Tag Archives: Chicago

Sara Paretsky’s latest detective story hits home

A review of Breakdown, by Sara Paretsky

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

You can depend on three things when you pick up one of Sara Paretsky’s novels about private detective V. I. Warshawski: you’ll encounter a reformer’s perspective on Chicago’s power elite; you’ll find yourself relentlessly tugged along as Warshawski doggedly pursues the ugly truths that inevitably lurk beneath the surface of the mysteries she sets out to solve; and you’ll feel the heat or the cold, the grit and bustle of Chicago’s streets. And when you can find all this between the covers of a single book, what’s not to like?

Breakdown, Paretsky’s 14th V. I. Warshawski novel, begins with seeming innocence with a gaggle of tweener girls dancing under the moonlight in an abandoned cemetery. Soon enough, however, we find ourselves enmeshed in the myteries of some of Chicago’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens as well as a roomful of others: a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who has become a billionaire through options trading; a vicious Right-Wing talk show host disturbingly reminiscent of Glenn Beck who holds forth on a network little different in appearance of politics from Fox; a blackmailing private eye; two candidates for the U.S. Senate, one the liberal President of the University of Illinois, the other a Right-Wing drugstore heiress; the lawyers at a white-shoe Chicago firm; the staff and management of a state facility for the criminally insane; and, of course, those tweener girls, who are not exactly as innocent as they might seem.

The story that brings together all these disparate elements is, like so many of Paretsky’s novels, complex. This is no straightforward whodunit where any reasonably intelligent reader is likely to know whodunit midway through the book. Paretsky kept me guessing until the end. Breakdown is a very satisfying read.

Sara Paretsky has been writing since 1982, when the first of her now 15 V. I. Warshawski novels was published. (She has also written or edited eight other books.) Paretsky brings to her work not just a deep understanding of what makes humans tick but also a broad store of knowledge: she possesses a Ph.D. in History and an MBA from the University of Chicago and is married to a professor of physics there.


Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers

Get this: John Grisham’s latest novel is funny

A review of The Litigators, by John Grisham

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If you’re a John Griisham fan, as I am, you’ll probably be surprised at how many chuckles and guffaws his latest novel forces out of you. The Litigators, on one level a legal procedural like so many other Grisham works, is also a comedy. Even the title is a joke, as you’ll learn once you’ve made your way into the meat of this book.

Grisham’s protagonist is 31-year-old David Zinc, a Harvard Law graduate who has slaved away for five years as an associate in one of the country’s largest and most sought-after law firms. He makes $300K per year, but still: for 90 hours a week writing bonds to make rich people richer, that’s not a fortune. David finally snaps one day and, in a drunken stupor, makes his way to the misbegotten firm of Finley & Figg, a couple of ambulance-chasers (and worse) whose office is next door to a massage parlor. There, he demands that they hire him — which they proceed to do, on terms entirely favorable to themselves, of course.

Working as an associate with Wally Figg and Oscar Finley, David somehow finds himself embroiled in their personal lives as well as in the extraordinary complexity of a mass tort case that Wally has impulsively joined. The main plot that ensues engages this threesome — none of whom has ever before set foot in a Federal courtroom — in a massive lawsuit against the third largest pharmaceutical company in the world over a drug called Krayoxx.

Grisham’s pronounced social conscience comes through clearly in his treatment of the drug’s alleged victims, of the company that manufactures it, and of the expensive law firm it has hired: David’s ex-employer.

The Litigators is a joy to read from start to finish. It’sĀ another example of Grisham’s fluid writing and solid characterization, and an introduction to the sense of humor that is hidden is most of his previous work.


Filed under Crime Novels, Mysteries & Thrillers

Body Work, by Sara Paretsky

A review of Body Work, by Sara Paretsky

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Have you ever wondered why the heroes in detective stories never seem to get any older? You might know perfectly well that the author is, say, 87 and going strong, but his alter ego hasn’t aged a day since he first saw the light of day in print half a century ago.

Not so, V. I. Warshawski. In years past, V.I., or Vic to her friends, was a rough and ready 30, diving into danger with fists extended. She’s now a more cautious and slightly slower 50. Truth to tell, Ms. Paretsky is, well, let’s just say, at least ten years older, but to her credit she’s let her alter ego age. For this she deserves some sort of prize.

At whatever age, Vic finds herself caught up in complex and intertwined stories that always manage to burrow down into the depths of Chicago’s corruption. Not the old-fashioned kind, usually — payoffs for sewer contracts and jobs for the precinct captain’s nephews and such — but real, honest-to-goodness corruption of the mature, contemporary, corporate variety.

So it is in Body Work, Paretsky’s 14th chapter in the life and times of V. I. Warshawski. This time around, Vic finds herself cradling a dying woman in her arms and becomes embroiled in an effort to establish the innocence of the Iraq War vet the police have arrested for her murder. Body Work features all the puzzling twists and turns you might expect from Sara Paretsky, all the tension and suspense, and all the colorful characters that accompany Vic from one novel to the next: her current lover, her wacky young cousin, her aging neighbor and would-be protector, the always exasperated and less than brilliant Chicago police officers, and, of course, her dogs, Peppy and Mitch. (Waitaminnit! I wonder how old those dogs are now?)

ISBN-10: 0399156747

ISBN-13: 978-0399156748


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Filed under Detective Stories, Mysteries & Thrillers