Monday, October 19, 2009


Burn Marks, Sara Paretsky, Delacorte Press, 1990, 340 pp

In her sixth V I Warshawski mystery, an old friend from the detective's days as a public defender solicits her support in a political campaign. No sooner does V I contribute a check and appear at a party, than she is accused of prying into her friend's affairs and told to back off. At the same time, Aunt Elena, the derelict sister of V I's deceased father, appears after being left homeless because her fleabag hotel has burned to the ground.

Before long a combination of possible arson, unethical practices in granting contracts for Chicago's newest urban renewal project, and another burnt down hotel have V I neglecting her paying clients and fearing for her life, as usual. The police don't believe her and even her closest friend Dr Hershel tells her to leave the whole mess alone. But V I's sense of justice and a certain stubborn disregard for good sense, drives her to find the answers.

So finely tuned is Paretsky's writing that I was truly worried about the possibility that this was it for Warshawski, though I knew that she appeared in six more mysteries. Even the humor that usually provides moments of light is in short supply here. But two new factors enter into the picture. V I does not learn any lessons about taking better care of herself but she seems to have achieved some perspective. She can stand up for what is right on a case by case basis but she cannot put the whole city of Chicago right.

In the end, she also gets her point across to Bobby, her arch nemesis in the police department, as she gains a deeper understanding of the various ethnic tensions that make up her city. In this way and throughout all her books, Paretsky explains the uniqueness of Chicago and makes it more than just another American urban center. That is an impressive feat and keeps this author many levels above any other mystery series writer I have read.

(This book is available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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