Thanks to Transworld Publishers for sending me this book for review.
Tess Gerritsen could easily be dismissed as yet another thriller writer in an overcrowded market, but her stories are much more than the average cookie-cutter crimes. She’s proved her talents once again with this standalone story which might be one of her best yet. Playing With Fire has it all – romance, history, war and psychological suspense all culminating in a heart-stopping race through the streets of Venice.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints between violinist Julia, living in present-day America, and Lorenzo, a passionate Italian musician living in Venice on the cusp of WWII. Their two storylines are linked by one piece of music, Incendio written by Lorenzo and found decades later by Julia.
While exploring a quaint old antique shop in Rome, Julia is charmed by the idea of playing a mysterious piece of music which she finds inside an old book of gypsy songs. But the first time she plays the piece back home it seems to have a profound attack on her daughter, who attacks and murders the family dog in a cold-blooded outburst.
And that’s just the beginning, Julia’s daughter Lilly continues to behave oddly, moving on from killing the dog to attacking her own mother. Murderous children have to be one of the most terrifying things I’ve read depicted in fiction, and Gerritsen executes these scenes perfectly. It’s chilling, and I felt Julia’s fear and apprehension. Naturally she wants to find out what is wrong with her daughter, and she traces the start of trouble back to the strange piece of music.
Meanwhile, we meet Lorenzo, the writer of the piece and an Italian Jew living in 1930s. His story is told against the backdrop of the Holocaust, a bold move which really elevates this above the standard thriller and adds a layer of depth and history to the story. Through elegant prose, Gerritsen weaves a tale of love and war in amongst the mystery, and it really works a treat.
The combination of the fast paced plot, sharp, gripping prose and complex characters meant I flew through this book. It is short at around 250 pages, but it’s completely engrossing I did feel slightly let down by the end which felt a little rushed, with certain characters and plotlines I’d invested in being explained away too easily. But, she has still packed a story of impressive depth into so few pages, another cracking thriller from Gerritsen.