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OVERBOARD by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

“It was Mitch who found the girl.”  A blog I wrote last month featured great first lines in mystery novels; had I read Overboard before I wrote that post, I definitely would have included it.

V. I. Warshawski stops her car to let her dogs stretch their legs, but Mitch bounds across the highway and goes down a slippery slope to the lake.  When Vic and Peppy follow, Mitch is already in a crevice between some rocks and is very reluctant to be pulled out.  Peering inside the opening, Vic sees an obviously badly injured young girl.

The girl has no identification with her and speaks only one word.  Nagyi is what she says, but Vic doesn’t know whether it’s someone’s name, a word in a foreign language, or a meaningless sound.   Even after the girl is taken to the hospital and her face is shown on television, no one comes forward to identify her.

The following day, a Chicago police department detective interviews Vic at her office, obviously not believing her story that she came upon the girl by accident.  It’s obvious that the police think that Vic knows more than she’s telling, and she’s left with a warning to be certain to contact them if she finds out anything more.

More bad news follows.  Vic is contacted by Ilona Pariente, an old friend and Holocaust survivor.  Her husband is a member of an Orthodox synagogue that was vandalized overnight, with graffiti on the outside of the building and windows smashed.  Vic offers to put security cameras in various spots around the building, but she emphasizes that she’s not able to watch 24/7 in an effort to catch the criminals.  However, given her close friendship with Ilona and her husband, as well as with her two closest friends who are also Holocaust survivors, Vic is left feeling that she hasn’t done enough to watch over the people she cares about.

At the hospital, the young girl is confronted in her room by a man identifying himself as a Chicago police detective.  Since she doesn’t respond to the questions he asks in English and it is thought that she might be or understand Hungarian, a custodian who speaks that language is sent to the room to translate.  But she doesn’t respond to that language either, and the visitor leaves.  A few minutes later, the girl disappears.

Vic is feeling uncharacteristically helpless in both cases.  There’s no way she can keep a constant vigil at the Jewish temple, and she’s fearful that the vandals might do more serious damage next time.  And another member of the Chicago police comes to her apartment determined to discover what she knows about the missing teenager.  He refuses to believe she knows nothing helpful, and his belligerent remarks escalate to physical assault.

Overboard is the 21st novel featuring V. I. Warshawski.  Although she’s aged and thinks she has slowed down a bit, readers won’t agree.  She’s still confident and strong, both physically and emotionally, and her sense of morality never wavers.  As the New York Times states, “She is a proper hero for our times.”

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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