June 01, 2020
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Tess Gerritsen novel explores haunting music with a dark secret

"Playing with Fire" by Tess Gerritsen was released in October.

American novelist Tess Gerritsen began her career writing romantic thrillers. Eventually she branched into medical thrillers and crime thrillers as well. But with her latest book, the tale takes on something completely different: the power of music.

“Playing with Fire” was released in October by Ballatine Books. It tells the haunting tale of a violinist who happens upon a piece of music called “Incendio” in a mysterious Rome shop. She’s drawn to play the waltz, but when she finally does — with her young daughter nearby — the notes of the music seem to stir something unexpected and violent in the little girl. The violinist is shaken and driven to find the origins of the music, a quest that leads her to Venice and a long-buried secret that a powerful family doesn’t want discovered.

Gerritsen, a New York Times best-selling author known for her Rizzoli and Isles series, admits that this story, which focuses so heavily on music and a musician, is much different from her other work.

“It’s so different from my usual novels — the inspiration for it and the subject matter — it’s reaching a different audience than my usual crime readers,” Gerritsen said in a recent phone interview. “I think people who know and understand music love the book.”

The inspiration for the story she refers to came in an unusual way.

“It was a nightmare. I was in Venice for my birthday, and I dreamed that I was playing a violin with a baby next to me,” Gerritsen said. In the dream, the melody of the music made the baby’s eyes glow red. Gerritsen awoke with a tale already forming in her head that explored the “power of music to awaken the savage beast and to transmit evil.”

“It’s described as being hauntingly beautiful and then hauntingly disturbing,” Gerritsen said.

Gerritsen, who plays the violin, also composed music to accompany the book. It’s available for digital download from services, including iTunes and Amazon Digital.

“I’ve never done this before. And certainly, because it’s classical music, I think that’s highly unusual,” Gerritsen said. “The music is so important to the story.”

A step outside her previous work, Gerritsen said the process of creating this book was different because it was so unexpected.

“Authors have this phrase: the book of your heart. … It’s a book that you feel you are forced to write,” Gerritsen said. That’s what this book is for her.

As for the music, for those inclined, listening to it while reading could be an interesting way to experience it.

“I think if they hear the music while they are reading the book, it will make it far more alive for them,” Gerritsen said.

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