Hardball, by Sara Paretsky
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I wouldn't call myself a lover of detective novels, but I have a few favorite authors: Sujata Massey (who wrote the Rei Shimura series) and Sara Paretsky. I've been reading Paretsky since she wrote her first V.I. Warshawski novel, Indemnity Only, in the early 1980s, and I've read all of them until this one. She took a four-year break between #12 (Fire Sale) and #13 (Hardball), and during that time she wrote a nondetective novel, Bleeding Kansas, which I also enjoyed. Somehow I missed the fact that she's written two more V.I. Warshawski novels in recent years, so I'm catching up now before her next one comes out in January.
Having never been to Chicago, I feel that I almost have a taste of the city by watching "ER" and reading Paretsky. It's clear that she loves her city, gritty and hardboiled as it can be.
In recent books, Paretsky's political stripes have been showing a bit more, which is fine with me because our stripes are similar. She began working as a community organizer in Chicago when Martin Luther King Jr. was there, and that's where she bases this story: in that violent era of racial conflict. She explores themes of subtle and outright racism and even torture through her characters.
V.I. is engaged to find a man who went missing 40 years ago. Soon the case gets much more complicated than she expected, around the time that her clueless young cousin, Petra, shows up. When Petra goes missing after V.I.'s office is ransacked, the search expands to the present day. Soon she begins to uncover deep-seated family secrets and corruption in the Chicago police force.
I found Petra to be far too ridiculous and insensitive, and her father (V.I.'s uncle) was particularly awful. Because I like happy endings, I want V.I. to be romantically involved with someone who is good for her...but how many detectives ever end up happily married or in a successful long-term relationship? It just doesn't work.
I enjoyed this story and the return of V.I. Warshawski, and I look forward to catching up with the series again. Most other detective/mystery authors I get tired of (e.g., Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell), but Paretsky always keeps me coming back. She's the great queen of female private investigators!