Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Book Review: Revisiting an Old Friend in the Windy City

I'm running late, but I think I may be just in time for the monthly meeting of the Book Review Club hosted by Barrie. Check out her latest post for other recommendations for a good book to curl up with on these cold February nights.

The week after the holidays found me in an unlikely spot--at the mall, searching for after-Christmas bargains to update my winter wardrobe. Finding a few new sweaters at clearance prices, however, doesn't give me the thrill it once did. After an hour or two, I was ready to call it quits and drove over to a much more pleasant spot--Barnes and Noble. Gift certificates in hand, I happily wandered up and down the mystery aisles looking for a few of my favorite authors to keep me entertained on these long winter nights. I had a couple of titles in mind when I spotted a display of new bargain hardbacks. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a new book by Sara Paretsky. I've been waiting for what seemed like forever for another in her V.I. Warshawski series--how did I miss this one?? I snatched it up immediately, along with Patricia Cornwell's latest Scarpetta adventure, and forgot all other titles, eager to get home and see what latest mishap V.I. had gotten into this time.

Hardball is the 13th in the V.I. Warshawski series, and it may be the best one yet. Private investigator V.I., known as Vic to her friends, has been hired by two elderly African-American sisters to find their son/nephew who disappeared over 40 years earlier after a young white woman was killed during a civil rights demonstration. V.I. has little hope of solving such an old mystery, but she takes on the case as a favor to a new friend, a kind-hearted hospital chaplain.

Chicago is the setting for all of V.I.'s adventures

As usual, Warshawski encounters obstacles at every turn in her investigation. Friends of the young black man, Lamont Gadsen, are uncooperative and even hostile towards V.I. for reasons she doesn't understand until later. Her best lead is a gang leader incarcerated in Joliet's prison, who V.I. once defended during her days as a Public Defender. She reluctantly visits Johnny Merton, aka "The Hammer," but he's as insulting and frightening as he ever was and refuses to help. Even Lamont's mother lacks confidence in V.I. and treats her with hostility.

Millenium Park

But the biggest hurdle V.I. faces in finding out what happened so many years ago comes from the Chicago Police Department. V.I. always seems to get on the wrong side of the law, but this time there is good reason for it. Lamont Gadsen disappeared during the late 60's, a time of racial tension in the city of Chicago, and both the police and other government officials would like to keep this dark part of the city's history buried and forgotten. V.I. uncovers stories of police brutality at the time, but what is most disturbing to her are innuendoes that her beloved late father, known to all as one of the "good cops," somehow may have been involved. Her search for the missing Lamont soon turns into a personal quest for the truth about her father as well.

As if she doesn't have enough problems, a young cousin she's never met before suddenly appears. Petra, fresh out of college, has come to Chicago to work on a political campaign. Bubbly and naive, she's the opposite of V.I.'s jaded realism and seems to have a secret agenda in her probing of V.I.'s family history. When Petra suddenly disappears, V.I. is determined to find her and soon finds herself in danger as well.

The never-to-be-forgotten Lurie Garden

V.I. Warshawski hasn't changed much in the 27 years since she began pounding the pavement as a P.I. She still runs with her dogs each morning, she still lives in an apartment above Mr. Contreras, and she still manages to irritate most authorities she deals with. She has little patience and a quick temper. But she is determined to find the truth, no matter whose toes she steps on, and that is what makes her such a likable character.

The Bean, a good place for "reflection"

When Paretsky created V.I., she set the bar for all other fictional female detectives, and in my opinion, no one else has come close. It is not just the characterization, however, that draws the reader in. Her plots are complex and suspenseful, and she weaves a fascinating history of different parts of the city of Chicago into her stories. I remember well the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the protests that made headlines at that time. But I didn't remember the earlier marches and demonstrations that made Chicago a hotbed of racial tension. Hardball gives us a detailed background of this time period. While Warshawski may not have changed that much over the years, Paretsky's books have---they just keep getting better and better.

Disclaimer: All book reviews posted here are purely at the whim of this blogger. No remuneration of any kind was received for this review.


  1. Well written and beautifully illustrated Rose......

    I wish I could get into fiction but it is so rare, I find I book that holds my attention. I did read Empress Orchid by Archee Min recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  2. I just came from Sarah's blog and she too participated. So neat to read and write about books. Especially when the setting is so close to home.

  3. Hi Rose, I'm an avid mystery reader but can you believe I've never read any of the Warshawski series. I need to pick one up and try it. They should be especially interesting since they are set in Chicago.

    I've been on an orgy of rereading John Sandford. He is my co-favorite author.

    I love books with a lot of action and not much angst or introspection. I just got started on Harstads novels. There aren't many. His character is a sheriff's deputy in Iowa.

    Will check out Barrie's site after I leave here.

  4. Loved the photos! I read one of Paretsky's books, but decided I'd read too many mysteries with the detective getting the @#$ kicked out of him/her. I did like the Chicago setting. Someday I might read these.

  5. I haven't read her books in a few years~I hope you don't mind, but I skipped over a good portion of the review in case I decide to read this one! It was delightful to see Chicago again....I hope to visit again this summer...gail I'm reading Jeffrey Archer right now~his book about George Mallory's death on Everest.

  6. A book gift certificate is always a good gift. I loved seeing the images mixed in with your vivid review. 27 years is a long time – impressive! She must be a great character with a skilled author behind her.

  7. Rose, like Gail it has been a few years simce I have read one of the books in this series. The funny thing is that I really liked the author's wwriting style. I think what turned me off of V. I. was the movie a few years back of one of the books starring Kathleen Turner. What a disaster that was!

    After this glowing recommendation, I will once again start reading and catch up on the many I have missed. :)

  8. Cheryl, Not everyone enjoys the same type of books; what's important, I think, is that everyone reads something!

    Tina, Paretsky describes parts of Chicago that I've never seen. But it's fun when she mentions places I have been. Sarah is the one who encouraged me to join this book review group.

    Marnie, If you like John Sandford--and I do, too--you'd enjoy Paretsky's novels.

    MMD, Well, V.I. does get her behind kicked at times and always seems to make everybody mad, but it all works out in the end. The Chicago setting makes it even more interesting.

    Gail, If you like mysteries or crime fiction, these are among the best! Yes, I want to go back to Chicago, too--I'd love to see what the Lurie looks like in other seasons.

    Sarah, My family knows they can't go wrong with a gift certificate to a bookstore:)

    Beckie, I remember seeing this movie long ago, but I don't remember if I liked it or not. Kathleen Turner sure couldn't play V.I. today:) You're welcome to borrow the book!

  9. Still not reading much at the moment, only bloggs!

    I do like that chrome structure in your photo. :)

  10. Okay, now I want to know what happened to Lamont! I've never read one of her mystery books but you make it sound quite good. I like the idea of a book review club.

  11. What fun to read about places so close! My Uncle was a Police officer in IN on the border of the states. He had authorization to go over the boarder into Chicago. He has some great tales to share of his adventures and I am sure he could write an interesting book! When he retired from the force, he worked security on one of the gambling boats. It was too boring for him so he is now working for Homeland Security... I remember some of those type pictures from the Spring Fling postings last year!

  12. Hello,

    I do love shopping for after Christmas sales. But, my favorite place is in a bookstore. I have read some of Cornwell's books, but not Warshawski's. Thank you for letting me know of another author who I may enjoy. PS. Am planning a visit to Chicago next year and am so excited.

  13. Thirteenth V.I. Warshawski book! Thirteenth Book Review Club meeting! Interesting coincidence! And...I think we would shop well togethtr. ;)

  14. Thanks for visiting my site, also. Since you're an English teacher, R U familiar with the poetic works of Gerard Manley Hopkins? As "the kids" say now "He's the bomb!" I did my theology master's thesis on his work. I put some of it up on my other site!

  15. Like you I prefer book shopping to clothes shopping Rose. Have not come across this author before - will have to see if her titles are available over here :)

  16. Sometimes publishers will give you FREE book if you write a little blurb in your blog. But not very often.

    I love winter....I love reading...I have been gobbling books too. Good reviews...thanks for sharing.

  17. Like Cheryl, I seldom read fiction. Yet sometimes it is nice to let my note taking and studies rest and escape into a wild and wonderfuls tory. Mysteries are some of my favorite reads!
    This series does sound interesting. My friend, Sandi Ault is a mystery novelist. I always read her stories! She has a new one out too.
    I think I will do a review!

  18. Isn't it cool when a book or movie is set in a city you know and some of the places mentioned are familiar?? Even though they've been making movies in two towns bordering Ann Arbor, they're never SET here. And it's rare anywhere I've been is in a movie!

  19. I'll wait for the paperback but it's definitely on my wishlist - I *love* V.I.! For any of you who love Chicago crime fiction, visit The Outfit blog: Paretsky is a member, and you'll find interesting postings and a lot of book recommendations as well.

    Love the photos... nice to see some greenery for a change :)

  20. I haven't read any of her books, but your review has provided inspiration and makes me want to look for them. A trip to the library sounds like just the ticket, since I've already spent my bookstore gift certificates on gardening books. A good read like this will come in handy later this month while the Lawn Man is undergoing surgery. Something absorbing like this will be just the ticket to keep my mind off worry and make the time pass more quickly. Thanks Rose!

  21. You are the best book reviewer there ever was, Rose! We used to read mysteries too, and liked the China Bayles group very much. The female detective is still a draw for me, but I seem to be reading only gardening books lately! (And spending way too much time on the internet.) :-)

  22. Great review. I have GOT to start reading these books. You're the second friend to recommend them. :)

  23. A great review Rose, you could have a second career! I love fiction and have read many detective/mystery/thrillers but couldn't get on with hers, maybe I should try again.

    As I have you on my sidebar I don't know how I missed your 'garden muse day' but I have just enjoyed it very much, the photos were lovely and what a treat to be reminded of Summer at this dreary time of year.

    We saw on the TV tonight what bad snow storms some of you are experiencing, I do hope it is not too bad for you and that you don't lose power.

    Stay well, warm and safe Rose :)

  24. Rose, so interesting how you tied the book review and your photos together. Are the photos from last year's Spring Fling? I remember bloggers who had attended SF, posting photos from the fantastic Lurie Garden.

    Cane River by Lalita Tademy is what I'm reading right now.

    I agree with you on the thrill being gone when it comes to shopping for clothes. I'm all into comfort these days and it doesn't take me long to buy it.


  25. Suburbia, I understand you don't have much time for reading right now. "The Bean" is pretty cool.

    Jean, I'm sure V.I. is not to everyone's liking, but I do love these books, and I read a lot of mysteries with a female protagonist.

    Skeeter, I'm sure your uncle has lots of stories to tell--what an exciting career! Yes, all the photos are from Spring Fling.

    Noelle, If you like Cornwell's books, you'd like these as well. I also like Kathy Reichs' books. Hope you enjoy the Windy City--so much to see!

    Barrie, I didn't even realize the significance of the 13!

    C. Marie, I read some Hopkins in college, but only remember a few of his poems--I did enjoy them, though.

    Anna, At least when I go into a bookstore, I know I can find something that "fits":)

    Rosey,I've always loved to read, and winter is the best time for it--not much gardening to do right now:)

    Sherry, I remember you mentioning Sandi Ault's name before; I will have to look for her books. Do join in next month with a review!

    Monica, It was fun to recognize some of the place names mentioned in this book, especially after Spring Fling.

    Diane, Thanks for this suggestion--I'll check it out! I've found some great new mystery authors through similar sites.

    Linda, I hope all goes well with the Lawnmower Man. I've spent quite a few hours the last two weeks at the hospital with my Dad--thank goodness for my knitting, too.

    Frances, Is China Bayles the main character in mysteries about plants? I think I read one of those as well. I like gardening books, but I skim those instead of reading them:)

    Kate, Your friend has good taste!

    ShySongbird, There are so many types of mysteries available that not everyone is going to enjoy the same type. If I read one in a series I don't care for, I don't read the rest of them. We've had snow, but not that bad--it's Eastern U.S. that is really getting hit hard. Thanks for your concern.

    Donna, Yes, the photos are from Spring Fling--I think the Lurie made quite an impression on all of us. As for clothes, if it fits and doesn't emphasize the "thicker" parts of me, I buy it:)

  26. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I've been absent from the blogosphere the last few days and may be for a few more. My dad has spent the last two weeks in the hospital after suffering another mild stroke and then undergoing surgery. He is recovering, but slowly. We hope he can return home in a few days, and then I hope I'll have time to return your visits and catch up on what everyone is doing.

  27. did read Empress Orchid by Archee Min recently and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Work from home India

  28. Rose, I was a big fan of Sara Paretsky until 2 or 3 books ago. I'm not sure why I lost interest in them, just remember that they no longer appealed to me. I'm still a big fan of Kinsey Millhone, though, and I enjoy Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series.

  29. Rose this time of year is the best for snuggling with good books! Now that I don't have the chemo brain fog I'm enjoying getting back to reading! Detective series not my choice but I am into fiction.
    Loved the photos. Enjoy your books!
    I'm Celebrating these days..thank you for being there for me all these months!aNNa xo

  30. Fun. Don't you just love mysteries? It was also great seeing your photos of Chicago. I love Chicago, but not right now thank you. I'm sure you read the ABC mysteries by Sue Grafton. I just love her.~~Dee

  31. The gardens look beautiful... that purple is gorgeous!

  32. I love Chicago, having loved there many years ago. Paretsky is one of the city's famous writers! She is popular but I must confess I've only read one of her books.

    Loved your photos and review.

  33. I love Sarah Paretsky and VI. Actually I am a big fan of mysteries with female detectives, of one sort or another. Paretsky gives a real sense of Chicago, as other writers do of their locales, Julia Spencer-Fleming in the Adirondacks, Sue Grafton's California, and the whole era of Laurie R. King's Mary Russell novels set in England as are Jacquiline Winspeare's Maisie Dobbs books. I loved this posting!


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