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.