New Paretsky novel has no easy answers -- or villains
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In the new installment of Sara Paretsky's crime series, private detective V.I. Warshawski witnesses the murder of a young Hispanic woman, Nadia Guaman, outside a seedy Chicago nightclub.
Club Gouge is featuring an anonymous "Body Artist" who allows patrons to paint images of their choice on her nude body, then posts them on her blog. Ms. Paretsky's intrepid heroine has come to the club not to see the Body Artist, but to watch over her irresponsible young niece, Petra, a waitress at the club.
For their most likely suspect, the police zero in on Chad Vishneski, an Iraq veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who was seen having a confrontation with Nadia in the street.
A few days later Chad is found unconscious with the murder weapon at his side and the "date rape drug" Rohypnol in his system. He is arrested nonetheless, but V.I. is not convinced of Vishneski's guilt. When the boy's parents hire her to clear his name, she becomes embroiled in events far beyond a shooting in an alley behind a sleazy night spot.
Ms. Paretsky's cleverly constructed plot has three main strands:
The murder of Nadia, whose older sister Alexandra died in Iraq while working for an American manufacturer of bulletproof armor; the possible exoneration of Chad -- if he didn't do it; and the enigmatic Body Artist, who goes by many names and has revealed nothing of her past.
In addition, Nadia's family, the comatose Chad and his family, the Body Artist and V.I. herself are all being pursued by East European thugs hired by unscrupulous American businessmen.
These diverse elements come together convincingly as an excellent whodunit puzzle. V.I. Warshawski, however, is no Miss Marple. She's tough in the manner of her male fictional predecessors, not bound by her gender. V.I. runs and works out but retains her vulnerability and humanity in the face of all sorts of dangers and makes hard moral choices. She even has a wry sense of humor. When asked how she knows a particularly arcane fact, she responds, "I'm a detective. I detect things."
Most significant is Ms. Paretsky's handling of 21st-century political and social issues. No. 1 is the Iraq War and the criminal activities it spawned in civilians connected with it. Another element is homophobia. Alexandra was a lesbian, unacknowledged by her family, ridiculed by her colleagues and goaded to deny her true persona by her local priest. An underlying element is violence and exploitation of women at home and abroad.
There are no easy endings. Some of the bad guys get what they deserve while others may go scot-free. Some of the good guys may be driven to criminal acts for which they may or may not face punishment.
Sara Paretsky visits Oakmont's Carnegie Library at 1 p.m. Saturday, sponsored by Mystery Lovers Bookstore. Cost is $5. Information: 412-828-4877.
First Published September 5, 2010 12:00 am