Book Review: Breakdown By Sara Paretsky
I'm always excited when another one of Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski detective novels comes out. The series has been running a couple decades and I've been following V.I.'s escapades nearly all that time. Paretsky has had her ups and downs with the series, however, including a lamentable period in which she lapsed into a bit of socio-political preachiness. But for the most part, Warshawski's female private eye escapades have been fun and lively.
The latest, Breakdown, is an up-to-the-minute romp featuring pre-teens who are crazy about a series of books featuring "Carmilla," a shapeshifter who can turn into a raven. In the Carmilla books, there's a lot of werewolf and vampire activity too, which brings to mind the recent rash of teen books devoted to sexy vampires. In Breakdown, V.I. (which is short for Victoria Iphigenia--what a mouthful!), stumbles across the girls doing some sort of initiation ceremony in a dark cemetery in the rain. All the girls are out after curfew and V.I.'s cousin Petra has been frantic to know where they are. After V.I. rounds them up, they turn to leave, only to find that a man has been laid out on a tomb perilously close to where the girls were frolicking, and he's been pierced through the heart with a large hunk of steel.
Instead of leaving in the orderly way planned, everyone goes screaming through the night, and it's V.I. who has to explain everything to the police.
A quite Byzantine plot ensues, one much more complicated than most Paretsky has dreamed up. It involves one parent of a Carmilla girl who is running for senator vs. a hateful crone who spews lies on a television station that is a dead ringer for FOX News. The dead man at the scene of the crime turns out to be another private investigator like V.I., but not one with her sense of morals. He's been blackmailing anyone he can get a few bucks out of, thus he's made enemies galore. So, there are a plethora of bad guys to check out. Then there's the case of V.I.'s former law school pal Leydon Ashford who has gone bi-polar, but still has her faculties together enough to know that something's wrong out a state mental hospital. Somehow it ties into the death at the cemetery. Then Leydon is pushed off a balcony at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel, and her voice goes silent.
V.I. (or Vic, as some call her) dashes from the homes of the rich girls' parents to the bleak mental hospital to the right-wing news station, all trying to make the facts fit together. She even visits her ex-husband at his big-bucks law firm and finds out his company was hiring the dead P.I. There seem to be so many holes in the stories she hears that she despairs of ever hearing the truth. And, frankly, the reader begins to despair also. I had trouble just keeping the names of the young girls straight. But the main story all seems to hinge on Wade Layton, a right-wing broadcaster cut in the Glenn Beck mold, who tends to go on the air slashing at his victims without looking up the facts. When Vic, sets her sights on something specific he keeps harping on, the case begins to piece together. It nearly gets her killed, but it does solve the case.Continued on the next page