Review

Breakdown: A V.I. Warshawski Novel

by Sara Paretsky

Thirty years of reading V.I. Warshaswki mysteries? Just seems like yesterday that I picked up and read the first one. As always, Sara Paretsky has done a splendid job keeping her stories fresh, inviting and worth every bit of time I spend reading this series. In her latest novel, Vic enters the world of the rich and powerful when she investigates a murder.

"As always, Sara Paretsky has done a splendid job keeping her stories fresh, inviting and worth every bit of time I spend reading this series."

BREAKDOWN begins with a call to V.I. Warshawksi from her cousin Petra, who asks her to rescue a group of tween girls at the Mount Moriah Cemetery. Vic is at a glamorous evening event with her long-time reporter friend Murray Ryerson. The glitzy party is in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Wade Lawlor’s uber-successful TV talk show that showcases his views on life, politics and culture --- values that are directly the opposite of Vic’s. She is impressed but appalled by the list of influential guests. Wade and Global Entertainment Networks have power in the industry in which Murray works. Despite appearances, Vic ducks out to respond to the call for help.

Upon arriving at the cemetery, she discovers seven girls out after curfew, getting ready to re-enact a ceremony from a popular book series that features vampires, shape shifters and other paranormal beings. The last thing they’re expecting is to find a corpse with a metal rod through the heart. Vic steps in and gets the girls out of the cemetery before the police arrive. She deals with the cops, then meets up with Petra to get the story. Petra, who works at the Malina Foundation, explains that the tweens belong to a book club that is part of a program that brings together daughters of privilege with penniless immigrants.  

Vic wakes up the next morning to a call from Murray demanding to know why she didn’t tell him about the dead body and the girls involved. It turns out the body is that of private detective Miles Wuchnik, a consultant to Vic’s ex-husband’s law firm.  The group includes the daughter of Sophy Durango, a liberal candidate for the U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois, and the granddaughter of Chaim Salanter, a wealthy Jewish businessman in the Chicago area.  Salanter is head of Durango’s campaign finance committee. Even Wade is involved --- he is supporting the more conservative candidate. Clearly there is more to this group of girls than Vic realized. Why was the private eye following the girls? Or was he? And now Wade is already talking about the incident on his show. How did that happen so quickly?

Unexpectedly, Vic also hears from her old friend, Leydon Ashford, a lawyer who comes from a wealthy family. Leydon is concerned for her own safety and feels like she is being followed. She is a brilliant woman but has episodes that debilitate her, and when Vic discovers her at the Rockefeller Chapel, she is barely alive. Something more than Leydon’s own demons is chasing her. As Vic delves into her life, she uncovers some suspicious coincidences. It turns out that Wuchnik had visited the state mental hospital where Leydon was receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, Wade is using his show to derail Durango’s campaign in any way he can, including attacking Salanter’s past as a Holocaust survivor. Vic begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together: potential corruption at the state mental hospital, a Holocaust survivor’s past, wrongful murder convictions, and the politics of hate and the media. As usual, with any case that Vic works on, motivations, people and situations are complex. As a reader, it keeps you guessing as to the outcomes of the murder and mayhem right to the last page.

I am consistently impressed with the themes that are interwoven in a Sara Paretsky murder mystery. The subplots keep her stories current with the world in which her readers live. Vic knows how to handle herself as a woman and as a professional in the midst of violence in the city she loves. She is a character who is every bit as memorable as Sam Spade, Spenser and Sherlock Holmes.

Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on January 26, 2012

Breakdown: A V.I. Warshawski Novel
by Sara Paretsky

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399157832
  • ISBN-13: 9780399157837