Monday, January 11, 2021

Dead Land - Sara Paretsky

Because I hadn’t read one of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski novels since 2009’s Hardball, I wondered how much I would remember about Vic and all her supporting characters. A decade away from exposure to Warshawski’s Chicago is, after all, plenty long enough time to forget most of the details of that world, even as vividly as Paretsky always presents them. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried because before I knew it, Dead Land fit like an old glove and I was totally immersed in Paretsky’s story. Dead Land even marks kind of a milestone in the Warshawski saga because it is the twentieth novel of the series.


This time around, Warshawski finds herself doing battle with some powerful, and very rich, people who understand exactly how to manipulate Chicago’s corrupt political system in their favor. For these people, it’s all about making millions of dollars by exploiting public property on Chicago’s Southside lakefront - and if they bribe a few of Chicago’s finest politicians along the way, they can make it happen. That’s bad enough, but it all gets personal when Vic’s Canadian goddaughter stumbles into a situation that might expose their scam before it happens. Those same rich and powerful folk can’t let that happen, so people begin to die, and it is only a matter of time before they come for Vic and her goddaughter. 


That’s the main plot, but I enjoyed the side plot even more. It seems that Bernie Fouchard, the goddaughter in question, has found a famous protest singer living in squaller on Chicago’s streets. The woman is mentally unstable and in danger of dying from exposure. Lydia Zamir, the singer, watched her husband shot to death on stage and never recovered from the shock. She eventually disappeared and no one realized where she was until Bernie and her friends spotted her in her street-nest playing a tiny toy piano and singing songs to herself. Now, Bernie wants to protect the woman - but she and her boyfriend are bringing way too much attention to this part of Chicago to suit the criminals who want to exploit the area. 


Bottom Line: Sara Paretsky writes a complicated novel and, at times, I did struggle to keep up with all the threads and names she was exploring. But the struggle is worth the effort because Dead Land ends in a very satisfying manner with all the loose ends tied together - and Paretsky does that without having to use the book’s last pages to have one character annoyingly explain to another character everything that’s just happened as so many mystery/crime writers seem to do today. If you are wondering, Dead Land will also, I think, work as a fine standalone novel for those unfamiliar with the Warshawski timeline and character. Now I wonder why I stayed away for so long.


Sara Paretsky (book jacket photo)

6 comments:

  1. I tend to shy away rather from 'big city' crime stories, possibly owing to being a country girl, or at least a 'small town' one. That said, I do tend to enjoy crime series written by women because of their insight into people's motives and emotions. I should probably give one of these a go. Glad you were able to slip back into it easily, I worry about that at times and then, like you, find I remember people better than I thought I would.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Caath, it's most definitely a "big city" crime, but if you are looking for another strong female detective, Warshawski is your girl. I really was surprised about how quickly the details about the cast of regular characters came back to me. It was like opening a door to a world I'd forgotten all about. That's the mark of a strong writer like Paretsky. She's very good.

      Delete
  2. I haven't read a Paretsky mystery in a long time either. Good to know that you can just jump back into the series so easily because I have no idea which of her books I read last. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suppose it depends on which of the series books you've read up to now, but I found enough hints and reminders in this latest one to make me feel pretty comfortable after just a few pages. I plan to go back now and read some of the ones I've skipped over in the last decade.

      Delete
    2. I read quite a few of them. But I'm not sure I've read any of them after Blacklist; although, after rereading the blurb of that one, I'm not sure I read it either. ;D

      Delete
    3. The only way I know which of anything I've read is because of my 51-year-old handwritten list I keep...and the duplicate spreadsheet I can search when in doubt.

      Delete