Out of the briar patch

Bob Moyer takes a look at the latest fine book in a series that he considers very good indeed.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

FALLOUT. By Sara Paretsky. William Morrow. 448 pages. $27.99.

Fallout_Sara-Paretsky_coverPrivate eye V.I. Warshawski, known as Vick to her friends, has been called a few other things by those who are not her friends — Pit Dog, Douna Quixote and “interfering bitch.”  She’s been solving tough cases in and around Chicago for 18 or so novels now, taking advantage of  “…how to get things done here, who the players are, and what games they cheat at. It’s where my friends are, so if I fall on my face, as we all sometimes do, the people are here who will glue me back together.” In short, she’s comfortable in what she calls her “briar patch.”

When her niece persuades her to track down an African-American documentary filmmaker and his subject who have disappeared, she has to leave the comfort of home for foreign territory — Lawrence, Kansas. Within a short time after her arrival, the African-American community collectively clams up, a woman who calls her with information gets almost killed with an overdose of “roofies,” and both the police and sheriff stonewall her. She’s definitely not in her “briar patch.”

That’s before the body count begins to build. Every time she turns around, another body turns up. With suspicious frequency, so do the sheriff and the commander of the local Army base. Combining conversations with her only resource, her dog Pepper, and her “…gut, that famous residence of detective intuition,” she figures out the source of the danger that made the filmmaker and his subject disappear.

Sara Paretsky places the crime within a context of Lawrence’s complex racial history, as well as the conflict brought about by the presence of a missile base back in the 1980s. She also puts the trademark “oops I didn’t bite my tongue soon enough” dialogue into and out of Vick’s mouth, and of course drops her into mortal danger, the Fallout for knowing too much. It’s another well-planned trip with V.I., the pre-eminent female P.I. in American crime literature.


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