Playing with Fire: Tess Gerritsen
Close your eyes and sit back and listen as the music plays the haunting, terrifying and mesmerizing waltz that might take you to places you wish to forget. The music begins quite low and the passages begin to speed up as the author created this music s part of the storyline making the time periods and settings come alive. When a three-year-old child hears the music title Incendio why does she try and kill her mother? What about this piece is so terrifying that this young child wants to destroy her violinist mother Julia Ansdell making everything think she is crazy. First killing her cat after hearing this music and screaming until she stopped playing. Then hearing it again and taking a shard of glass and stabbing her mother’s leg with it and placing a toy on the stairs so that Julia would fall. What is causing these behaviors? Like Patty Duke in the bad seed Lily seems to be following suit taking pleasure and pride in hurting her mother and then forgetting the incident completely. Either the music is evil, Julia is insane or something about this music possesses the child but what? Added in we learn more about the composer as the author takes us back to the beginning of World War II and the events that lead up to the demise of so many including the composer and his family. Playing with Fire: there are many areas where this title fits in as we see the smoke go up when the houses of so many Jewish people are burned, the crematoriums sending out the stench of death and one young girl whose arms are filled with burns but why? You can hear the music play in your head and mind as the story progresses and the fear within each character rises as the crescendos do in the music.
Julia faces many obstacles as she takes Lily to doctors to find out what might be causing her reaction to the music. None is found. Rob, her husband feels that she needs some type of intervention and her best friend explains that this might be something else. What you won’t believe. Flashing back in time we are introduced to the composer of the music, Lorenzo Todesco a violinist in the 1940’s living with his family in Italy. Teaching students, helping his father in his shop, Lorenzo is asked to create a special duet with a young lady named Laura Balboni, a cellist for a major competition. Times are changing and the war is about to begin and Jewish people, shop owners and students face elimination, expulsion and extermination from the Germans. A contest that proves challenging as Laura and Lorenzo are told that cannot compete, but hope is on their side and what they do will surprise readers as they stand up to those in charge.
Things get worse as people start to leave for safer places but Lorenzo’s father Bruno and family remain. What happens when he finds his way to Laura’s house in secret, told that he should remain why does he go in search of his family that has been taken by the soldiers. Houses burn, people are killed and no one comes to their aid. Hear the music play as the fires burn and the sirens do not ring out to put out the flames.
Rob is determined to force Julia to be placed somewhere to be evaluated and even enlists the help of a psychiatrist without her knowledge. But, Julia is smart and with the help of her friend Gerda they fly to Venice to investigate more about the composer and about the music but not before she learns the fate of the shop owner who sold her the music. Death is everywhere!
Lorenzo’s story is tragic as we meet him in his final destination the labor camp forced to play for the Germans at will. Forming what they called their own orchestra the final words you hear are his: Incendio A waltz for the dying.” As they were marched off to their death, the fires burned in the crematorium or the gas chamber and you can hear the music playing.
Violin or piano pieces in major keys have a happy tone or quality. Minor, such as Incandio in E Minor are sad and mournful. E Minor is the key used by the author to create this Waltz and as you hear it and listen to it many times it evokes different emotions as you listen and read the final chapters of the novel.
In Italy Julia encounters the truth behind someone trying to kill her, the story of Lorenzo, and why asking about the music brought the death of the shop owner and the attempt on her life and that of her friend. When the past becomes the present and someone wants to hide a hidden truth, they will stop at nothing including murder. Someone’s favorite piece of music but why? Someone ordered Lorenzo and the other players to replay this waltz over and over again as they marched to their deaths: “The fire of the crematorium.” You can smell the smoke, the stench of death and hear the screams. When the final truth comes out Julia will not believe what she learns. Just what does Julia know that might get her killed? Who can she trust and why does she put herself in the hands of a stranger? What is her final fate? Did Lily really try and kill her or did she imagine it?
Author Tess Gerritsten takes us inside the labor camps, back in time to the Holocaust, the terrors inflicted on so many and one family who believed that they would survive. Having faith in their government, betrayed by those they thought they could trust, family stays loyal to each but at what risk? As Julia remembers more about what she endured someone comes forward with another part of the story. Why did Laura’s housekeeper warn Lorenzo against playing in the competition? Why did they disallow them to win or even want them to compete? Hate, prejudice, injustice, fear, betrayals and lies ring true as Lorenzo and his family meet a fate no one expected and Julia’s life is forever changed and haunted by a simple yet complex waltz.
This is a powerful story with historical notes about the many places that mark the death of so many Jews during the war. The author relates information about the German occupation of northern and central Italy and what happened to the families like Lorenzo’s who were sent by train to destinations like labor camps of the Polish Crematoriums. A haunting novel that reminds us that the Holocaust did really happen and the power of music to bring it all to light. Playing with Fire you can get more than just burned. CAN YOU HEAR THE MUSIC? I CAN!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/ MJ Magazine
This book gets FIVE GOLDEN E MINOR SCALES