Source: Review copy
Publication: 23 April 2020 from Hodder & Stoughton
Chicago is the city of broad shoulders, but V.I. Warshawski knows its politics: “Pay to Play”. Money changes hands in the middle of the night; by morning, buildings and parks have been replaced by billion-dollar projects.
Private investigator V.I. gets pulled into one of these clandestine deals when her impetuous goddaughter Bernie tries to rescue a famed singer-songwriter, now living on the streets. Thanks to Bernie, V.I. finds herself in the path of some developers whose negotiating strategy is simple: they bulldoze – or kill – any obstacle in their way.
Questions pile up almost as fast as the dead bodies. When she tries to answer them, the detective finds a terrifying conspiracy stretching from Chicago’s parks to a cover-up of the dark chapters in the American government’s interference in South American politics. Before finds answer, V.I. will be pushed closed to breaking point. People who pay to play take no prisoners.
You can always rely on Sara Paretsky. She doesn’t shy away from the tough calls and her hard-boiled investigator, V.I. Warshawski, usually ends up looking the wrong way down the barrel of someone’s gun. That’s especially true of those cases which involve City corruption, money and Corporation greed which is where Paretsky excels.
Her protagonist, Vic Warshawski has been put through hell time and time again, This time will be no different, but it’s good to see that she at least has now settled into a decent relationship with a partner who makes her happy. Vic believes in being on the side of right, and her sense of family loyalty is everything to her, so when her god-daughter Bernie Fouchard asks her along to watch her training students in hockey anfd afterwards to go to a community meeting where there may be trouble, Vic is happy to oblige. Bernie’s young man, Leo, is in charge of computer presentations for SLICK, a community group trying to push through a landfill and beach development on Lake Michigan, which the Park Superintendent, Gifford Taggett is trying to push through.
Then Leo is murdered in the park. A man called Coop is at the meeting with his huge dog, Bear and it’s clear he is no fan of the development proposals. Coop is also the protector of the Lydia Zamir, the singer. Once she was famous, now she is living on the streets and in the park, mentally ill and seriously grieving the loss of her one true love, Hector Palardo. Palardo was murdered in a mass shooting in Kansas, four years previously and Lydia has never got over it.
Vic is wary and surprised when her reporter friend, Murray Ryerson’s bosses are prepared to pay her top dollar to find Lydia, even to the extent of fabricating a film series offer for her.
Vic is also surprised to find that a major law firm for whom her neighbour works, who defended Hector’s killer, is also very keen to find Lydia. Then Coop disappears, leaving Bear to Vic’s tender care and suddenly Vic finds that her life, and the lives of everyone she cares about are in serious danger.
Paretsky’s novel takes on a thrilling ride to the farmlands of Kansas before revealing that the genesis of the action lies in Pinochet’s barbarous Chile and that the politics of the Chicago actions have their roots deep inside the torturous regime. Paretsky has chosen to weave quite a complex web of lies, treachery and deceit and it is one that needs some concentration to follow to its conclusion.
In many ways it is deeply gratifying to find that Paretsky is still set on making Vic the champion of the underdog and of exposing the societal and political issues that beset Chicago and further afield. I just wish Vic didn’t have to get quite so beaten up in the process!
Verdict: Paretsky is true to form in this latest outing for VI Warshawski. All the old favourite characters make an appearance and V.I.’s moral compass points, as ever, true north. Dead Land is vintage Paretsky; long may she reign.
Sara Paretsky was named 2011 Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. She is the winner of many awards, including the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers’ Association and the CWA Gold Dagger for Blacklist. In 2015 she received the Theakstons Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award. She lives on Chicago’s south side.