Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Author: Sara Paretsky
Date Finished: August 23, 2008
Lately, I have been trying to expand my reading boundaries and have been picking up several new authors to try. So far, I have yet to be disappointed. I tend to walk along the aisles of the local library until I find someone who has several books and then I pick one up to see if it interests me. This is how I found Sara Paretsky, who writes about a private investigator by the name of V.I. Warshawski (a.k.a. Vic or Victoria). I was not able to find the first book of the series, but the title of this one caught my eye and after reading a quick synopsis, I was hooked.
The story is about a 91 year old wealthy white woman, Geraldine Graham, who lives in a fancy retirement home with a room that overlooks her old mansion. Geraldine believes that she has been seeing a light on in the attic of her old home, but every time the police go out to inspect the premises, they turn up with nothing. The house was abandoned by the family that bought it from the Graham's and has been sitting vacant for a while. Geraldine's son believes his mother's sightings at night are actually a ploy for him to come over and spend more time with her, but to appease his mother, he hires a private investigator that he has on retainer to investigate, Ms. V.I. Warshawski.
Vic is anxious for work, or anything that will help her keep her mind off her lover, Morrell, who is on assignment in Afghanistan and possibly in quite a bit of danger in the post 9-11 war zone. As Vic searches the house one night, she encounters a young girl, who offers no explanation as to why she is there, but Vic ends up getting her hands on something as the girl dashes off into the darkness. Vic then stumbles upon more trouble as she trips on a stone in the path and falls into the pool, where she encounters another body, however, this one is dead. Marcus Whitby, a young African American journalist who Vic discovers in the pool was writing a book about a blacklisted African dancer and anthropologist who is intertwined with the families she encounters throughout her research. Using the article she was able to take from the young woman she met at the house, Vic finds the mysterious late night girl is none other than Catherine Bayard, whose grandfather owns a large publishing company and is Vic's hero and has been since she heard him speak to one of her classes in college.
A young Arab, who was washing dishes at Catherine's private school has since disappeared and is wanted by several branches of the government and National Security under suspicion of being a terrorist, after it was discovered that the mosque he attends is very politically active. Vic soon discovers that the person hiding in the old Graham house is none other than Benji, the Arab, and he is being looked after by Catherine, who is lying to her grandmother and sneaking out at night to take food and companionship to him. Catherine is able to enter the house and bypass the alarm because of a key that her grandfather has had for years, that no one else seems to remember him having.
Paretsky does a great job of explaining that during the McCarthy Era many people were labeled as "Communist" whether they actually were or not, just by the people they kept company with, their skin color, or the ideas they shared with those they felt they could trust, and in turn were blacklisted. Many authors, publishers, performers and so forth were unable to find work after being labeled as Communists. It was quite similar to the Salem witch hunts, where people were sought out and punished for what others believed them to be. I have always been fascinated with the McCarthy Era and felt this book did a good job of bringing some of the ideas of those days to light.
As the story continues, we learn about the death of another man, who was once a neighbor of the Graham's and Vic discoverers that this is the man that Marcus Whitby may have possibly seen before he was killed and put into the pool. Vic does not feel that the local police are putting in enough effort to find out why a young, black journalist was found dead in the pool of an abandoned mansion in a very wealthy, elitist white neighborhood, so she continues her own research and is determined to find out what happened to Marcus and any connection that the Bayard family may have to his murder.
The deeper she digs the more Vic learns about the families that used to live on this block and how her own client, Darraugh Graham, is involved and has been keeping things from her. His father is not the man that his mother was married to and he idolized all those years, in fact the dad he had was actually a homosexual and was having a relationship with another man in the neighborhood. Darraugh's birth father is none other than Calvin Bayard, the publisher whose own wife has taken over the company and lied and cheated her way to the top. Knowing that she butted her way into Calvin's life, Renee will do anything to protect her family and her husband's reputation. But would she be the mastermind behind all these deaths?? Guess you'll have to read it to find out who actually did the killings and why they were done.
I really enjoyed this book by Sara Partesky and have since learned that this is her 11th novel featuring the main character of V.I. Warshawski. As the story comes to an end, Sara does a great job of wrapping up all the lose ends she created, but leaves you wanting to know more about Vic and what will become of her and Morrell. Is he safe? Why hasn't she heard from him in so long? So many questions that I can't wait to discover the answers to.