I've been reading Sara Paretsky's V. I. Warshawski detective novels for many years, so when I came across the latest in hardcover at the library while searching for true tales of human misery, I grabbed it and spent an evening reading it instead of cleaning house for company this weekend. Oops.
Hardball (Putnam, 2009) is the thirteenth in the series, and it follows the usual V. I. formula of having her chase corruption and murder in Chicago while persons unknown try to get her to back down from her investigation with increasingly nasty tactics. It's a familiar formula, but it's a really good one, and Paretsky is a gripping writer who, as usual, turns out a story that's impossible to put down.
The series is deeply rooted in Chicago, and each novel uses a different aspect of the city's life or history as background for the mystery plot. This time, Paretsky takes us back to 1966 and the white riots when Martin Luther King marched in the city, a time when she herself first moved to Chicago. Racial tension has been an important part of a number of the books in the series, but this one takes it to new levels in both past history and the present day.
I'll be brief to avoid plot spoilers: two elderly sisters hire V. I. to find Lamont Gadsden, who vanished more than forty years before and may have been mixed up with a murderous street gang. Meanwhile, V. I.'s perky cousin Petra has come to town to work on a political campaign for a Kennedyesque politician who has old family connections to Petra and V. I.'s parents. Her sudden disappearance, the brutal murder of a witness, and the ransacking of V. I.'s home and office by persons unknown send her on the run. Familiar characters -- doctor and friend Lotty and her lover Max, old family friend and police captain Bobby Mallory, her neighbor Mr. Contreras -- all make their appearances.
Paretsky keeps coming up with ways to brutalize her heroine physically and emotionally; in this book, it's family history that comes back to bite V. I., painfully, as her quest for Lamont's fate draws her into a search for the truth behind an ugly riot-related murder. Paretsky's plots are never simple or straightforward, and this one does a good job of keeping things a delicious tangle all the way to the end.
The best recommendation for Hardball is that it kept me up until 4AM reading it.Author website (with sample chapter) here and convenient shopping link here: