Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review Club: V. I. is Back!

"Oh." The syllable is a soft cry of ecstasy.  She has never seen colors like those on the floor, red running into orange, yellow, green.  The purple is so rich, like grape juice, she wants to jump into it.  When she runs over to look, the colors disappear.  Her mouth rounds with bafflement: she thought Frau Herschel had painted the rainbow on the floor . . . In later years, Martina remembers none of [the rest of this experience].  She remembers only the rainbow on the floor, and the discovery that the cut glass in the nursery windows created it.

A little girl's discovery of prisms in 1913 Vienna seems like an odd way for the latest V. I. Warshawski novel to begin, since the tough-talking, persistent P.I. usually is embroiled in some kind of corruption in Chicago while solving a case.  But when she receives a call from her long-time friend Dr. Lotty Herschel to help a patient of hers in distress,  Vic soon finds herself in an investigation that involves almost as much research in the University library as in skirmishes with various bad guys.

Judy Binder, a hopeless drug addict, is not only Lotty's patient, but she is also the daughter of someone Lotty knew as a child refugee in London during WWII, so she feels especially duty-bound to help her.  Judy's desperate phone call that someone is trying to kill her leads Vic to a meth house downstate where she discovers a rotting corpse in a cornfield but no sign of Judy.

With few clues to help her, Vic goes to the home of Judy's mother, Kitty, a strange and paranoid woman, who like Lotty, escaped the Holocaust years ago.  There Vic discovers that Judy's son Martin is also missing, and Kitty hires her to find him.  Martin's mother and grandmother may have problems, but it turns out that he is also the great-grandson of Martina, a brilliant physicist forced to work on top-secret research on the atomic bomb by the Nazis.  Martin has inherited her gift for science.

What starts out as a hunt for two missing persons turns into a complex case for Vic, as she goes up against low-life drug dealers, the CEO of a major technology firm, and even Homeland Security. How a meth house, the Nazis' work on an atomic bomb, and research into cutting-edge technology today all relate to a single crime sounds implausible, but Paretsky ties all the subplots together in a logical and satisfying ending.

V.I. Warshawski has been around for 30 years, and I hope she's around for many, many more.  Unlike Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone--of whom I'm also a fan--who has been stuck in the 1980's for a whole series, V. I. has aged with time.  Now in her 50's, she may be a little slower and take longer to heal from the injuries she always seems to receive in her investigations, but she can still hold her own with anyone who tries to confront her.

I somehow managed to escape taking a single physics course during my school days, an omission I really don't care to remedy.  But despite my ignorance on this subject, the important role physics plays in Critical Mass didn't distract or confuse me in the least.  Paretsky has obviously done her research, but doesn't expect either Warshawski or the reader to understand complex scientific principles.  Rather, she presents Martina's and Martin's desire to understand the "harmonies" in nature and knowing how all the pieces fit together in a way that is makes us admire them.  I imagine that their fascination with natural laws isn't really that different from a gardener's or naturalist's fascination with a bee enjoying pollen.

I've read all the books in the Warshawski series, and I have to say that Sara Paretsky just gets better and better.  The plots have become more complex and deal with some timely issues.  V. I. may have mellowed a bit over the years, but she's still the best female P. I. in fiction today

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@Barrie Summy

Disclaimer:  I received no compensation of any kind for this review, and as always, I review only books I like.  I bought my own copy of Critical Mass, but being frugal I waited impatiently until it came out in paperback.

Note:  The photos here have nothing to do with this post; they are just a few pictures I like that I've taken recently.  For more photos of fall color in my area, see my previous post.


  1. The best female detective? You make me want to check her out, although I don't usually read mysteries. I love that opening passage - beautiful and establishes an inquisitive character. Speaking of beautiful colors on the ground - those fallen leaves are stunning. So nice to have you back to book blogging!

    Lovely autumnal photos on the post below too. I am missing October as well.

  2. I must say Rose I am not a fan of mysteries.
    It is clear that you are an avid reader of such :) We all find our niche.

    I have started reading fiction......mainly because my mother is sorting books she no longer wants to keep.
    Each time she gave them to me she said "this is a book that you would enjoy"
    Low and behold she has been right.
    I have just finished a book called:
    The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman.
    Wonderful read: completely absorbing, uplifting, tender sad and wise as it says on the back of the book.

  3. I'm a big Sara Paretsky fan, too. Like you, I have read all the V.I. Warshawski series and look forward to each new entry. I read this one a few months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Glad to see you did, too!

  4. I've never read Paretsky, but this storyline sounds fascinating. My husband is a physicist, and he and I watched Manhattan this summer, about the Los Alamos group who worked on the atomic bomb. So I may have to give this book a try.

    We've had some great reviews this month.

    Love the autumn pictures. It's still green here in Southern California, sad to say.

  5. Okay, Rose, you've convinced me! I must try a V.I. Warshawski book. Should I start with #1? I love mysteries, so I'm kind of surprised I've never drifted in her direction! Thank you for the review and also for the fall pictures. Not much of that going on down here in So Cal (as Liinda pointed out) ;)

  6. I agree that she has improved over the years in terms of looking at more serious issues. Really like her books.

  7. Sara, When I find a mystery series I like, I tend to read them all. But I often find after awhile the storylines get stale or just aren't as good as the previous ones. Sometimes I think an author is rushing to meet a deadline. But that really isn't the case with Paretsky, which is why I have to praise her so much.

    Cheryl, I doubt you would like this book:) I think I enjoy this type of fiction because it's so fast-paced and keeps me reading far too late at night. "The Memory Book" sounds interesting--I will have to look for it.

    Dorothy, Happy to meet another Paretsky fan! I've often wished a new one would come out more frequently, but I'm glad she takes her time to write something so worth reading.

  8. So, it sounds like this is your favorite book by this author? My book club is meeting next week and I have to come up with two recommendations. I like to pick books I haven't read, but that other people like. Maybe I'll suggest this one--it sounds fascinating! Thanks, Rose!

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  10. Thaks for alerting me to another VI Warshawsky novel. I love Sara Paretsky's books, especially all the Chicago references. Have you ever read 'Bloody Kansas', a novel Paretsky wrote about three families in Kansas?

  11. Linda, If you like mysteries, then this is the book for you! As I said, I don't care for physics, but Paretsky made it sound so interesting here I could understand the characters' fascination with it. It would be interesting to see if your husband found some mistakes in her story:)

    Barrie, I always like to start with the first one in a series, but you could start with any of the latest and see if you like it first.

    Pattinase, Other authors have often disappointed me with later books in a series, but not Paretsky. I think, too, she is tackling more meaty issues.

  12. Beth, I don't know that this is my favorite by Paretsky, but each one is so different from the others in storyline that it would be hard to choose. I do like that Paretsky never disappoints me--the plots are always complex and entertaining, and I usually learn something new along the way. My book club has started meeting again, and it's always difficult to pick a book that no one else has read. We're reading "The Mockingbird Next Door" about Harper Lee for next month.

  13. Jason, Glad to meet another Paretsky fan! No, I haven't read "Bloody Kansas"; would you recommend it? I've stuck to just the V.I. series so far.

  14. I rarely read mysteries but this sounds like a good book. I may have to add it to the pile. :o)

  15. Ha! I didn't take physics, either!
    My daughter has her M.Sc., and I depend upon her for info!
    I've read this author, and I love her!
    (ツ) from Cottage Country Ontario , ON, Canada!

  16. I too rarely read mystery theme books, but it does sound rather interesting.

  17. We seriously have something in common, I never took physics either. The book sounds interesting. The leaves are beautiful!

  18. A female P.I.? Interesting! I don't usually read crime novels as an adult, but I collect old girl detective books, because I loved them so much as a kid.

  19. I have seen Sara Paretsky's books in the library but have not read any as yet. I like thrillers but not those which are particularly bloodthirsty or go into really gruesome and gory details. Would you advise me to give her writing a try Rose?

  20. I love detective stories as well Rose. I've never heard about this author but I think I should find her book here and read!

  21. I will add the series to my book list. I enjoy reading and having a list with me when I go to the library sure helps.

    Love your header photo. Amsonia is so striking in the fall.

  22. That's Amsonia in the header photo!! thank you Janet. It had me completely stumped but I was totally taken with it. I'll read pretty much anything literature wise so I'll mark this down as something to look at in the future. i'm terrible for buying books en masse at garage sales and such so I have a stack I must get through first before I can go looking for new ones!

  23. I love mysteries and this sounds like a great series of books. I will have to keep an eye out for a book when I next visit the library.

  24. Rose I can't believe you escaped physics ? you naughty woman you ! LOL
    I am absolutely stuck in the series from Diana Gabaldon .. "Outlander" 7 very thick paperback books to keep me going all winter .. it has a lot of Scottish history from the Jacobite uprising(mid 1700's) and the mystery of time travel through henge stones .. it is very good .. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed these types of books.
    I have no idea if I will finish them all in time for garden season but I have a feeling I will ! haha
    What would we do without a good "read" ?
    Joy : )
    PS .. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family : ) gobble gobble !

  25. So glad the book club is back. I love mysteries/detective fiction, and Sue Grafton is my favorite author. Did you know I met her once? It was a wow moment for me. I also like V.I., and this sounds like a good one. Thanks Rose.~~Dee


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