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Shell Game: A V.I. Warshawski Novel, by Sara Paretsky.

September 25, 2018

Shell Game
Shell Game: A V.I. Warshawski Novel, by Sara Paretsky. Harper Collins, Sept 2018.

5 stars

The latest mystery in a long-popular series about a feisty, street-smart woman detective in Chicago who continues to fight for social justice in 2018.

When Sara Paretsky published her first V.I. Warshawski mystery in 1982, she introduced readers to a different kind of detective; a woman, unlike the women detectives from the 1930s, who could compete with hardboiled male detectives popular at the time.  Twenty books later, and “Vic” is still going strong fighting for those she loves against those responsible for cruelty of our society.  Paretsky continues to write with punch, excitement, and insight which make her mysteries great to read.  And in Shell Game, she has created a story right out of Trump’s America.

Paretsky was born in 1947 in rural Iowa.  She lived in Lawrence, Kansas, the “Bloody Kansas” of pre-Civil War days. She attended the University of Kansas, and as an undergraduate at K.U., she chaired a Commission on Women’s Rights.  Graduating from there in 1967, she was summa cumulate in political science. When Paretsky was in Lawrence, the town was again a hotbed of protest and radicalism.  From Kansas she went to Chicago where she worked for a time as a community organizer in the riot-torn city.  Eventually, she earned both an MBA and a PhD in History from the University of Chicago before concentrating on writing.  In addition to her series about Warshawski, she has written stand-alone novels and edited anthologies of work by Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization of women crime writers which she founded in1986.

In Shell Game, Warshawski must resolve two different crimes at once.  Her own niece is missing and the nephew of her close friend is charged unjustly with murder.  The ruling one percent get involved. Clues lead into the Muslim community and Russian thugs come after her.  Stolen Middle Eastern artifacts introduce her to the archeologists on the museum staff.  Her dogs, her downstairs neighbor, and the rest of Vic’s usual supportive cast are there to nurture her.  But the dangers which Vic faces are all too real and too familiar in today’s world.

Passion for social justice has been a constant in Paretsky’s life and writing.  She excels at revealing pain and suffering of our society without becoming maudlin or pedantic.  In Shell Game, the overall context of the plot reveals the crony capitalism and greed that has become the background of our lives.  Sexual abuse, Islamophobia, and agents of ICE appear simply as part of the overall story.  If we must all learn how life looks to many in our society, reading books like this maybe more healthy than internet news

My response to reading Paretsky’s newest book was to buy a couple of her older ones that I had never read.  I generally read mysteries as escape literature and seldom, award them 5 stars.  Now and then I read one that reveals so much about the characters and their world that they simply earn a spot among my favorites.  Shell Game is one of those.  I recommend it enthusiastically to all who appreciate well-told mysteries.


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