Sara Paretsky

Brush Back

""Here is the mistress of the dark crime novel at her searing best." "


V I Warshawski grew up in South Chicago where the vast steel mills dominated the landscape and society. When an old boyfriend from those days appears, asking for help with his mother's claim that she has been wrongly imprisoned for the violent murder of her daughter, V I is reluctant to get involved. Her memories of Stella Guzzo's violent and aggressive character do not incline her to take her on as a client. However, feelings of loyalty and some guilt at having escaped from the run-down areas of her youth persuade her to start looking at the claim.

When Warshawski probes deeper into the murder of Annie Guzzo, various anomalies start to jump out at her and in true Warshawski style, she jumps in where others fear to tread, including the police. Stella's accusations against V I's cousin, Boom- Boom only increase V I's desire to find the truth. Corruption, nepotism, fear all play their part in the historical cover up and Warshawski continues to bounce back from beatings and crashes to track down the bad guys. Lotty and Max ,Mr Contreras and the dogs, live on to provide support and care, even a bit of physical back up on occasion.

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Sara Paretsky's fast paced stories of V I Warshawski excel on many different levels. Her heroine is feisty, principled and on the side of the underdog. She has a built in antagonism to people who have achieved wealth and power by exploiting the poor and underprivileged, but a genuine rapport with those who struggle to make the best of what they have: all this with a dry sardonic wit. Paretsky's mastery of the feisty backchat and aggressive language of the streets is superb. Admiration for Warshawski's quick riposte is part of her charm for me. The split between Warshawski's disdain for the jumped up ostentatious wealth of the new rich and her genuine appreciation of the finer things of life - Max's old Persian rugs and statues, and Kenji Aroyawa's art -underlines Warshawski's character. Genuine talent and beauty is the thing. Her descriptions of run down Chicago and the particularly foul places where she is attacked are so vivid they leap off the page. Social commentary on the neglect of both the land and the people of these areas is cutting. I have recently re-read some of the early V I novels and it is interesting to see how much things have changed in her life. Technology has certainly made things easier for her, as information is a touch of a screen away. But some things remain the same: her character, fights against convention and the support of her admittedly aging friends continue to delight. Here is the mistress of the dark crime novel at her searing best.

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