Sara Paretsky

Shell GameShell GameShell Game

""Stay on board and enjoy the ride." "


Paretsky turns her forensic gaze on the antiquities market that has arisen from the wars that have torn the Middle East apart, the excesses of ICE, the US Department of Customs and Immigration Enforcement, and the shenanigans of companies that get rich by offering loans to the poor, exploiting both their customers and their staff.

V. I. is drawn into this world when an unidentified body is found in the wilds. The dead man is carrying a piece of paper with a phone number on it, a number that belongs to Felix Herschel, a relative of V. I.'s long-time and closest friend, Lotty Herschel. Felix finds himself facing a murder charge, and V I steps in at Lotty's request to try and find evidence that will clear the young man.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, another piece of V. I.'s past arrives on her doorstep: Harmony Seale, the niece of her ex-husband, Richard Yarborough who is trying to find her sister, Reno, who has been missing for some time. The sisters are close, but no one will help her, including her uncle.

V. I. embarks on what looks like two separate investigations. Reno worked for an unscrupulous payday loan company and was conned into attending a luxury weekend for high-paying executives where she may have been expected to provide sex for their entertainment. As V.I. digs deeper, it begins to look as though her weak and venal, but not previously criminal, ex may be deeply involved.

Her second investigation into the accusations against Felix Herschel begin to show unnerving links to her investigation into Reno's disappearance. Add to the mix the theft of a priceless antiquity, a pair of gigantic and obdurate heavies who keep popping out of the woodwork to attack V I, financial fraud, and, of course, the always enjoyable cast of characters that inhabit V I's world – Mr Contreras, her elderly, tenacious neighbour, her dogs, the police with whom she has cooperated and opposed, and all the ingredients are here for a vintage Warshawski story, and this is what Shell game provides. It is complex, gripping and fast-moving novel, that ticks all the boxes for V I fans.

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Paretsky's V I Warshawski series is located firmly in 21st Century America, in Chicago, confronting the issues and social problems that arise from events on the world stage, and from power-broking politicians and corporations at home as they fight for power and wealth. 'Shell Game', the latest addition to the V I Warshawski series, is no different. If there is a weakness here, it is the ending. Paretsky opts for drawing things together with a public denouncement of the perpetrators, a type of ending she has used before. It smacks rather of an updated version of Poirot gathering his suspects into the drawing room to explain his findings, and, as one of the police officers involved in the case suggests, rather offers a potential get out to the accused. Even so, 'Shell Game' is an excellent addition to the V. I. Warshawski canon. This series is never predictable. With 'Shell Game', Paretsky gives us an all-out, fast-moving thriller. Sometimes, her explorations of the injustices of 21st Century America can be visceral in their impact, making the books a tough but compelling read, as when she turns her gaze on impoverished women imprisoned in the US justice system in 'Hard Time', or 'Hardball', which explores the racism and corruption endemic in the Chicago police force in the 60s, in a world where the evil done by your own side can outmatch any evil done by the enemy. It isn't hard to see that Paretsky shares her hero's passion for law and justice. Despite a plot that is labyrinthine in its complexity, 'Shell Game' is a real page-turner with Paretsky keeping firm control of the various plot strands. On the odd occasion the reader might be given to a 'Hang on, that didn't…' the plot is over the horizon and accelerating. Stay on board and enjoy the ride.

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