Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hardball

The good news is that Sara Paretsky is back. Even better news, though, is that she brought V.I. Warshawski with her this time around - and that longtime fans of Paretsky’s Warshawski novels will find reading Hardball to be a little like experiencing old home week. Not only will they be able to catch up on what V.I. has been up to since 2005’s Fire Sale, they will get to spend some time with other favorite characters like Vic’s elderly neighbor, Mr. Contreras, and her doctor friend, Lotty Herschel.

When, as a favor to a nursing home pastor, Vic agrees to do a cut-rate search for a young black man who disappeared in 1967, she opens up a can of worms with the potential to ruin the reputation of her deceased father, Tony, a longtime Chicago policeman. 1966 was not a pretty year in the history of Chicago race relations and, when Martin Luther King led a peaceful march through one of the city’s parks, white protesters erupted in a riot that claimed the life of a young black woman marching near Dr. King. Vic knows that the man she wants to find was part of that march but she knows nothing about what happened to him after.

Lamont Gadsden has not been seen since he entered a neighborhood club one night, and the deeper she digs into the circumstances of his disappearance, the more complicated Vic’s life becomes. Her investigation is somewhat complicated by the unexpected appearance of an exuberant young cousin of hers who has come to Chicago for a few weeks to work on a political campaign. Although the two had never met before, Vic finds herself spending almost as much time with her enthusiastic cousin on a tour of Warshawski family history as she does on the search for Lamont Gadsden.

It all may seem like ancient history to Vic, but her investigation has made some very important people willing to play hardball to stop her from uncovering the truth about the 1966 murder and its aftermath. When her young cousin disappears, possibly at the hand of kidnappers, Vic finds herself searching for two people instead of one - and running for her life.

Hardball is a frank look at a subject as much in the news today as it was in the sixties, the rampant political corruptness of America’s third largest city and the related problems within the city’s law enforcement agencies. V.I. Warshawski is a social activist, a true believer who has lived in Chicago her whole life, and she refuses to look the other way even if her father might have been involved in something shady more than four decades earlier. Let’s hope that there are equally determined people in real world Chicago today.

Rated at: 5.0

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