Release Date: October 27th, 2015
Synopsis: The first time Julia Ansdell picks up “The Incendio Waltz”, she knows it’s a strikingly unusual composition. But while playing the piece, Julia blacks out and awakens to find her young daughter implicated in acts of surprising violence. And when she travels to Venice to find the previous owner of the music, she uncovers a dark secret that involves dangerously powerful people–a family who would stop at nothing to keep Julia from bringing the truth to light.
Tess Gerritsen is well known for her contemporary mystery series, Rizzoli and Isles, but Playing With Fire bears absolutely no resemblance to that, although there is a mystery involved. Instead, she’s interwoven the discovery of a mysterious piece of music in the present, with the nightmarish events in World War II Italy. The result is a haunting tale of two people separated by decades, connected only by their love of music.
The chapters alternate between Julia, who is a professional violinist in the present day, with Lorenzo Todesco, a young Jewish musician trying to survive in Mussolini’s Italy. Julia is happily married and is the mother of an adorable three-year-old daughter. While in Rome she stumbles across a piece of music which mysteriously calls out to her. Arriving back home with it she plays it and her daughter immediately starts committing horrific acts of violence. Is there some sort of connection or is Julia losing her mind like her mother? Julia is a such a sympathetic character. Content with her life, she grows increasingly confused and worried as everything she knows starts to unravel. Convinced that events are not in her mind, she’s determined to discover the history behind The Incendio and save her daughter.
In 1938 Venice Lorenzo, who is also a violinist, comes from a well respected family of musicians. He’s an earnest young man who is devoted to his music, and is also experiencing falling in love for the very first time. His whole life is ahead of him, but he’s Jewish, in fascist Italy, and what ultimately happens to him and his family is heartbreaking.
Both the present day mystery involving Julia, and the historical chapters following Lorenzo are wonderfully written, but it was Lorenzo’s story which ultimately captured my attention. I knew that Jews in Italy were rounded up during this time as part of Mussolini’s partnership with Hitler, but I had no idea the extent of the atrocities. I wound up reading these thought-provoking passages with my kleenex box next to me. The present day mystery is intriguing, and the outcome took me completely by surprise. My only problem was I felt the ending was a little rushed. Up until the last couple of chapters, the mystery of Incendio and how it connects two people separated by decades was compelling and mesmerizing, but then near the end everything is wrapped up so suddenly it was rather jarring.
Overall, The Incendio Waltz is a hauntingly beautiful tale which will resonate with you long after you’ve finished. Tess Gerritsen has proven she is a master storyteller who can successfully move beyond her usual police procedurals. Despite it only being 288 pages long, this is not a light read. It’s both powerful and painful and will leave you unsettled. However, I think it’s a story that you’ll be glad you read.