Body Work by Sara Paretsky: A review

V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky's Chicago private detective, is one tough woman. Those bad guys who try to intimidate her soon learn that such tactics only strengthen her resolve. She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, and she never, ever gives up on a client.

The opening of this latest book, Body Work, finds V.I. at a club in Chicago where a performance artist who bills herself as the Body Artist is doing her thing. Her "thing" involves appearing naked on stage and allowing members of the audience to draw or write on her body. Everything proceeds about as you would expect in the circumstances until a young woman who is obviously a talented artist starts to draw. What she draws is a woman's face surrounded by flames and by an enigmatic symbol. Her drawing seems to enrage a young Iraq War veteran in the audience who reacts violently before his friends can calm him. A few days later, the woman who drew the picture lies dying in the alley near the club, after having been shot. She is cradled in her dying moments by V.I. Warshawski.

Soon, the police go to arrest the young man who had been disturbed by the drawings. But when they get there, they find him unconscious with a gun that proves to be the murder weapon on his pillow. He remains unconsious and is taken to the hospital under police custody. Did he try to commit suicide or was he deliberately poisoned, causing his coma? And has he been framed for the woman's murder?

The man's parents believe he would have been incapable of shooting the woman and they hire V.I. to prove that. As she digs into the case, she finds that the woman who died had an older sister who died in Iraq while working for one of the contractors there. Was there a connection between this older sister and the suspect in the sister's murder?

Things get more and more complicated when Warshawski uncovers evidence that the death in Iraq may not have been what it first seemed and she finds that the dead sisters came from a dysfunctional family that has suffered multiple tragedies. Were they all somehow related?

This is a complicated story that seems ripped right out of today's headlines about the Iraq war and the role of contractors in it.

Paretsky and her alter ego, Warshawski, have a strong interest in and concern about issues related to women, especially violence against women, and that concern is woven through this story. Paretsky skillfully keeps the reader guessing until very near the end and then she brings all the disparate strands of the story together to create the complete picture.

The problem is that the bad guys here are very rich people and very rich people tend to buy their way out of trouble. In the end, Warshawski is able to serve her client well and bring about a kind of justice, but not enough. One is left not really wanting the book to end and wanting very much to know what Warshawski's next case will be.


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