Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Body Work - Sara Paretsky (A V.I. Warshawski novel)


It has been YEARS since I've read a Sara Paretsky novel, but I've always been fond of her V.I. Warshawski series. Victoria Warshawski is a "mature" (not using the term "older" since I turned 40), hard-boiled private investigator who pursues evil-doers in my favorite town of Chicago. She is a truly likable character who has a heart of gold, will champion her causes like a dog with a bone, and will kick ass if she needs to. She surrounds herself with wonderful, quirky friends, like her protective, elderly neighbor Mr. Contreras, her young, naive niece Petra, and her rambunctious dogs. She reminds me alot of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone.

So anyway, when Lydia Hirt from Penguin Group contacted me about various review possibilities, I concentrated really hard to say "no, no thank you, I'm overwhelmed, but thanks Lydia". Then she said "Hey! I've a Sara Paretsky novel coming up" and I caved. Just like that. I was very excited to catch up with "Vic" and see what she is up to.

As usual, she is knee-deep in trouble. Concerned with the welfare of her niece's recent employment with a seedy club, she sneaks in on a night when "The Body Artist" debuts her most unusual act...to show up on stage stark naked, covered in makeup, and invite members of the audience to paint on her. Vic witnesses some strange stuff: One nasty-looking man drawing some kind of code on the Artist's backside, a young distressed Latina who paints some kind of symbol on the Artist, and a soldier from Iraq that becomes enraged as a result. When the Latina is later shot and killed outside the club, and the soldier appears to have been framed for the murder, Vic just cannot resist getting involved.

You get your money's worth with this plot. You would expect an element of the criminal underworld, because that is just the nature of the beast, but what you also get is lesbianism, the pain of having one's sexual orientation ridiculed, the politics and big business of the war in Iraq, and post traumatic stress disorder. Vic digs head first into the meat of the problem, and comes up for air holding a big nest of intertwined plot threads, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. It was more than little fun to stick my nose into the mess, and watch Vic sort it all out.

And speaking of fun, you are always in store for a little comedic relief in Paretsky's novels. We're not talking Stephanie Plum wackiness, but Vic's antics are good for a chuckle. For example, I LOVED the fact that a bad guy called Vic a "dried up old cougar" (and Vic wasn't sure if that was a complement or a slam!). In another scene, I was tickled at the vision of Vic and her entourage (her cousin, her old neighbor, two Marines and her two dogs) interrogating a person of interest, with everyone talking and barking and almost running into each other. Vic also inadvertently stops a bad guy from killing her by throwing up on the frozen pavement and the bad guy slipping on it and hitting his head. It was all highly amusing.

If you are new to this series, you shouldn't have any trouble hitting the ground running with this book. Obviously, it is impactful if you are aware of back stories and character history, but Paretsky is a master at having built colorful and distinct personalities that shine through with their actions and words. You will feel like you've just run into some old friends.

4 out of 5 stars






16 comments:

Alice Teh said...

I like comedic elements in a book. This is the first time I'm hearing about this author and her book. The title itself sounds great and I love that cover. The story is cool too. It's definitely on my wish list. Sandy, you read the most interesting books!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

The interrogation scene alone sounds like it makes the book

Anna said...

The comical parts sound like they make the book worthwhile and less intense. Haven't heard of this series, but I'll keep it in mind.

Zibilee said...

Ok, you've convinced me that I really need to give this book a try, and I like the fact that I can get up to speed without having to read the back list as well. It sounds like this one was fun and serious all at the same time, so I think I'd probably really like it. Great review, Sandy! I will be on the lookout for this one!

caite said...

it has been so long since I read a V.I. book that I forgot she was in Chicago!
wow, I will need to get up to speed before I read this one...although I have always loved her neighbor. Him I remember.

Beth F said...

I have read Paretsky's stand alone books but not any from this series. I really need to correct that.

ds said...

I have missed Sara Paretsky--and VI Warshawski--terribly!So glad she's back, with all of her usual entourage (and the bartender?and Lottie?). Must. Get. This. Book.
Thank you so much for the review!!

The Bumbles said...

I love catching up with old friends in books - as long as they aren't puking on me!

I have not read any of this series but I do remember that Kathleen Turner played the role on the big screen. Were you a fan of her portrayal?

Jenners said...

You're making a good case to try this series ... I've never read one!

Julie P. said...

It's been years since I've read any of these books. This one sounds like I should start up again!

Kathleen said...

I've never read any of these, seems like I have been missing out!

heidenkind said...

I have never even heard of these books. I don't think I've seen them in the bookstore, either. :(

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't heard of Sara Peretsky before, but I often struggle to find that sort of book amusing and so I'm not sure this is for me. I love the sound of colourful characters though so perhaps I should give the first few pages a try.

Iliana said...

Great review Sandy! I need to add this series to my list. The Evanovich books are really funny but the wackiness couldn't keep me interested in the series after a while. Would love to find a series that has a good mix.

Trisha said...

It has been so long since I've thought about V.I.! Thanks for the memories. :)

Nymeth said...

This sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm glad you can start anywhere. Sometimes I get discouraged when I can't figure out where to start a series.