travels to Rome, Julia goes on a search for the perfect souvenirs for both her and her family. She discovers what appears to be an original composition in an antique shop entitled “Incendio,” she knows that she has found the perfect gift for herself. She has no knowledge of the song’s creation or creator, L. Todesco, but she knows that this is a very strong and haunting waltz and that it must be hers.
The waltz turns out to be less than perfect for Julia. The first time she plays the song, her daughter becomes violent and Julia wonders about the song for a minute before dismissing the notion that the song could be responsible. When something similar happens the second time she plays the waltz, Julia has no alternative but to suspect that the song may be haunted. Julia begins to look into the origin of the song in order to figure out how it could have such a devastating effect on her otherwise happy family. The search for the song’s roots and the stunning revelation that the answers may bring not only will shake up Julia’s life but may also end it as well.
I have to give credit where credit is due and “Playing with Fire” is a very good book. While I expecting and entertaining tale, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed the novel. The story is told both from the perspective of Julia in the present and Lorenzo Todesco, a Jewish musician in Italy during World War II, to provide a full background of the waltz and Gerritsen keeps the story on track at all times and the transition between the past and present was always smooth. There is also a very strong theme of music throughout the story, which is expected given that the story is centered on a waltz, and Gerritsen makes music an integral part of the story rather than a backdrop. With its changing perspective and tones as the story evolves, “Playing with Fire” unfolds in much the same manner as a work of classical music.
“Playing with Fire” starts out strong and this carries through most of the story. There is an air of mystery throughout and even a touch of the supernatural as the history of “Incendio” begins to unfold. Gerritsen puts enough history in the novel to appeal to those who find this interesting, like me, but not so much as to slow down the narrative with unnecessary facts. This is a well-rounded novel that has a little bit of everything to appeal to a wide range of interests. This would be a five star novel if not for the ending which I found to be a bit rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory. “Playing with Fire” clearly shows Gerritsen’s mastery of telling a compelling story and I know that she has won a new fan with me. The book is a bit of a departure from Gerritsen’s other works but it is a solid enough novel to appeal to her old fans and win her some new readers as well.
I would like to thank Random House Ballantine and NetGalley for this advance review copy. “Playing with Fire” is scheduled to be released in October.