Tag: V.I. Warshawski series

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

#MurderMondays: Fallout by Sara Paretsky

Book Summary

Before there was Lisbeth Salander, before there was Stephanie Plum, there was V.I. WARSHAWSKI. To her parents, she’s Victoria Iphigenia. To her friends, she’s Vic. But to clients seeking her talents as a detective, she’sV.I. And her new case will lead her from her native Chicago… and into Kansas, on the trail of a vanished film student and a faded Hollywood star.

Accompanied by her dog, Peppy, V.I. tracks her quarry through a university town, across fields where missile silos once flourished — and into a past riven by long-simmering racial tensions, a past that holds the key to the crimes of the present. But as the mysteries stack up, so does the body count. And in this, her toughest case, not even V.I. is safe.

What I thought

FALLOUT is Sara Paretsky’s 18th novel in the V. I. Warshawski detective novel series. And instead of being at home, in the safe and familiar confines of Chicago, Paretsky has Vic off on a road trip to Lawrence, Kansas. Vic has been hired by her wayward niece, and in-training hockey player, Bernadine ‘Bernie’ Fouchard, to look for her friend, August Veriden, who is missing after being accused of ransacking the gym where he worked.

But, as anyone who reads Paretsky’s Warshawski series knows, everything is never as it seems. 

It turns out, Veriden left Chicago with ageing black actress, Emerald Ferring, ostensibly to film Ferring’s ‘origins’ documentary. But, somewhere along the road, the two have gone missing. 

This is the set-up to have Vic follow their route, and uncover more than she bargained for. For Lawrence, Kansas, where the University of Kansas is located, has more buried secrets than the CIA. And as Vic digs into the pair’s mysterious disappearance, she starts to uncover layers of deceit, lies, moral ambiguity and ultimately, a cover-up worthy of Watergate that puts Vic in the line of fire.

Every character in this book is there for a reason, and carries the weight of an intricate story that Paretsky skillfully pulls together, meshing a seemingly random number of loose threads, into a tightly woven tapestry, that’s both thrilling, revealing, and oh so plausible. 

Of all the characters Paretsky gives us though, none quite match up to the two who I found the most intriguing: professor Nathan Kiel and his wife, Sonia. Bombastic, loud, outrageous, and thoroughly reprehensible, nonetheless, they are the train wreck you can’t help but stare at. They are, in essence, Burton and Taylor in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” majestically flawed on a whole other level.

The plot, on a whole, holds up without too much scrutiny, much of which is due to the expert writing skills of Paretsky who, once again, delivers a thoroughly enjoyable read. 

Fallout is just that, the human, emotional, and physical costs of years of lies, deceit, and betrayal.

FALLOUT
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow
9780062663186
Detective | Suspense | Mystery

Looking for a Criminally Good Read

I’ve read 3 books since the start of October, one was a short novella that was supposed to be a taut futuristic thriller—Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds—and let me tell you, it was anything but. I followed this up with two crime fiction novels. Of the two novels one was exemplary while the other, well, wasn’t.

Let’s start with Overkill (2019) a debut novel by NZ author, Vanda Symon, which was less than stellar, to say the least. The story features Sam Shepherd, a feisty young rookie cop, or so we’re told. However, the more I read about her the less I liked her. For me at least, she came across as whiney, petulant, and prone to fits of temper—she threw her phone … a lot!

After a while, this kind of behaviour becomes tiresome. Add in a cast of secondary characters that had about as much depth as the paper they were printed on, and a story full of plot holes, and it became dull very quickly. Worse, the author was want to lead the reader to conclusions, rather than let the reader come across them organically. And let me tell you, there is nothing more frustrating than being spoon-fed a narrative.

The other thing I found unnecessary was the need for a prologue centred around a nasty murder, which seem to be all about the shock value. It just read like hollow violence given how staid and boring the rest of the book was.

All-in-all, this was a plodding police procedural, with little or no depth of story or characters.

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In stark contrast, the second crime novel I read, and one that was almost a palate cleanser, was Bitter Medicine (1987) by one of my go-to authors, Sara Paretsky. Her V. I. Warshawski detective series just goes from strength to strength. Each story is always so well-plotted and peopled with characters that really come across as fleshed out and always, all too human.

In Bitter Medicine, V. I. or, Vic to her friends, is wading her way—as usually—through a mess of leads over a fatal death of a pregnant young woman in hospital and the subsequent death of one of the doctors who treated her. I love how Paretsky takes the reader up and down the emotional highway, as Vic checks out one lead after another, piecing together how it was that Consuelo Alvarez, and her new born baby died. And how the brutal murder of Dr. Malcolm Tregiere ties in, if at all.

Of course, V. I. never solves the puzzle alone. She always relies on some great secondary characters to help her out along the way in the guise of her mentor, Dr. Lotty Herschel—who runs a women’s clinic in one of the poor areas of Chicago—and her reporter friend Murray Ryerson. Both are wonderfully written.

If you like your detectives smart-talking, hard-boiled, and female, then you can’t go wrong with a V. I. Warshawski novel.