V. I. Warshawski learns the truth of the adage “No good deed goes unpunished” in Sara Paretsky’s Breakdown (Putnam: Jan. 3, 2012 release). An urgent request from her cousin Petra for help in locating young Kira Dudek sends V.I. to Chicago’s Mount Moriah Cemetery. There she finds not only Kira, but also six other girls who are members of a reading group Petra sponsors on behalf of her employer, the Malina Foundation.
Inspired by a highly popular series of books about a shape-shifting raven known as Carmilla, Queen of the Night, the girls have chosen the abandoned cemetery as the ideal site for their Carmilla Club’s initiation ceremony. V.I.’s discovery of the corpse of private investigator Miles Wuchnik on a nearby grave halts these proceedings.
Concerned for the girls’ safety, V.I. gets them away from the cemetery before the police arrive. However, her actions lead conservative broadcaster Wade Lawlor of the Global Entertainment Network to suggest that she herself may have played a role in Wuchnik’s death.
V.I. begins her own investigation into the case, one which brings her once again into the very separate worlds that divide the rich from the poor. The members of the Carmilla Club illustrate this dichotomy.
Although Kira Dudek and her sister Lucy are part of an impoverished immigrant family, their friend Arielle Zitter is the granddaughter of billionaire Chaim Salanter. Nia Durango’s mother is Sophy Durango, the Democratic senatorial candidate.
Breakdown provides ample grounds for Paretsky’s focus on issues of social justice that have been part of her V.I. Warshawski series ever since the 1982 publication of her debut novel, Indemnity Only. Paretsky continues to convey her viewpoint dramatically rather than didactically, allowing her books to be entertaining as well as thought-provoking.
“Paretsky plays out her trademark political and social themes not with rhetoric, but with a compelling story of lives shattered by pride, greed and fear of the unknown,” stated Kirkus Reviews concerning Paretsky 2010 novel Body Work. The comment applies equally well to her technique in Breakdown.
Sara Paretsky received significant recognition for her writing skill during the past year. The Mystery Writers of America named her as its 2011 Grand Master; Bouchercon 2011 presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Shamus Awards honored her character, V.I. Warshawski, with its Hammer Award for Best P.I. Series Character.
Paretsky has long been acknowledged for her innovative role in creating a female detective who is distinct from the stereotypes of her time. Paretsky speaks of this accomplishment with Elysabeth Alfano, host of the Chicago television program of Fear No ART, in the accompanying video.
FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this work was provided by Putnam.