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Hard Time    by Sara Paretsky order for
Hard Time
by Sara Paretsky
Order:  USA  Can
Dell, 2000 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

V.I. Warshawski, the perennially brash private investigator from Chicago, is once again battling those in power, this time in the form of a media conglomerate with ties to the politically powerful in Chicago. Always broke, always tough, but inside just a little kid yelling 'that's not fair!', Warshawski takes on the rich and corrupt against the advice of her closest friends.

After a fun evening watching her old friend and comrade, newspaper columnist Murray Ryerson, prostitute himself on the altar of job security at a posh party celebrating the opening segment of his new television show, Warshawski drives herself and a friend home. Along the way, they almost run over a woman in the street, who later dies at the emergency room. Angered by an obvious attempt by an officer to set her up as the fall guy for the woman's injuries, Warshawski begins to investigate in an effort to discover just why the death is so important that someone wants to find a scapegoat. What follows is typical Warshawski 'bull in a china shop' detective work, destined to inflame friends and foes alike.

Warshawski discovers that the woman is a Filipino immigrant named Nicola Aguinaldo who supposedly escaped from Coolis, a women's prison in Chicago. Prior to being incarcerated there, she had worked as a maid for Ballantine, head of a security firm with ties to Global, the media mogul who owns the television show that Murray is now hosting. As things heat up for Warshawski, even her friends start to distance themselves from her in the hope of avoiding the fallout. This only makes her more determined to find out why Nicola's death is so important that such a concerted effort has been launched to discredit V.I..

While the beginning premise is a little too good to be true (Warshawski just happens to be driving along the one side street of all of Chicago occupied by a dying woman, who just happens to be mysteriously involved with her old friend Murray, whose party she just happened to leave that same night), the ensuing story is so intriguing that that plot device is soon left behind and forgotten. The rest of the novel for the most part is believable. The steps that Warshawski takes to keep herself from being framed are admirably intelligent and good reading, but Paretsky is always careful to make Warshawski human, as in the sometimes incredibly stupid things she says to people or does.

Warshawski is a tough girl, ready to react physically on demand, but often she is scared and feels helpless, as when her office is brazenly broken into and Warshawski is completely demoralized by the intrusion. Later in the story, Warshawski's fighting skills seem a little too good to be true, especially from a forty-something year old woman, but Warshawski has always been portrayed as a fit, very athletic woman with a mean mindset.

The exciting action, coupled with great dialogue, moves the story along at a fast and furious clip. Even though we know that Warshawski will come out on top in the end, we still read breathlessly on to find out just how she defeats the bad guys and scores once more for the poor and downtrodden. A very good read, and an excellent book to take to the beach this summer!

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