Sara Paretsky

Putnam 2003
A book review by Danny Yee © 2003
On a mundane assignment to check out night-time lights in a deserted mansion in a wealthy suburb outside Chicago, private investigator V.I. Warshawski comes across the body of a black journalist. The local police write it off as an accident, but she persists in following it up, even when warned away by her original client. Soon she is embroiled in the financial and sexual intrigues of the local elite, going back three generations, to the politics of the 1950s and further.

Politics pervades Blacklist. Much of the history that Warshawski uncovers is tied up with McCarthyite anti-communism and the activities of HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee. And in the present, Warshawski's lover Morell is on assignment in Afghanistan, while she herself gets caught up in anti-terrorist investigations carried out under the Patriot Act. The parallels — and something of her own politics — are obvious, but Paretsky avoids any hint of the didactic and never allows the politics to overpower the plot.

Blacklist maintains a steady pacing, with continuous tension, and kept me involved to the end. Some aspects of Warshawski's life seem idealised — the perfect father figure of next-door neighbour Mr Contreras, for example — but she herself is convincingly human. Indeed I found the descriptions of her cold near the beginning a little too convincing for comfort, since I read Blacklist while down with the flu myself. Some of the other characters are also nice sketches, notably the sixteen year old girl and the ninety-one year old woman whose trust Warshawski has to gain.

Overall? It's not spectacular, but it's solidly entertaining detective fiction, with some original elements. Blacklist is the first novel by Sara Paretsky I have read, but I'll be keeping an eye out for her others.

August 2003

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%T Blacklist
%A Paretsky, Sara
%I Putnam
%D 2003
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0399150854
%P 415pp