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Love & Other Crimes: Stories


Love & Other Crimes: Stories

Short story lovers, maybe lovers in general, are in for a treat with LOVE & OTHER CRIMES, a medley of short fiction by Sara Paretsky. You may know her work already, as she enjoys a fine reputation for her detective fiction featuring heroine V.I. Warshawski. Over the course of her 23 novels, Paretsky has developed Warshawski into a solid, formidable defender of women, minorities, the innocent and the yet-to-be-proven innocent. Part of the treat in picking up this collection of 14 stories is that there will be some tidbits of information about Warshawski that should entice you to visit (or revisit) her earlier works.

Eight of the stories here feature or mention Warshawski; the other six are set outside of her stomping grounds of Chicago and introduce a variety of lead characters and contemporary themes. At the end of each story, Paretsky steps in and speaks to readers in her 2019 voice, pointing out how or why it was conceived and where it has been previously published. She acknowledged her indebtedness to Anna Katharine Green (1846-1935), whose brilliance she believed outshone a relative contemporary, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Green was called “the mother of detective fiction” for excellent plotting and accuracy. Paretsky explains the times when she wrote specific anthologies and particular themes. I grew to like her rationale and style, and enjoyed these explanatory notes immensely.

"Part of the treat in picking up this collection of 14 stories is that there will be some tidbits of information about Warshawski that should entice you to visit (or revisit) her earlier works."

“Murder at the Century of Progress,” first published in 1999, is an epistolary story, with a dithery, elderly Charlotte Palmer traveling to Chicago in 1933 with her grandnephew. This lad fell in with a bad sort a few months back, and had gambled away his family fortune. He needed to find the swindler, who he knows will be at the opening of the World’s Fair. Miss Palmer’s style of wrapping lovely, gauzy scarves about her shoulders and head (to protect her from the fierce Illinois sun) comes into play, and her delicate appearance and seeming clumsiness belie her clever assessment of the situation.

The title story, “Love & Other Crimes,” is a revenge fantasy from the guilt that Paretsky feels because she did not do enough for a close friend who had been wrongfully fired. Warshawski appears, and she is true to form: sassy, independent, fearless. Old elementary school acquaintances (she could not use the term "friends") need her help clearing the youngest brother of murder charges. The murder, however, seems to be just a by-product of the destruction of $25 million of wine and booze in a local warehouse. She also needs to figure out the background of the brother’s recent dismissal from that firm. She does. Short stories have only a few pages to sort out a mystery, and Paretsky’s rapid pace lends itself well to this complicated crime.

The multiple characters and the myriad of family and friend connections make following some of the storylines a challenge (or perhaps my attention span has shortened considerably during these last few months --- that is quite likely). However, Paretsky gives each relationship the merit of some honest scrutiny. It is important to keep track of who married whom when, where families begin and how those members treat one another. One family, she points out in a note, “turns dysfunction into an art form.” It is best to keep an eye on a character’s beginnings to determine where he or she will emerge; perhaps that is good advice outside of fiction, too.

Paretsky has a sharp eye for finding the inequity and unfairness in the world. She addresses human issues of reproduction, childcare and stability in the home --- all often left on women’s plates. She points out injustices to the poor and voiceless, and cruelty for money or power. Through her stories and strong champions, she rights the wrongs as best she can with smart questions, courageous action and humor. LOVE & OTHER CRIMES is a good book; you will encounter mayhem and murder, while learning about human nature.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on July 2, 2020

Love & Other Crimes: Stories
by Sara Paretsky