Dead Land by Sara Paretsky: A review

Can this really be the twentieth in the V.I. Warshawski series? It seems like only yesterday that I was reading the first in the series, Indemnity Only. But that book was published in 1982 and I read it probably within a year, so, yes, Paretsky has been writing these books for almost forty years and I have been reading them for almost that long.

The wonderful and unusual thing about this series is that the quality has stayed consistent. In a long series, you almost always get one or two books that are real clunkers. Not with Sara Paretsky. I've read them all and I can't think of a single one that wasn't good. Sure, there have been some that I've liked better than others, but there's not a one that hasn't been good and a worthwhile read.

Another great thing about the series is that V.I. has been allowed to age naturally and she has grown and learned things throughout the series. She's had many romantic relationships over the years, and now she is involved with an archaeologist. I remember Agatha Christie's comment about being married to an archaeologist that the older you get the more interesting you are to them. So perhaps this relationship of V.I. and the archaeologist will last.

And yet another thing that I like about this series is that Paretsky is never afraid to tackle difficult and complicated subjects and she and her detective have a clear and unwavering moral compass. That moral compass guides Warshawski to fight for the underdog and to oppose injustice and sharp practice wherever it occurs. Living and working in Chicago, she has her work cut out for her. 

The plot of Dead Land is even more complicated than usual, involving an attempted land grab in Chicago that is somehow connected to a mass shooting that occurred in Kansas a few years before and a rich and politically connected family in Chile. How Paretsky weaves all of these disparate strands together into a tapestry that presents an understandable picture is a joy to read.

Another side note: It is interesting (to me at least) that Paretsky grew up in Kansas and her recent books have worked a Kansas connection into the plot.

This one starts with a nighttime call to Warshawski from her goddaughter, Bernie, who has been arrested following a disturbance at a public meeting regarding a plan for the development of a Chicago park area. Warshawski goes to her rescue and thus becomes involved with Bernie and her current boyfriend who is a computer geek working as a volunteer for a community group called SLICK that is involved in the development plans. And things spiral from there.

A famous singer/songwriter is found living on the streets and it turns out she has been traumatized and is unable to speak or function normally because of that mass shooting I mentioned. It was at a festival in Kansas and she and her lover, a Chilean-American were performing when the shooting took place. Her lover and several other people were killed and many others were injured. In her current situation, she is watched over by a mysterious man named Coop and his dog Bear who seem to be the only ones she trusts and interacts with.

That Chilean-American was the nephew and heir of that powerful Chilean family and he had wanted to turn the mines owned by the family over to the miners. This was not a popular stance among other members of the family.

Back in Chicago, the land grab involves repurposing some public lands for the convenience of the rich and powerful. "Pay to play" Chicago politics is at the heart of the dastardly plan.

All of this finally comes together and makes sense, although some of it is a bit of a stretch I admit. And in the process V.I. is shot at and missed but otherwise injured on more than one occasion. That just makes her more implacable and relentless.

V.I. may have lost a step but she is still formidable in her passion for justice. She is a worthy hero for our times.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars        

Comments

  1. It is impressive that the quality has stayed so high over so many books and over so much time. I also find that series that I like, that have gone over a long time, also make me feel the passage of time. I also remember when the film V.I. Warshawski came out. It really seems like it was so long ago that it was a different lifetime.

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    1. I remember that film, too, and how disappointed I was that they got V.I. all wrong. Kathleen Turner could not possibly have been more wrong in that role! You're right - that does seem a lifetime ago.

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  2. Another book I plan to read soonest. I am glad to hear that Sara has not waned in excitement and quality, especially after the year she has had.

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    1. She noted in her afterword that this was the first book she had done without the support of her beloved husband. I'm sure it was both difficult and therapeutic to have V.I. to turn to.

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  3. 'A worthy hero for our times' -- another excellent review from you, Dorothy. This series is the next read on my list. P. x

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  4. That's cool how she has written these for 40 years and let the protagonist age & learn with her. Like Bosch, she seems very formidable.

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    1. Yes, she and Bosch would make quite a pair. They would likely hate each other!

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  5. Haven't read one of hers for yonks - will put this one on the list Cheers

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    1. I think you are going to like it, Carole. V.I. is one of my favorite detectives.

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