Book Review

Shell Game by Sara Paretsky

Book Summary

When V. I Warshawski gets word that her closest friend and mentor Lotty Herschel’s nephew has become a suspect in a murder, the legendary detective will do everything she can to save him. The cops found Felix Herschel’s name and phone number on the unknown victim’s remains, but Felix insists he doesn’t know why.

As Vic digs deeper, she discovers that the dead man was obsessed with Middle Eastern archeology—the first clue in a bewildering case that leads to a stolen artefact and a shadowy network of international criminals. But the trouble multiplies when Vic’s long lost niece, Reno, goes missing. A beautiful young woman with a heartbreaking past and a promising future, Reno is harboring a secret that may cost her, her life. V. I. can hear the clock ticking on her niece’s safety and is frantic in her efforts to find her.

Vic won’t leave any stone unturned until these very personal cases are cleared—a complex investigation that will entangle the Russian mob, ISIS backers, rogue ICE agents, a nefarious corporation preying on the poor, and a shady network of stock scams and stolen antiquities stretching from Chicago to the East Indies and the Middle East.

In Shell Game, no one can be trusted and nothing is what it seems, except for the indomitable detective and her thirst for justice.

What I Thought

I was once again captivated reading the latest instalment of Sara Paretsky’s now iconic detective series, Shell Game. In which we see Vic chasing down answers to not one mystery, but two. Paretsky’s MC is steadfast and resolute and will not give up on either case, while chasing down leads that, more often than not, throw up far more questions than answers.

Two seemingly distinct cases that, in fact, slowly merge in that inimitable way Paretsky has of telling her stories, bit by bit. Till it becomes obvious, through Vic’s relentless digging and uncovering of connections, that the implication of Felix in a murder, is tied to the disappearance and kidnapping of Harmony’s sister, Reno.

From stolen artefacts to war torn Syria. From the Oriental Institute to a cleaning company servicing the offices of Vic’s ex-husband, the unscrupulous and ambitious Dick and his new wife, to Homeland Security and ICE agents who think nothing of shooting first and asking questions later.

What I also love about Paretsky, is the way she weaves any number of current social and political threads into her stories. Managing to include, albeit, obliquely, the worst of the Trump presidency setting aspects of her story in and around migrants and refugees living in fear—struggling in an alien and hostile environment, not unlike those they’ve fled elsewhere.

Warshawski—steadfast in her principals—fights for injustice in a world where the odds always seem to be stacked against her. And in a political climate that has become terrifyingly dangerous for those at the bottom of the social ladder, living a precarious existence, feeling powerless to exert change. Loyal to those she loves and cares about, Warshawski continues to do battle and bravely takes on corporate America, as in Shell Game, and yes, occasionally wins.

You can always be sure that in a Sara Paretsky novel, the plots are well conceived and constructed and usually tie-in to current social and political issues. And that the characters are well developed, and the writing is, as always, top-notch.

SHELL GAME [Book #19]
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, 2019
Paperback, 560 pages
Mystery | Detective

4 comments on “Shell Game by Sara Paretsky

  1. Avatar

    I don’t usually like political influences to invade the books I read because I want to escape society but it feels like there’s still plenty of other intrigue in this novel. I especially enjoy hearing about two seemingly seperate threads are interwoven and it becomes clear how they fit. It is so satisfying when that happens. Great review Alex, this sounds like a great series!

    • Alex

      The one thing you can be sure of in Paretsky’s books is the politics is usually in the background, usually local in nature, and usually associated with any big corrupt city, like Chicago. Oh, and if you love lots of threads, then Paretsky does it to perfection. Seemingly random events soon tie together, and you always end up at a usually satisfying ending.

      And that is more than enough with the word: usually! Ha! Ha!

  2. Avatar

    I too love authors weaving social and political threads in their stories. That’s what I loved (among others) with red, White and Royal Blue whereas it put off others.
    Great review Alexandra!

    • Alex

      Oh, you and me both then, Sophie. It’s not by any means in your face, and I love how the author always manages to include social causes into the background of her stories. It really makes them come to life in a realistic way.

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