Monday, December 27, 2010

Mystery Monday: Sara Paretsky

--by Hanje Richards

Because I am a huge mystery fan, "Mystery Monday" was born. Because I like to read mysteries in order, I'm going to list and talk about them in chronological, rather than alphabetical, order.

If an author has written more than one series (and many authors have), I'll talk about different series in different posts to keep things as clear as possible. For those interested in reading some of the featured titles, I've noted at the end of each book's summary whether it's available at the Copper Queen Library or at another library in Cochise County through Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

Sara Paretsky (born June 8, 1947) is a modern American author of detective fiction. The protagonist of most of Paretsky’s mystery novels is V.I. Warshawski, a female private investigator. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label, breaks into houses looking for clues, and can hold her own in a street fight, but also she pays attention to her clothes and sings opera along with the radio.

After earning a law degree at the University of Chicago, V.I. Warshawski (Vic) had a short stint as a public defencder before becoming a private detective specializing in commercial cases and company finances. In most novels she is drawn into murder cases that have a connection to white-collar crime. Vic regularly ends up pursuing cases that affect her friends and estranged family, or those she feels are being bullied by the uper crust of Chicago.

Indemnity Only (1982) - Meeting an anonymous client late on a sizzling summer night is asking for trouble. But trouble is Chicago private eye V.I. Warshwski's specialty. Her client says he's the prominent banker, John Thayer. Turns out he's not. He says his son's girlfriend, Anita Hill, is missing. Turns out that's not her real name. V.I.'s search turns up someone soon enough -- the real John Thayer's son, and he's dead. Who's V.I.'s client? Why has she been set up and sent out on a wild-goose chase? By the time she's got it figured, things are hotter — and deadlier — than Chicago in July. V.I.'s in a desperate race against time. At stake: a young woman's life. (CQL)

Deadlock (1984) - When her cousin, Boom Boom, is murdered, V.I. begins an investigation and is caught up in a game of lies, extortion, blackmail, sabotage, and murder in Chicago's shipping industry. (CQL)
Bitter Medicine (1987) - Consuelo Alvarado's baby is trouble. Consuelo is sixteen. Diabetic. And the daughter of a friend. When she goes into labor too early, even V.I.'s wild drive to get her to the hospital can't save either Consuelo or her child. Soon V.I. is investigating possible malpractice at the emergency room — and falling for a doctor who works there. Mixing business and love is always bad medicine, but V.I. finds herself listening to her heart, not her head. And when a brutal murder and the violent destruction of a women's clinic put her at the center of a very dirty conspiracy, justice may be the only remedy for a hurt that cuts deep... and chills right to the bone... (CQL)

Blood Shot (1988) - V.I. Warshawski isn't crazy about going back to her old south Chicago neighborhood, but a promise is something she always keeps. Caroline, a childhood friend, has a dying mother and a problem — after twenty-five years she wants V.I. to find the father she never knew. But when V.I. starts probing into the past, she not only finds out where all the bodies are buried — she stumbles onto a very new corpse. Now she's stirring up a deadly mix of big business and chemical corruption that may become a toxic shock to a snooper who knows too much. (CQL)

Burn Marks (1990) - Someone knocking on the door at 3 a.m. is never good news. For V.I. Warshawski, the bad news arrives in the form of her wacky, unwelcome aunt Elena. The fire that has just burned down a sleazy SRO hotel has brought Elena to V.I.'s doorstep. Uncovering an arsonist — and the secrets hidden behind Elena's boozy smile — will send V.I. into the seedy world of Chicago's homeless... into the Windy City's backroom deals and bedroom politics, where new schemers and old cronies team up to get V.I. off the case — by hook, by crook, or by homicide. (CQL)

Killing Orders (1990) - V.I.'s battleaxe Aunt Rosa is under investigation by the FBI and SEC after counterfeit stock certificates were found at St. Albert's Priory, where she serves as treasurer. As malicious as her aunt is, V.I. knows she's not dishonest, so V.I. vows to protect her from taking the fall. But V.I. starts questioning the strength of her family ties when a menacing voice on the phone threatens to throw acid into her eyes if she doesn't butt out. The stakes are high as she begins to sniff out a connection between Chicago's most powerful institutions: the Church and the Mob. (CQL)
Guardian Angel (1992) - Here, Warshawski fights the good fight against forces of greed and corruption, first brought to her attention by elderly downstairs neighbor and self-appointed guardian Mr. Contreras. His alcoholic friend Mitch Kruger, a fellow retiree from the Diamond Head Machine Company, cadges a bid from Contreras, brags about soon-to-come riches from Diamond Head, disappears, and later is found murdered. Then there's dog-obsessed, cranky old Mrs. Frizell down the block who seems to have traded solid CD investments for junk bonds at the behest of her new neighbor, yuppie banker Todd Pichea. V.I.'s stubborn sleuthing into Kruger's murder produces numerous threatening confrontations, middle-of-the-night file searches, car chases, a second murder, and a nasty fright for her dear friend Dr. Lotty Herschel. The final result is the unraveling of a massive scam in which even V.I.'s prissy lawyer/ex-husband Dick Yarborough is involved. (CQL)

Tunnel Vision (1994) - Stubbornness has landed private eye V.I. Warshawski in big trouble at her Chicago office. With her grand old Loop building set to be razed, she's become a hold-out tenant amid frayed wiring and scary, empty corridors. Then she finds a homeless woman with three kids in the basement, and before she can rescue them, they disappear. Worst of all, she's been implicated in a murder — after the body of Deirdre Messenger, a prominent lawyer's wife, turns up sprawled across her desk.

V.I., who had volunteered with Deirdre at a women's shelter, suspects her death is linked to a case of upper-class domestic abuse so slickly concealed that the police refuse to believe it. Increasingly at odds with the cops, V.I. is blindly plunging ahead after the truth. And her path may lead to corruption at the highest levels.or deep into the abandoned tunnels beneath Chicago's streets, where secrets are hiding in the dark like a child's — or V.I.'s — worst nightmare. (CQL)

Hard Times (1999) - Multimedia conglomerate Global Entertainment has purchased the Chicago Herald-Star, forcing the paper's staff to scramble to stay employed. Reporter Murray Ryerson, V.I.'s longtime friend and sometime rival, manages to reinvent himself as the host of a television show on Global's network.

On her way home from a party celebrating Murray's debut, V.I. almost runs over a woman lying in the street. Stopping to help, V.I. soon learns that her Good Samaritan act will drop her squarely in a boiling intrigue. In a case that forces her to go head-to-head with one of the world's largest providers of private security and prison services, a case that exposes dark hidden truths behind the razzle-dazzle of the entertainment industry, V.I. will be ahead of the game if she gets out alive. (CQL)

Total Recall (2001) - For V.I., the journey begins with a national conference in downtown Chicago, where angry protesters are calling for the recovery of Holocaust assets.

Lotty was a girl of nine when she emigrated from Austria to England, one of a group of children wrenched from their parents and saved from the Nazi terror just before the war broke out. Now stunningly — impossibly — it appears that someone from that long-lost past may have returned.

With the help of a recovered-memory therapist, Paul Radbuka has recently learned his true identity. But is he who he claims to be? Or is he a cunning impostor who has usurped someone else’s history... a history Lotty has tried to forget for over fifty years?

As a frightened V.I. watches her friend unravel, she sets out to help in the only way she can: by investigating Radbuka’s past. Already working on a difficult case for a poor family cheated of their life insurance, she tries to balance Lotty’s needs with her client’s, only to find that both are spiraling into a whirlpool of international crime that stretches from Switzerland and Germany to Chicago’s South Side. (CQL)

Blacklist (2003) - Longtime client Darraugh Graham asks Vic to investigate his mother Geraldine's suspicion that trespassers are living in the empty mansion her father built in the suburban Chicago enclave where she has spent most of her life. Vic literally tumbles into trouble when, upon falling into a pond on the property, she comes up clutching the hand of a dead man. He is identified as Marcus Whitby, a young African-American journalist who was writing about members of the 1930s Federal Negro Theater Project ( CQL)

Fire Sale (2005) - A nagging conscience makes V.I. Warshawski agree to fill in as coach for the girls' basketball team at her South Side alma mater — which in turn leads her to the headquarters of By-Smart, the global retail empire where V.I. hopes to get some desperately needed funds for the struggling squad. But conscience seems to be in short supply at By-Smart... with the exception of Billy Bysen. He's the earnest teenage grandson of the chain's gruff, tight-fisted founder. And when Billy disappears — along with a mysterious document much desired by By-Smart's management team — V.I. is hurled onto a twisted, body-strewn path that runs through Chicago's dirtiest places and reveals some of its dirtiest secrets. (CQL)

Hardball (2009) - When Warshawski is asked to find a man who's been missing for four decades, a search that she figured would be futile becomes lethal. Old skeletons from the city's racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets — her own and those of the elderly sisters who hired her — rise up with a vengeance. (CQL)

Body Work (2010) - The enigmatic performer known as the Body Artist takes the stage at Chicago's Club Gouge and allows her audience to use her naked body as a canvas for their impromptu illustrations. V. I. Warshawski watches as people step forward, some meek, some bold, to make their mark.

The evening takes a strange turn when one woman's sketch triggers a violent outburst from a man at a nearby table. Quickly subdued, the man — an Iraqi war vet — leaves the club. Days later, the woman is shot outside the club. She dies in V.I.'s arms, and the police move quickly to arrest the angry vet.

A shooting in Chicago is nothing new, certainly not to V.I., who is hired by the vet's family to clear his name. As V.I. seeks answers, her investigation will take her from the North Side of Chicago to the far reaches of the Gulf War. (CQL)