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Hardball: A V. I. Warshawski Novel    by Sara Paretsky order for
by Sara Paretsky
Order:  USA  Can
Putnam, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sara Paretsky fans will be delighted by her new V. I. Warshawski novel, Hardball, in which the writer - and her indomitable detective are in top form. In an acknowledgement at the beginning of the book, the author speaks of a Summer of Service in Chicago that was the defining time of her life, a time when Dr. King and local civil rights leaders led marches and people responded in different ways. She tells us that the heart of this story 'has its roots in that summer.'

The novel opens on a prison visit for Vic with bullish Anaconda gang leader Johnny Merton, her client for a short time when she was with the Public Defender's Office. She has reluctantly - at the request of a young Pastor, Karen Lennon - taken on the case of the 1967 disappearance of a black man, Lamont Gadsden, and is sure that Merton knows something about it. Lamont's mother and aunt (the latter in particular) want to know his fate before they die. Seeking Lamont, Vic finds links to the murder of a young black woman, Harmony Newsome, during a 1966 march by Martin Luther King - Lamont's friend Steve Sawyer was convicted of the crime on sparse evidence, and the arresting officer was Vic's beloved father Tony.

While all this is going on, Vic's life is disrupted by the arrival of her bouncy young cousin Petra, a new graduate who came to Chicago from Kansas City to work on the senatorial campaign of photogenic Brian Krumas, son of her father's old friend Harvey. Of course Mr. Contreras is totally beguiled by Petra (who calls him Uncle Sal). Then Pastor Karen sends Vic to interview a Dominican nun, Frankie, who was in Marquette Park the day Harmony was killed - and all hell breaks loose. There's a firebombing and a kidnapping, and Vic is left feeling both guilty and deeply concerned about the part her father might have played in past events. She goes through his memorabilia and wonders why he saved an old Sox baseball.

Of course, Vic doesn't give up on this cold case and uncovers the truth (which involves a 'history of corruption and abuse' in the police force) undaunted by the potential cost to her own memories and to current members of her family. If you're a mystery fan and haven't found the V. I. Warshawski books yet, then you have some serious catching up to do. I highly recommend the series as one that has maintained its consistently high quality and momentum up to and including this gripping thirteenth episode.

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