By Sarah Ensor
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Sara Paretsky, Hodder and Stoughton, £12.99
Issue 346

In Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the heroine castigates her husband, Tomáš, for wearing his life and his many affairs so lightly when her own life is heavy. For Sara Paretsky’s detective, VI Warshawski, life is also heavy but she wouldn’t put up with any of Tomáš’s crap.

Her relationship is over, her friends few, her new client hates her and of course at least one person is trying to kill her. The case is that of a missing person – missing for 40 years.

Paretsky’s novels are rooted in Chicago’s actual politics and history. Forty years ago Martin Luther King was marching, and connecting the fight for civil rights to the movement against the Vietnam War. Hate-filled racists felt able to attack black people in the streets with impunity, knowing that the police would look away. Drawing on this history, there is always something appalling for VI to discover.

This time, the pit of racism, corruption, murder, torture, and victims driven mad by state brutality, threatens to swallow her and her young cousin too. It seems that she will have nothing left. When I interviewed Paretsky in 2008 she said that while life doesn’t have happy endings, in crime novels there is usually a sort of happy ending: things get solved and resolved. Here finally the truth is found and there is even hope and some fragile shards of justice.


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