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Posts Tagged ‘female private eye’

FALLOUT by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

The case moves from Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, but V.I. Warshawski is the same.  She’s as tough, persevering, and smart as ever.

The Windy City has been V.I.’s home base since the beginning of Sara Paretsky’s series, but an unusual missing persons case is drawing her to Lawrence.  Bernadine Fouchard is the goddaughter of V.I.’s cousin Boom-Boom, and Bernadine and her friend Angela ask V.I. to look into the disappearance of Angela’s cousin August Veriden.  August is a young man who works as a trainer at a Chicago gym while trying to make a living as a filmmaker, but he has taken a leave of absence from the Six-Points Gym and isn’t answering Angela’s calls or texts.

To make matters worse, the gym has been vandalized and it’s possible that drugs are missing from the medical-supply closet.  August is the only missing employee who has a key, so he is a person of interest to the police.  When V.I. goes to his apartment house she finds that he hasn’t been there in several days and that his apartment has been searched.  V.I. doesn’t know if the intruders found what they were looking for, but her concern is intensifying.

Searching August’s website, V. I. comes across a personal message written by Emerald Ferring, a black actress with a brief career in movies and a longer one in television.  V. I. goes to Emerald’s house, and after talking with neighbors she finds out that Emerald left Chicago with August ten days earlier.  Emerald had told them that she and August were going to her home town of Lawrence to film a documentary about her life.  No one has heard from them since.

Now truly worried, V.I. drives to Lawrence.  Her essentials packed (picklocks, gun, ammunition, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, laptop, iPad), she and her dog Peppy begin the search that takes them from an Army base, the city’s police station, its historical society, and the University of Kansas campus to the desolate bomb site outside the city where a Titan missile once stood in possible preparation for a war against the Soviet Union.  Making the search more difficult is the race factor–she’s white, Emerald and August are black–and Kansas, even the liberal city of Lawrence, has a mixed and contradictory racial history.

V.I.’s loneliness away from her home and her friends, her growing awareness of the physical and emotional distance between herself and her lover who is in Europe, and the invisible line that still separates whites from blacks in both Chicago and Kansas all add to the gravitas of the book.  One comes away from every Paretsky book feeling the depth of the protagonist’s and the author’s feelings about social injustice, whatever forms it takes.  More than simply a mystery, Fallout is a book that explores social issues, racial tensions, and family relationships.

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.

LOCKED IN by Marcia Muller: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series ever since I read Edwin of the Iron Shoes. That was back in 1982, and both Shar and I have aged (gracefully, I’d like to think) ever since.

In the latest series’ entry, Locked In, Shar is shot in her San Francisco office late one night. When she awakens several days later, she is told she’s a victim of locked-in syndrome, something that will be familiar to readers/viewers of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  The author of that novel, Jean-Dominique Bauby, wrote his memoir while virtually a total prisoner of his body–victims of locked-in syndrome can neither talk nor move, but they are able to hear, see, and understand everything that’s said to them.  In Bauby’s case, the locked-in syndrome was caused by a massive stroke; in Locked In, the bullet to Shar’s brain had the same devastating effect.

Hy Ripinsky, Shar’s husband, and all her colleagues at the McCone Agency, are working to find the person who shot her.  There’s her nephew Mick, the computer whiz; Rae Kelleher, married to Mick’s country singer father and a private investigator; Julia Raphael, former prostitute turned P.I.; and several others.  Their only hope is that one of the agency’s still-to-be-solved cases is behind the attack, and so they are determined to find the culprit.

In fact, there are several unsolved cases at the McCone Agency that may have a bearing on the murder attempt.  There’s corruption in San Francisco’s city hall, a young street walker who turns up dead and is not identified, a missing man.  Are they all separate, or is there something tying them together that can shed light on what happened to Sharon McCone?

One of the best things about this series is following Shar’s life. In my March 9th About Marilyn blog, I wrote how important it is to me to know the back story about the lead in a series.  I didn’t mention Marcia Muller in that post, and I should have.  Of all the mystery writers I can think of, Muller has done the best job of creating not only a back story but a continuing story for her heroine.   Each book reveals a bit more.

Shar is one of six siblings, and each one has his/her own distinct history.  In the more than two dozen novels in this series, Shar and family have been through a lot–marriages, divorces, remarriages, suicide, the truth about Shar’s birth, and more.  It makes Shar real, someone the reader can identify with, even if the reader cannot quite put herself or himself in Shar’s many life-altering or life-threatening adventures.

Marcia Muller has been quoted numerous times saying that she’s tired of being referred to as the “founding mother of the hardboiled contemporary female private investigator”; that by now, given the number of excellent female private eyes, she’s more like the grandmother.  It’s true that there are now dozens of women following in the footsteps of Muller/McCone, but few who do it so well.