Friday, September 18, 2009

Hardball by Sara Paretsky

Chicago politics—past, present, and future—take center stage in New York Times–bestselling author Sara Paretsky’s brilliant new V. I. Warshawski novel.

Chicago’s unique brand of ball is sixteen-inch slow pitch, played in leagues all over the city for more than a century. But in politics, in business, and in law enforcement, the game is hardball.

When V. I. Warshawski is asked to find a man who’s been missing for four decades, a search that she figured would be futile becomes lethal. Old skeletons from the city’s racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets—her own and those of the elderly sisters who hired her—rise up to brush her back from the plate with a vengeance. A young cousin whom she’s never met arrives from Kansas City to work on a political campaign; a nun who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. dies without revealing crucial evidence; and on the city’s South Side, people spit when she shows up. Afraid to learn that her adored father might have been a bent cop, V. I. still takes the investigation all the way to its frightening end.

V.I. Warshawski has never been one to skirt around an issue or a case that needs solved. When the case comes knocking on the door of her family's past, those involved begin to question her doggedness.

V.I. has taken on a pity case. The one she can't turn down because the young female pastor and the dying old lady said they needed her. She is pretty positive she will never find a young man who vanished around 4o years ago, and she is also pretty sure that she isn't going to get paid much to try. It isn't long before the past leads her to a heavy hitting African American gang called the Anaconda's and then right to her father and uncle.

Also in the the equation is her young, perky cousin Petra who seems to be asking a lot of odd questions and behaving rather strangely. Petra has come to Chicago to get out on her own and is working on the election campaign of a popular politician. Her people skills and cutesy personality move her to the front of the campaign rather quickly or is it something else that made her so interesting to the campaign manager?

Learning her family history causes V.I. to question the integrity of her cop father. Something that doesn't settle well. It also makes her question if anything is as it seems.

V.I. is taken around Chicago's past and present in some not so pleasant ways. The past hits too close to home, and the present seems out to get her personally. Her office is ransacked, her cousin is missing, and an explosion puts her on the bench momentarily.

This novel kept me going from start to finish. The only issue I had was a moment of confusion in the first of the story. I was following along with the disappearance of Petra when suddenly the story traveled backward to where the current story had really begun. The segue was so quick that I didn't even realize it had happened. I had to search that chapter of the book for a bit to figure out exactly how and where that change in timeframe occurred. Once that was clear I was good to go.

I am ashamed to admit that this is my first V.I. Warshawski novel. I would absolutely read another one. She is a female detective that does not fall into a female stereotype. She takes a case head on and digs deeply until she gets an answer. I also found the other characters to be well-developed. Each had a distinct personality that stayed true to form for all of Hardball.

Hardball does alot of delving into the past to solve the current mystery and crimes. The background story of the missing man and Anaconda gang and V.I.'s family is well presented. The historical aspect of the racial tensions in Chicago was intriguing and a type of truth that can be hard to swallow today. It was easy to take the story that Paretsky built and accept the final outcome. Sure, it is convenient that the man who disappeared 40 years ago has a link to a criminal she previously knew, a politician her cousin works for, and a case her father was a part of during his police days. Somehow it seems to work though. What I did like is that even though it was family it didn't get wrapped up in such a neat little bow that made her family perfect and innocent.

On a side note, Sara Paretsky grew up not far from where I currently live. It is always fun to read a story where the author mentions your town. V.I.'s cousin Petra is from a town I lived in for years and her general hometown in the suburbs of Kansas City is my stomping ground. I don't know about the rest of you, but everytime I read something like that it makes me smile.

Thanks to Lydia at Penguin Group for the ARC of Hardball.


  1. I'm just about to start this book, and it's my first by the author as well, though I've seen her books around for years.

    Glad to see you liked it! Now maybe I'll just dig in!

  2. Oh, I've got to get this one! I love V. I.!

    They even made a movie and called it V.I. Warshawski, but it didn't fit any particular book. It was more of a combination of several. Kathleen Turner played V. I. (She was younger then, since this was a movie made either in the late eighties or early nineties).


    Great review!

  3. Laurel, Until you said that just now I didn't even put the 2 things together. My image of V.I. looked nothing like Kathleen Turner. LOL

  4. Alison - Thanks for the wonderful review, I'm so happy you enjoyed HARDBALL!

    Laurel-Rain, above, thanks for the heads-up on the V.I. movie! I've looked it up on imbd and like Alison said, I too didn't imagine V.I. Warshawski looking like Kathleen Turner. I'm tempted to rent the movie, but am always disappointed by the adaptations from books.

    I look forward to reading more reviews!


  5. Lydia - Sara Paretsky is coming to KC this week. I don't know if I will get to make it to her event plus there is a fee to buy the book which I already have. Anyway, I just thought it was awesome to see her touring and hitting Kansas City.

  6. oh alison, this is crazy! I've heard of VI for years!!! knew there was a movie, may have even watched it...but i was introduced to Sara from Bleeding Kansas - which we've discussed bunches and I've told you how much I like. Is she starting her tour here? She lives in PV I think! Bleeding Kansas is NOT a mystery it is more of a glad to read more of her work, shall we travel to the library tomorrow night too?