Come for the story, stay for VI
This fiery tale of an American sleuth sacrifices subtlety for politics, says Jake Kerridge
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.