Monday, October 26, 2015

Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

First Sentence: From the doorway I can already smell the scent of old books, a perfume of crumbling pages and time-worn leather.

Violinist Julia Ansdell buys an old book of Gypsy music while visiting a shop in Rome. What really intrigues her is a sheet of handwritten music entitled “The Incendio Waltz.” Returning home and playing it for her daughter incites acts of extreme violence. Convinced the music is the cause, she travels back to Italy, specifically Venice, to track town the story of the composer and the significance of the music.

This is a very different book from Gerritsen as it is the first time she has written something set in two time periods, and which blends the scientific with the concept of past memories and energy embedded into objects. And what a wonderfully intriguing opening she provides. We are immediately fascinated, and horrified. Through Julia, we transition back to pre-war Venice, Lorenzo, romance, how hard it is for people to believe extreme danger is coming and that people can be betrayed by others they trusted …”Beware the ignorant, Lorenzo. They’re the most dangerous enemy of all, because they are everywhere.”

The dialogue is somewhat uncomfortable to the virtual ear, but the story more than makes up for it. It is always good to learn, even when it is something horrible and painful, such as learning about the Polish camps to which Italian Jews were shipped. Gerritsen is able to convey the terror and horror of the camp and La Risiera di San Sabb; aka Stalag 339.

Lest one think this book is completely dark; be assured it is not and the mystery of the music in both the past and the future are wonderfully resolved.

Playing with Fire” shows a very different Gerritsen.  It is a powerful, painful story. It is not emotionally easy to read, nor should it be, but it should be read and the facts never forgotten.

PLAYING WITH FIRE (Susp-Julia Ansdel-Italy-Contemp/1943) - VG
Gerritsen, Tess – Standalone
Ballentine Books – Oct 2015


  1. It would be more correct to call these camps, Nazi German concentration camps in Occupied Poland....the Polish did not have camps

  2. Dear Ms Roberts,

    The term "Polish camps" used in the article is totally incorrect and misleading, as the death camps were established and operated by German Nazis. You can write about German camps in occupied Poland or German Nazi camp but NOT “the polish camps”, unless your aim is to insult many people.

    Please correct the error.

    Kind regards.

  3. Please make a correction. There were no "Polish camps," but millions of Polish victims both inside and outside the German camps in German-occupied Poland. Even the Association of German Historians has condemned the use of this fallacious, history-distorting language.

  4. Please do not use the term 'Polish Camps' to which Jews were shipped. This was a heartbreaking time in history, and this heartbreak carries over to the present day. These were Nazi camps. German occupied Poland. It is extremely disrespectful to the memories of our loved ones that lived through this hell.

  5. Tess Gerritsen has already apologized for using the term, but somehow, a two sentence apology and a "will fix in paperback" declaration don't satisfy me. Because now every blogger and every reviewer of this book will use this misleading, hurtful term. I wish Ms. Gerritsen hadn't been so careless with her wording. I wish her editor had been more careful. Poland is now considering financial penalties for everyone using publicly the term "Polish concentration camps", and I'm beginning to wonder if it's not a bad idea after all...