Playing With Fire
I love it when a book captures my interest and just doesn’t let go as this one did. I found myself reluctant to put it down and anxious to pick it up even though I was extremely busy with other things. To me that means I’ve encountered a really terrific read.
In a small resale shop in Italy, Julia Ansdell picks ups a piece of sheet music titled Incendio by a composer unknown to her, Lorenzo Todesco. She’s pleased with the unique find, even if it is a bit pricey, but forgets about it in her reunion with her husband Rob and three-year-old daughter Lily once she gets home. However, once routine is established again Julia settles on the patio with her young daughter playing near her and begins the piece.She loses concentration, though, when her daughter touches her with a bloody hand. Following the disturbing trail of red prints Julia finds their beloved cat killed, with young Lily apparently holding the weapon. Julia is appalled but Rob calms her by saying the child couldn’t possibly have understood what she was doing.
When Julia next attempts to play the piece her concentration is broken when a glass shard is stabbed into her thigh while next to her a young Lily repeats the phrase, “Hurt, Mommy”. This time Julia takes her daughter to all sorts of specialists to determine just what is wrong. But there is another, deeper fear hidden deep within Julia. Her own mother had gone mad when Julia was a young child. Is it possible that is happening to her as well? As the doctors begin to turn their attention from Lily and onto Julia she knows there is only one solution: Return to Italy and trace the roots of the mysterious music which seems to have cast some kind of evil spell on her or her daughter.
In a parallel story, Lorenzo Todesco is a Jewish violinist in 1940s Italy. While his brother grumbles of the horrors in Europe, his father assures the family that his hero Mussolini will never turn on the Jewish people the way Hitler has. Lorenzo agrees with his father and happily ignores all the signs of trouble as he practices for a duet competition with the lovely and fiery cellist Laura Balboni. Both are excellent musicians and their playing together brings them to a level of skill neither has known before. Their talent combined with their haunting composition ensures them an easy victory. Lorenzo is already thinking of what the next step will be in their relationship. But the signs that Lorenzo has so willfully ignored come to a brutal climax on the night of the competition. Has his family waited too long to take action? Are their fates already set to a melody with a tragic crescendo?
I rarely think of the word spooky while I’m reading since I tend to avoid stories that have that trait. This story is spooky and eerie though, with an underlying tension that comes from a sense that somehow are characters are being pursued by pure evil. I knew of course the general form that Lorenzo’s evil would take but I had no clue as to what was happening with Julia. The interspersing of the two plot lines highlighted the apprehension in each, especially as they escalate towards their shattering conclusion. I found myself gripping my Kindle tighter and tighter as I frantically flipped pages trying to get to that conclusion and finally, finally know what was happening.
The writing here is excellent. The author gives you just enough information to keep you guessing while never slowing her pace to the point that you lose interest. She ratchets up the suspense, bringing things to a boil at that just right moment. She also does an excellent job of presenting her characters. Lorenzo, Laura and Julia all come to life in a manner that perfectly befits the story.
The author also did an excellent job with her history. It provided a rich background for our story, never overpowering it but never sliding back into just being wallpaper. The story behind Incendio was one that brought tears to my eyes. That portion of the tale just packed a strong emotional punch.
My only quibble is that while Gerritsen tried to show us a strong relationship between Rob and Julia some of the events that happen towards the end made me question his loyalty a bit (as well as the competence of the doctors treating the people involved.) The tale would have been helped by more time with them as a couple. That’s just a quibble, though and a pretty minor one at that.
This is a psychological thriller of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. Don’t settle down to read this tale until you have a nice chunk of time to do so. You won’t want to put it down once you start.
I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.