Hardball by Sarah Paretsky (2009)
I’ve taken to reading mysteries set in the place I am vacationing. There is something very satisfying (and perhaps nerdy), about identifying the landmarks, and geography in a book, while discovering them on the street. For our trip to Chicago I picked up Hardball by Sarah Paretsky.
The protagonist, Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, known as Vic to her friends, is trained as a lawyer, but now works as a private investigator. The story unfolds through her first person narration. There are many characters to keep track of – Petra, the bubbly young cousin of the detective, Miss Ella, a bitter African American woman, and her dying sister, a number of cops who worked with Warshawski’s sainted father back in the day, a gang leader serving time in Statesville and the list goes on. In the first half of the novel we meet these people and hear their back stories. Miss Ella’s sister, Claudia, wants Warshawski to find her nephew who went missing 40 years ago. The trail is very cold, but through some digging the p.i. discovers that his disappearance may be tied to the murder of a young African American Civil rights activist. There is a lot of talk and not much action until almost half way through the book. While Warshawski is interviewing a nun who had been walking with the civil rights activist, two Molotov cocktails are lobbed through the window.
This jolted my interest and the action picks up, though not at the fastest pace since the injuries that the detective sustains make it impossible to go about her usual work. As she recovers, Warshawski is haunted by the attack and the possibility that the bomb was meant to kill her, rather than the nun.
Many elements of the investigation point to the possibility that some powerful people don’t want Warshawski to find out the truth – the building inhabited by the nun was under surveillance but no one got a lead on the car that was used. Before Warshawski can get evidence from that scene, the room has been demolished by contractors who don’t know who they are working for. The detective’s apartment and later her office are ransacked. Left outside the office is one of Petra’s bracelets, but her cousin has disappeared.
Mostly on the mend, Warshawski dodges her tails using disguises and by having friends smuggle her out of predicaments using hospital laundry hampers, and a musician’s bass case. I (happily) followed the action, recognizing neighborhoods, streets and tourist destinations. The ending was satisfying – justice was served, but it certainly doesn’t dispel the notion that corruption runs deep in Chicago.
Also available in large print, as an audiobook, as a downloadable E-book.
Submitted by Ann O Tation