"Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body." -- 1 Corinthians 6:18 (NKJV)
Body Work is a change of pace from the usual V.I. Warshawski mystery. The focus here is on the evil influences in the plot rather the typical Joan of Arc story of Vic taking on one and all in a lopsided struggle. The intensity is high, as it always is with Sara Paretsky's writing, but there's more of an element of James Lee Burke come to Chicago that adds a lot of depth to the story. Vic's cousin Petra provides for comic relief in ways that offsets the darkness that's inherent in this story.
The book opens powerfully with this sentence: "Nadia Guaman died in my arms." You'll be hooked into wanting to know the rest of the story within the first three paragraphs. I think it would be very easy to spoil this story, so I'm going to avoid saying anything else about the characters or the plot. But I think you'll be surprised by where the story goes. I was, and I enjoyed the trip.
The only thing I didn't like about the story involved having so many evil doers that it took a lot of pages to work them all in and to develop their parts of the plot. As a result, the story was about 100 pages longer than I felt it was worth. One or two of the story lines could have been simplified and the pacing of the story would have been a lot more compelling. But if you like stories strong in atmosphere, I predict you'll like this one.
Some writers of detective stories start off well, then gradually fall away and start to coast. Sara Paretsky is not one of these; in fact since V.I.Warshawski made her first appearance, her books have steadily become deeper, exploring themes such as high-level political corruption and how it affects the common people, corporate bullying of staff and violence against women. A common theme seems to be that there is no such thing as a victimless crime. Here, we have organised crime (a brutal loan shark and his heavies); collateral damage from the war in Iraq (traumatised veterans and a security contractor killed in suspicious circumstances) and a company prospering on supplying possibly faulty equipment to the army. Add to that a Hispanic family right at the bottom of the pile, with two dead daughters out of three and a brain-damaged son, and you can see this isn't going to be a laugh a minute. As always though, Ms Paretsky balances the necessary grimness of her narrative with lighter moments - not exactly comedy, but the borderline airhead cousin Petra, who first appeared in the last book and the perennially loyal neighbour Mr Contreras vainly trying to save Vic from her wilder impulses make for some relief. There are also two ex-marines, friends of the disturbed vet who is being held on a murder charge, who turn up and act as V.I's guardian angels for the second half of the book. If they seem a little like a convenient device, they are never remotely like the increasingly ludicrous Ranger of Janet Evanovich's tired Stephanie Plum books. I don't want to give the story away - it would be far too complicated anyway - but it occurs to me I've not even mentioned the most extraordinary character, who in a (literal) sense embodies all the connections between the various plot strands - you'll understand what I mean if you read it. This is the Body Painter, who walks the tightrope between performance art and titillation by inviting the audience to paint whatever they like on her naked body. She appears to be opening herself completely to the world, and yet, with at least three identities and no address that anyone knows, she is in reality far from that. Despite appearing to be in control, and never becoming at all likeable, she is herself also a victim. There's no neat ending (despite an almost Poirot-esque staging of a rendezvous with all the suspects, in the hope that someone will crack), but that is unfortunately true to life when big interests are involved. We know who did what, but there's not much chance they'll face justice. Still, at least V.I.Warshawski can finish knowing that,once more, she's done her bit to keep the mean streets clean. Just as her creator can be confident that she's produced another absorbing story.
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.
Body Work is a strong tale with complex, connected elements, all of which come together satisfyingly in the end - as is usual in Sara Paretsky's excellent V I Warshawski books. Action takes place in Chicago's seamier side and we are drawn into the worlds of body art and Iraq veterans, amongst others. Well-loved characters play strong parts and we're introduced to several new ones - resulting in a dynamic story which nevertheless feels reassuringly familiar. A very good read with plenty of pace and action. Question: will a maturer Petra emerge as a successor to V I, despite this being discounted by both? I wouldn't rule it out.
There was a lull in the VI books and I got out of the habit of looking for new one. It was so good to get back into it - like meeting up with old friends. Had lost none of it's edge and draw of the storyline but against a backdrop of familiar characters. I loved it
Body Work begins with the murder of a young artist behind Club Gouge, and edgy night spot in Chicago. It turns out that she was there to see the headline act, a woman known only as 'The Artist', who allows the audience to paint on her naked body while she sits on stage. The murdered girl had begun to paint on The Artist and her work had enraged an Iraq veteran in the audience for some unknown reason. When the young woman dies the finger is pointed at the veteran who has - seemingly - tried to kill himself out of guilt. VI Warshawski is engaged by the veteran's family to find out what happened and - hopefully clear his name.
This book is another great addition to the VI Warshawski collection, the immediate death of the victim within the first few pages definitely grabs you! VI is her usual hound-dog self in tracking down the truth, but this time she has her cousin (who she picked up in Hardball) along for the ride and helping her in her investigations. The plot is intricately woven and seemingly insignificant things are all wrapped up in the final conclusion, which is both clever and contemporary.
I've read that Sara Paretsky is already working on the next novel, which I await with interest!!
This was the first Sara Paretsky book I've read and I enjoyed it very much. I thought the whole idea of the body artist was really original and the structure of the plot around this central theme was suitably complex and interesting. I liked the writing style and the characters were vividly portrayed; I believed in them and cared what happened to them. I'd definitely recommend this book to those who like a meaty and original crime thriller.