Shell Game by Sara Paretsky: A review

Sara Paretsky is one of my long-time literary crushes. I've been reading her V.I. Warshawski novels since almost their beginning back in the 1980s. She has never let me down. Oh, sure, I have enjoyed some of the books more than others, but there is not a stinker among them.

One of the things that I enjoy about V.I. is that she has been allowed to age, more or less in real time. By now (and the present book takes place in the present time - the Trump era) she's getting a bit long in the tooth, not unlike many of us, but her passion for justice and for serving her clients with honor remains undimmed.

Her latest case involves a heady mix of stock scams and painstakingly detailed insurance fraud by high rollers, the scapegoating and demonizing of immigrants (particularly Middle Eastern immigrants), an out-of-control ICE, theft of archaeological treasures, Russian mobsters, kidnapping and sexual abuse of young girls, and, of course, murder.

It's the murder that initially gets V.I. involved in all the rest of this muck. The body of a murdered man with no identification on him has been found in a nature preserve area outside of Chicago. The Cook County Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction over the investigation. The only clue they find on the body is a scrap of paper bearing the name and phone number of Felix Herschel. Felix is the grand-nephew of Lotty Herschel, V.I.'s friend, doctor, and mother-figure. Sheriff's deputies take Felix to look at the body to see if he can identify it and Lotty contacts V.I. to go along.

Felix denies knowing the dead person, but he seems to be hiding something and V.I. follows him and sees him meet a young woman of Middle Eastern appearance. She turns out to be Syrian, a recent refugee from the civil war there and she is the daughter of an honored poet who is in the country illegally. Felix seems to be trying to protect them.

The dead man is eventually identified as Leroy (or Lawrence) Fausson, an archaeology student who had worked at digs in the Middle East and was captivated by the culture of that area. He often dressed as an Arab and wanted to be called Lawrence, or Elorenze, as in Lawrence of Arabia. It develops that he had probably stolen a priceless antiquity.

Meantime, in a parallel plot, V.I. is contacted by Harmony Seale, whose late mother was the sister of Warshawski's long-ago husband, Richard Yarborough. V.I. had not seen the girl since she was 5 or 6 years old, but now she is grown up and needs help. Her older sister, Reno, had recently moved to Chicago from Portland and found a job, but now she has disappeared. Harmony refuses to go to the police because she doesn't trust them. She wants V.I. to find her.

V.I. looks for clues and tries to work both the cases and at some point they begin to grow together in an intricately woven pattern. She has a problem following or developing the clues that she finds because she keeps getting attacked by two monstrously large and implacable Slavic thugs. 

Of course, V.I. is pretty implacable herself and we know she's not going to give up.

It's fairly obvious pretty early on who the prime villain is here, but that knowledge does not in any way detract from the pleasure of reading this story. The plot is meticulously worked out in the most minute detail including a lot of information about insurance and stocks that frankly goes over my head, but I'm able to follow along and get the gist and, as usual, it is the characters and their relationships that keep me turning the pages. Particularly the new and intriguing relationship between V.I. and a certain archaeologist from the Oriental Institute.

What can I say? V.I. just gets better and better. This one was definitely one of my favorites in the series.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


  1. Yay! Have not gotten to this one yet as I am still working through other recent releases but looking forward to it of course.

  2. Glad this entry was as good as you have come to expect from Paretsky. I look forward to following more V.I. adventures. ;-)

  3. Yep, its time for another VI Cheers


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