Wednesday, April 7, 2010

HARDBALL by Sara Paretsky

I think I mentioned that friends brought me a couple boxes of books, and then they brought a third box. With friends like that I'm a lucky lady. I'm reading an 800+ page American history of the first half of the 19th century at the moment, so occasionally I take a break from it to read something like a mystery. I had just the thing in mind this time, a new-to-me Sara Paretsky novel in the V. I. Warshawski series was in one of those boxes.

I love Paretsky's books, this series in particular. V. I. is a Chicago private eye, born in Back of the Yards (the neighborhood by the stockyards) and brought up on the south side near the old White Sox stadium. Since I dearly love Chicago and know my way around enough to picture some of the scenes, I feel right at home. She includes my Chicago Cubs as well as the Sox, the lake, the parks, Univ. of Chicago, everything I can easily visualize.

V. I. Warshawski introduced me to female private eyes back when I first started reading mystery novels. I've mentioned previously that I had a book review column in the suburbs of Chicago at the time and I was always on the lookout for a local connection. When I read my first Warshawski book, I was hooked. She isn't super brilliant or anything else super; she seems like a real human being. Her father was a cop, a good cop that everyone admired, and the case in HARDBALL is a difficult one for her because it involves her father and something dirty he may have been privy to.

Her support comes from an elderly neighbor, her two dogs which they pretty much share, a reporter she respects, and a woman who is a doctor and loves her like a daughter. All of those characters, even the dogs, ring true.

The case involves Chicago politics (always a somewhat iffy situation), a campaign for office (ditto), baseball, activist nuns, a gang whose leader she visits in Stateville (hard core prison in Joliet whose warden decades ago was a distant relative of mine), the 1966 visit to Chicago by Martin Luther King - obviously it's very complicated. I have spent the past day and a half trying without success to put the book down and do something constructive.

This is a 446 page book but it really had me enthralled. Some years ago a movie, or TV movie - can't remember which - was made of a V.I. mystery and I thought it was awful. If that's your only memory of her, please ignore it and try one of the books. I sound like a cereal commercial, "Try it, you'll like it," but really if you like human characters and a P.I. who actually gets frightened when she's in danger, this is for you.

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