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Another strong Chicago book by Sara Paretsky...
on 3 September 2010
It's a little difficult to describe Sara Paretsky's on-going V I Warshawski series to someone who's new to her work. Paretsky has been writing the Warshawski series for about 20 years or so, as well as at least one stand-alone book. Her writing, her characters, her settings, her crimes are unlike any other contemporary mystery writer I've read.
Her latest, "Body Work", is not an easy book to read. I think it's the edgiest of all her novels; the center around whom the story revolves is a "body artist", working out of a Chicago night-club. The "body artist", called here "the Body Artist" is a murky figure who allows customers to paint on her naked body. The images are sent world-wide on a web-cam. The plot of "Body Work" has the standard murders, bad guys, the internet, the war in Iraq, a Blackwater-like company which provides mercenary services in Iraq, sexuality issues, and many more plot points. Paretsky does a good job in laying out the plot and then tidily cleaning it all up again. But in the background of the plot are the issues of V I Warshawski herself.
Vic is a long-time private-eye in Chicago. She's gone through many cases, ably written up by Sara Paretsky, who brings her character along in personal development in each book. Many of the same characters show up in the books; Vic's family members, her neighbor-and-protector, Mr Contreras, various friends and lovers, and, of course, her two dogs, Mitch and Peppy. Paretsky has brought her character from a hard-scrabble childhood as the only child of a Polish Catholic policeman-father and an Italian Jewish opera singer-mother. Her first books were set in that odd Chicago area of the southeast side of Chicago, with the various ethnic groups jockeying for space. The power of Paretsky's writing, in those books, was the diversity Chicago is known for. The settings of the later books have moved to the northside of Chicago and the villains have subtly changed to large corporations - Blackwater, Wal-Mart - who are a blight on our society, in Paretsky's view. (She's not wrong). She regularly brings up societal issues not examined in other fiction.
I felt this book was a little over-written. It could have been a little shorter and more concise. Of course, I'm comparing it to her back-list. It is a good book and an enjoyable one, particularly for long-time Paretsky fans.