What if your child wanted you dead?
Publisher: Bantam Press
Book Links: Goodreads
Tess Gerritsen is another author whose books I have quite a few of but haven't got around to yet. And, as I usually find with series or authors I neglect too long, I am kicking myself.
Playing with Fire is a stellar standalone that gives me ample opportunity to taste the wine before I commit, and I am committed. This novel has a plethora of genres all rolled into one hooking story. The captivating and creepy blurb gives way to a plot of love, hate and magical music.
Tess plays with the supernatural, dire reality and thrilling political conspiracies, conveyed by her lightning-quick and smooth writing.
It's a treat of a novel that'll only take you a few hours. So, readers, what are you waiting for?
Synopsis (Not a copy from the book, but I always keep my interpretations close.)
Violinist Julia stumbles upon a mysterious sheet of music she's never heard of before.
As she buys and plays it on her violin, she's overcome with how haunting and beautiful it is.
It's a pity her daughter doesn't feel the same.
Just as she reaches the end, Julia focuses back on to her surroundings.
Her very bloody surroundings.
The question is: What if your child wants you dead?
Dragged into a dark history, Julia will have to dive deep down the rabbit hole of the music's history.
Where one man's past has bled into her present...
Plot - 4/5 Stars
Get set and ready, my friends, because Ms Gerritsen is going to have you by the balls from Chapter One. Setting a convincing tone of normalcy, the author lets you wander along only to turn around at the end of the chapter and punch you. From then on, you're hooked.
Julia's story with her three-year-old daughter Lily is chilling and mysterious. The quality of it imbues the reader with the undiluted need for answers. The tinges of paranoia drive you forward with insane lust. Playing with Fire is one of those novels that has you questioning both your own sanity and the protagonist's; is she going certifiably insane, or are there darker, more spectral evils in the shadows?
There are a few startling turns to keep you on your toes, so the plot never becomes stagnant.
But Playing with Fire doesn't just tell one story. Tess smatters Julia's narrative with another, Lorenzo's. Set around the events of World War Two in Italy, we follow another violinist as he manoeuvres the increasingly tenuous time as a Jew. The story is hard to read, not negatively, and utterly bewitching. The corrupting rot of Hitler's ideology is shocking, and the heartbreaking extent of human ignorance is a difficult pill to swallow.
Both plots interconnect to fully fill the novel's overarching questions. I will say that it's a surprise. Lorenzo's story is quite sudden and we're given no warning to it. The switches are smooth, but the two threads work better on their own than they do together.
I do feel the conclusion is also abrupt. Answers aren't a surprise, as the author makes it quite clear throughout with clues and hints. Even if you don't connect them until you find the truth, once you do the dots connect rapidly.
Pace - 4.5/5 Stars
Apart from the shock of having two storylines, Tess is a master of pace. Everything moves forward confidently, and surprises lie in store for extra boosts of speed as you accumulate evidence to solve the mystery. At roughly 277 pages, you'll be done in no time at all.
Characters - 5/5 Stars
Every character within Playing with Fire serves an admirable and riveting purpose. There's no dead weight and each contributes to an intense experience.
Julia is compelling and creative, suffering from demons we can't quite put our fingers on. It's invigorating to journey through the story with such a complex character, both in personality and choices. Lorenzo is equally enthralling, his story focusing on another kind of devilish madness. The tale of racism and death has the reader wincing with regret at humanity's cruel history.
Writing - 5/5 Stars
The quality of Tess's writing is lovely, especially in this novel's case, with its first-person, present-tense style. The pages burn as you turn them rapidly, dashing through them while completely soaking up the story.
Overall - 4.5/5 Stars
I am beyond glad that I have more by Tess.
I just need to make the bloody time to get to them.
For more Tess Gerritsen reviews: Index
For more Tess Gerritsen reviews: Index
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