Come for the story, stay for VI

This fiery tale of an Amer­i­can sleuth sac­ri­fices sub­tlety for pol­i­tics, says Jake Ker­ridge

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - THE CRITICAL LIST -

SHELL GAME

383pp, Hod­der & Stoughton, £18.99, ebook £12.99 Mil­lions of peo­ple who have barely heard of rad­i­cal fem­i­nist mag­a­zines such as Ms nev­er­the­less read avidly about the im­punity with which pow­er­ful men prey on women, or the dam­age done to Amer­ica by Late Cap­i­tal­ism, in Sara Paret­sky’s nov­els about the kick-ass pri­vate eye Vic “VI” War­shawski.

Read­ers come for Paret­sky’s funny, grip­ping sto­ry­telling, and even those who would not say that they are stay­ing for the pol­i­tics find it worth their while to tol­er­ate them. The chief at­trac­tion is the ap­peal­ingly tough but just ac­cept­ably vul­ner­a­ble V I. (Not even some­body giv­ing a ro­bust defence of supply-side eco­nom­ics could make Vic an­grier than she is with her­self when­ever she ac­ci­den­tally shows fem­i­nine weak­ness.)

This, the 19th novel in the se­ries, sees War­shawski in­ves­ti­gat­ing two cases close to home: a mur­der that sees her old pal Lotty Her­schel’s great-nephew in the frame; and the dis­ap­pear­ance of the es­tranged, wrong-side-of-the-tracks niece of her slimy lawyer ex, Dick. The in­hu­man­ity of the US im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice and the dis­as­trous con­se­quences for Syria of the in­va­sion of Iraq play a role as the two plots un­ravel and con­verge.

At times, the lack of nuance in Paret­sky’s pol­i­tics can be rather op­pres­sive, but per­haps she feels that to write nov­els less jour­nal­is­ti­cally en­gaged would be to fid­dle while Rome burns. Paret­sky would not be so pop­u­lar, how­ever, if, un­like some harder-boiled writ­ers, she was not so good at cel­e­brat­ing the things that make life worth liv­ing: friend­ship, love, dogs, food, and the pre­car­i­ous sur­vival of hon­our and de­cency.

Any­body who shares her world view even par­tially must cling to her books like a com­fort blan­ket, with their re­as­sur­ing in­sis­tence that some­body as ca­pa­ble as V I is out there fight­ing, even some­times win­ning, the good fight.

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