Book Review: Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Title: Playing With Fire
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Publication Date: 5 November 2015
Publisher: Bantam Press and Transworld Digital

Twitter: @tessgerritsen

Rating: 4 out of 5


Imagine if you were home alone and your three-year-old daughter violently attacked you.

Julia doesn’t understand what is happening to her daughter, but she thinks she knows what’s causing it. She is terrified for Lily, and for herself, but what scares her more is that no one believes her.

If she is going to help Lily, she will have to find the answers alone, embarking on a search that will take her half way around the world, to Venice.

There, Julia uncovers a heart breaking, long buried tale of tragedy and devastation – a discovery that puts her in serious danger. Some people will do anything in their power to keep the truth silent . . . whatever the cost.


Playing With Fire is a standalone novel from Tess Gerritsen and takes a new direction from her bestselling Rizzoli and Islesseries.

Whilst working in Rome, violinist Julia Ansdell visits an unusual antiques shop and purchases an old music book, Gypsy. Within that book is a loose page containing an unpublished composition titled “Incendio” by L. Todesco. Once back home in the U.S., Julia practices the haunting composition in front of her 3 year old daughter Lily, which appears to set off a chain of disturbing events, all seemingly linked together by that piece of music. Is Julia going crazy or can a piece of music really have caused her young daughter to act in such a terrifying manner? Concerned about her daughter’s mental state and determined to prove her own sanity, Julia travels to Venice, Italy to investigate the history behind the composition. As Julia investigates the origins of Incendio, people start to die and Julia finds herself in danger.

The book contains a dual narrative between the past and the present. We are introduced to violin prodigy Lorenzo Todesco, a resident of Venice around the time of World War II. Lorenzo has huge talent as a violinist, however his Jewish heritage does not stand him in good stead during that era. As he and cellist, Laura Balboni, practice to compete in a music competition at a local school, dreams and reality soon collide with the growth of anti-Semitic ideologies as Mussolini’s Facist regime takes hold of Italy.

As I read about Lorenzo’s tragic story and the origins of Incendio, I found the historical details within the story to be fascinating, albeit very sad. It prompted me to read more about Italy during the war and the growth of anti-semitism within the country.

As the story weaves from the past to the present, the flow of the story is masterful, polished and atmospheric, with the prose being like a stunning literary waltz. I particularly liked the musical descriptions included in the book “Sweat breaks out on my face as I struggle to stay in tune and maintain the tempo. I feel as if the bow takes off on its own, that it’s moving as through bewitched and I’m struggling just to hang on to it. Oh what glorious music this is”. The descriptions have such strength that the words tricked my brain into allowing me to hear the music being played, despite my not knowing the tune.

Playing With Fire is a truly suspenseful, gripping and a surprisingly moving tale about love, tragedy and the power that music can wield. The story is well-paced and compelling as it jumps back and forth between the past and present, and I found myself unable to put the book down. There are some interesting twists as the story unravels and the two different timelines intertwine in an enthralling finale.

Gerritsen is one of my top crime-thriller writers and with Playing With Fire she certainly does not disappoint.

Out of interest, I was unaware that Gerritsen, in addition to her many other skills, is also an accomplished musician. I have just read today that Gerritsen has, herself, composed a piece of music titled “Incendio”. A version of that composition, played by violinist Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, can be downloaded from here. That same page contains a very interesting post about how the idea of Playing With Fire came to Gerritsen and her inspiration for Incendio – I would recommend checking out that link and  I certainly plan to later.

About the Author

Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen is also a physician, and she brings to her novels her first-hand knowledge of emergency and autopsy rooms. But her interests span far more than medical topics. As an anthropology student at Stanford University, she catalogued centuries-old human remains, and she continues to travel the world driven by her fascination with ancient cultures and bizarre natural phenomena. She started off her writing career with romance novels, now published by Mira. But in 1996 she switched to writing thrillers with her novel HARVEST, inspired by the anger she felt about the illegal trade in human organs. It was her first New York Times bestseller. Since then she has become an internationally bestselling author of crime novels, and her thriller series starring Boston detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles is the basis for the hit television series “Rizzoli & isles.” She lives with her husband in Maine. For more information on Tess Gerritsen and her novels, visit her website:

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