Sara Paretsky | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sara Paretsky 

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Demonstrating a certain prescience or, as she's said, a desire to get an inconvenient love interest out of the way, Sara Paretsky sent V.I. Warshawski's journalist lover to Afghanistan to cover the Taliban at the end of her last novel, Total Recall (published September 9, 2001). In Paretsky's new book, Blacklist (Putnam), Chicago PI Warshawski does her detecting amid 9/11 domestic fallout. The mechanics of the story, more political than usual for Paretsky, cast Warshawski's familiar run-ins with the police inside the shrinking civil rights noose of the Patriot Act; the mystery lies in a secretive nest of fellow travelers, traitors, slumming aristocrats, and Bronzeville artists, and the specter of proto-McCarthy hearings hangs over all. It's the "proto" that's a particular strength and vulnerability of Paretsky's books, which are set so specifically in place--nobody has ever described the demands of Chicago driving with such tenacious exactitude--that the fictional parts occasionally stick out like a 555 phone prefix. But when Paretsky successfully balances her commitment to realism with her interest in social issues, the result is always gripping. In the case of Blacklist--her 11th Warshawski novel--it's a roiled-up story of names and old secrets that untangles with a bit more metered momentum than breathless plot development, but Paretsky's ability to spin a complicated tale is as good as ever. Though she conveniently shoots her way out of one critical conflict, Paretsky has hit a new stride in her last three books, and Warshawski continues to illustrate, 20 years on, the virtues of action in a world that never stops talking, at least not when the secrets start to spill. Paretsky reads at 7:30 PM Tuesday, October 28, at Barnes & Noble, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, 847-676-2230, and at 7 PM Wednesday, October 29, at Borders Books & Music, 830 N. Michigan, 312-573-0564.

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