Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review: Playing With Fire
I don't know an author alive who doesn't wish to "hit it big" with a popular series (And frankly if you're a writer who says you don't? Liar, liar pants on fire).  But I also think that hitting upon that Big Series Idea is a bit of a double-edged sword.  Because as great as being successful is, readers can be a demanding lot.  Once we discover your series and love it? That's all we want from you.  Which leaves authors dealing with how to keep things fresh for them, from a writing standpoint.  Some authors fail miserably at this, get bored, and morph their popular series characters into Pod People.  Others, like what Tess Gerritsen has done with Playing With Fire, write a stand-alone book.  The hope is, of course, that your series readers will stop whining long enough to pick it up and read it.  Which I finally have.  And you know what?  It's pretty good!

Julia Ansdell is a professional violinist.  Before heading home to Boston after a performance in Rome, she enters a decrepit antiques shop and buys an old book of gypsy music.  Tucked inside the book is a handwritten, presumably unpublished, manuscript for a waltz titled Incendio.  But when she gets home and plays the waltz for the first time?  It has a powerful effect on her 3-year-old daughter, Lily.  So powerful that it seems to have "changed" her - and not for the better.  Can music truly be evil?  Or is Julia losing her grip on reality?

This is a novel with alternating timelines.  There's the present day Julia story and then there's Lorenzo Toedesco, a young Jewish musician living in World War II-era Italy.  The Lorenzo story details the history of the waltz and eventually the two story-lines collide as Julia searches for answers.

Gerritsen does some interesting things with this book.  It starts out one way, with the reader thinking we're going to get a Domestic Horror novel with a Is My Child Evil? plot and frankly I was bracing for some paranormal woo-woo.  But as the author begins alternating between Julia and Lorenzo the story carries you on a totally different path.  I can see some readers feeling like the resolution to the Julia story-line is a "cop-out" - but I didn't.  I rather liked the way the author twisted it around.

You never know for sure when you throw something up on the ol' Interwebs - but I would hazard a guess that this blog is predominantly read by romance readers.  And romance readers tend to like "happy."  So I feel like this is worth noting - this story is tragic.  There are also some rather upsetting elements.  A family pet is killed/murdered and part of this story is set in World War II-era Italy and features a Jewish family.  Descriptions of how people died during the Holocaust are included. 

The author resolves her story lines, she wraps up her plot, but readers should expect that not everybody is going to be skipping through meadows filled with wildflowers at the end.  This one has a heartbreaking ending.  I think the author ends it the way she had to end it, and I didn't feel like she was unnecessarily heaping on piles of tragedy just for the sake of it - but after finishing this story I feel like I should read a nice Harlequin Romance to cleanse the ol' palate.

Of course I want another Rizzoli/Isles book and certainly this book won't be for everyone - but I rather liked this.  It's what I call a Quiet Thriller and Gerritsen twists and turns the plot in such a way to keep things lively and interesting. 

Final Grade = B


S. said...

I love Tess Gerritsen! This reminds me of her Bone Garden, a book not in the Rizzoli/Isles series that also doesn't end exactly or totally happy. She did master her writing if one compares to her early thriller romances!

Wendy said...

S: Yeah, it's very similar in tone to The Bone Garden, although I think I liked this one a bit better. It's really good. Quietly creepy during the Julia scenes, and rip-your-guts-out devastating during the World War II moments.