“Playing with fire” by Tess Gerritsen – Book Review

Many readers are familiar with Tess Gerritsen for her immensely popular Rizzoli and Isles mystery series.  Now she has written a riveting, partly historical stand-alone novel that kept me spellbound throughout!

When I say partly historical I mean that there are dual narratives.  The novel tells the story of two violinists, Julia Ansdell in the present day – and Lorenzo Todesco during World War II.

The novel captured my full and undivided attention with the first sentence and never let go.

While traveling in Rome, Julia visits an antiques shop where she purchases a book of gypsy music.  Within the pages of this book is a handwritten sheet of music with the title “Incendio“.  Upon returning home to Massachusetts, Julia plays the music whilst her daughter plays nearby.  Her daughter’s screams divert her attention.  Her beloved cat is bloodied and dead.  Did her sweet three-year old daughter kill the cat when her attention was on her music?  The second time Julia plays ‘Incendio” she suffers from a nasty gash to the leg with a piece of glass.  Could it be that the music somehow influences her daughter to become violent?  Julia finds herself afraid of her own sweet baby daughter.   Her husband and aunt think that perhaps she herself is delusional.   Julia’s mother was mentally ill.  Perhaps she has passed it on to Julia….

Fearful of what her life has turned into, Julia travels once more to Venice.  She wants to trace the origins of the music hoping that by learning its history she will in some way come to understand recent events.  When she arrives in Venice, danger lurks around every corner.  She is on the run with no one she can trust…

Lorenzo’s story was both profound and disturbing.  Born to a Jewish family of luthiers and musicians, he is an accomplished violinist living in Cannaregio, Venice.  His grandfather has passed on his precious violin to Lorenzo and it is with this instrument that he intends to enter a musical competition as part of a duo.  His partner, a cellist, is a Catholic girl named Laura.  Laura and Lorenzo fall deeply in love.  When the grand night of the competition arrives their lives are forever changed.

On November 14, 1943  the Carta di Verona (Article 7) declared that henceforth all Jews would be considered enemy aliens of Mussolini’s government (Italian Social Republic).  In a few short months over 3500 Jews were arrested in Italy.  Lorenzo and his family were arrested by the Black Brigades and detained, then sent to work camps.  Singled out because of his violin and musical ability, Lorenzo was spared.  If you could call it that.  His fate at Risiera di San Sabba was unimaginably brutal and would be unendurable for most.

The best that fiction can offer is characters that will remain with you long after the last page is read.  This is such a novel.   Tess Gerritsen has written a story that pays homage to the importance of music, to the ultimate sacrifice of countless innocent Jews, and to the powerful capacity of the human spirit.

I have read many books about antisemitism and the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people during World War II.  However, I didn’t know much about the part that Italy played in these atrocities.  After reading this book my eyes were opened…  I love it when you can educate yourself by reading fiction!

With elements of historical fiction, thriller, and love story, “Playing with fire” should appeal to a very broad audience.

Tess Gerritsen composed a musical score to accompany the novel.  Visit her blog to hear a short sample of “Incendio” which is available for purchase.

Sincere gratitude to Ballantine Books via NetGalley for providing me with the novel in digital format for review.   

If you want to read further about Italy’s role in the Holocaust:  http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/italianjews.html       and


Holocaust memorial in Venice

Holocaust memorial in Venice

Venetian Jewish Ghetto

Venetian Jewish Ghetto







Read an online interview with Tess Gerritsen where she discusses “Playing with fire”.

A former physician, best-selling novelist Tess Gerritsen now writes full time at her home in Maine.

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Favorite books, Historical fiction, Love stories, NetGalley, war stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “Playing with fire” by Tess Gerritsen – Book Review

  1. Pingback: #BookRecommendations with titles that start with the letter ‘P’ #GreatReads | Fictionophile

  2. Anne says:

    I loved this book. Being Jewish it was very meaningful, hard to take and unforgettable. I visited the ghetto and saw the plaque ten years ago. Never forget it either.


    • skyecaitlin says:

      Oh, Anne, it must have been a deeply emotional, enriching, heartbreaking experience. Now, I really would love to read this book——-especially in light of current events all around us.


    • Fictionophile says:

      I am not Jewish but would dearly love to visit the memorial in Venice after reading this novel. It is SO disturbing to know how inhumanely evil some people are. Reading books like this one gives the grisly facts a relatable context.


      • skyecaitlin says:

        Yes, and sometimes I believe that everyone should learn about this sorrowful history the Jews had undergone; many people are just in the dark. Dan Silva’s novel A Death in Vienna discussed things that had me reeling and quite upset, as well.


  3. skyecaitlin says:

    This book by Tess Gerritsen sounds amazing to me; she comes highly recommended by members of my book clubs on Good Reads. Sad to say, I have never read her novels.


  4. Diane Coto says:

    Very nice review. I’ve read one of her books. I really need to return to read more of this author. She does impress me. 🙂
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews


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