[REVIEW] Playing with Fire – Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen
Playing with Fire
Random House (US & CA: 27th October 2015; AU: 2nd November 2015; UK: 5th November 2015)
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WARNING: Involves the Holocaust, often with graphic detail.

NOTE: Author Tess Gerritsen, also a trained musician, composed an accompanying piece for this novel. “Incendio”, performed by Yi-Jia Susanne Hou (who composed additional violin cadenza) on violin and Peter Longworth on piano, is available on Spotify here. The piece is part of the story’s plot, though in the book its composition is credited to one of the characters.

I’ve fallen terribly behind on the Rizzoli & Isles series of novels, but thought I’d get back into Tess Gerritsen’s work with this standalone. Had the author been someone else, I likely wouldn’t have tried it. A contemporary jet-setting thriller, with historical elements, is far from my cup of tea.

Having read the author’s blog and social media beforehand, I knew the spoiler going into the novel. Whether this affected my enjoyment of it, I’m not sure. I understand what the author tried to do with this story, but its execution consists of two different ideas that just aren’t stitched together well enough.

Surprisingly, the historical content interested me far more than the contemporary. I didn’t know much about the Holocaust in Italy, and while it’s difficult to read about, it’s also important to learn. At the camps, leaders used some of the captives to serve as musicians, which may have saved their lives, but at what cost?

The contemporary component has two plots: Julia’s daughter killed the family cat and injured Julia; meanwhile, Julia’s become obsessed with finding out more about the creation of “Incendio”. It’s the latter which brings down the book when it suddenly becomes a “you have the manuscript, therefore you must die” story of assassins hunting her down. Yeah, that kind of comes out of nowhere and is rather brief, with telling rather than showing.

And so the novel’s quality suffers because the connection between contemporary and historical isn’t strong enough to live up to the otherwise great ideas. Not a bad read, but not one I’d be quick to recommend.

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