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Archive for the ‘Rizzoli and Isles’ Category

How do I get you interested in Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen without giving away PlayingWithFirethe story is the issue, because the book is definitely worth reading. Julia Ansdell is a violinist. On her last day of a music tour in Rome she stops at an antique store because she sees an old music book in the window. As she flips through it (a book of gypsy songs), a single sheet of music written hastily in pencil falls out. Sight reading, she realizes how beautiful the piece is and so she buys the book and sheet music. It is signed by L. Todesco.

At home several days later, she is in the backyard with her 3 year old daughter Lily. She sets up her music stand, takes out the sheet music and begins to play this complicated piece. She’s immersed in the music. When she looks up, however, something horrible has happened.

In an alternate story, Lorenzo Todesco, a Venetian Jew, is asked by his grandfather, Alberto, to practice a duet for a competition with his old friend, Augosto Balbani’s daughter, Laura. Laura is a cellist and Lorenzo a violinist. Dreading the practice, fearing Laura is totally ugly, he reluctantly says yes. How could he refuse his grandfather? Several days later, he packs up his violin, which has been in the family for centuries, and visits the Balboni’s to find Laura is beautiful. However, she is also Catholic. Catholic and Jew are not a good combination in 1938 Venice, as Hitler and the Nazis are on the rise. The Todesco family, with the exclusion of Lorenzo’s brother Marco, are turning a blind eye to the new rules that are constantly being issued barring Jews from owning businesses, going to school, etc. Only Marco, Lorenzo’s brother, is the realist, but a lot of good that does him when no one will listen. They are living in a fantasy world.

Gerritsen alternates sections of Playing With Fire between Julia (in the first person) and Lorenzo (in the third person). The story centers around Julia’s efforts to track down the composer, wondering if the music has ever been published, and Lorenzo’s life under Nazi rule and his family’s eventual forced deportation to a work camp.

I originally thought that much of Playing With Fire would discuss the emotional impact of music on people and to some extent it does. But it goes much deeper than that.

Gerritsen, who has an MD degree and is the creator of the Rizzoli and Isles series, typically writes medical thrillers. Playing With Fire is a departure from her other mystery works. In her Historical Notes at the end of the book, Gerritsen describes the staggering impact of the Nazis on the Jewish population in Europe and Italy in particular. Apparently, Italy set itself apart in that a smaller percentage of Italian Jews were exterminated than the percentage in other European countries. She describes her desire to honor those unsung heroes who hid Jews, helped them leave the country, etc. at the possibility of personal harm to themselves and their families. She has done an outstanding job in this regard.

I do have one (very) minor criticism, however, and that is the ending as it relates to Julia…which you’ll have to find out by reading the book. I’m not sure how else Gerritsen could have ended her story, but it didn’t sit well. However, this issue did not in any way diminish my reading enjoyment. I stayed up late to finish the book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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