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Review: Playing with fire / Tess Gerritsen

October 29, 2018

Tess Gerritsen

This novel is very different than Gerritsens’ usual offerings. Usually she writes thrillers or mysteries, but this title is essentially a love story. Set prior to World War II, in Venice, it’s the story of a young Jewish man who is a marvel with a violin. Nurtured by his grandfather, a music professor, he is encouraged to do a duet with a lovely young woman who plays the cello, so they can enter a prestigious competition.

During their practices, they fall in love. However, by this time the Nazis have instigated the Final Solution and are taking measures against the Jewish people. The young woman tries and fails to save him, but he is sent to a camp, where he is drafted into the commandants orchestra. They play to drown out the screams from the creamatoria, of those not quite dead being burned alive. On the night his love suffers a terrible fate, the man composes a wondrous piece called “Inferno” which is a song of hope and death.

Many years later, a violinist on holiday purchases an old book of music and finds this handwritten score inside. The first time she plays it, her three-year old daughter stabs their cat to death; the second time, she stabs her mother in the leg. Horrified, the woman takes her daughter for tests, even playing a recording of the ‘Inferno’ but there is no further incident. Unable to fully trust her child, the woman determines to find out the history of the music. Meanwhile, her husband is convinced it’s her who is crazy, not the child, and is seeking to have her committed.

Escaping to Europe, the woman traces the history of the piece and discovers that a descendent of the camp Commandant is now an important politician. The existence of ‘Inferno’ proves his grandfathers link to the camp – proves his link to a war criminal – and he will stop at nothing to destroy the evidence. Then comes the twist – it really isn’t the child who has a problem. But I won’t spoil it for you….

This romance is liberally sprinkled with history and musical references. Interestingly, Tess is a violinist herself, and composed ‘Inferno’ for the book, which is available for download on iTunes. The last few chapters were a bit rushed, and the fate of the lovers is dealt with quite briefly. If I’d realised it was a romance, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, but it did hook me until the end.


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