Total Recall by Sara Paretsky (Delacorte), 414 pages, $39.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Nobody does mystery better than Sara Paretsky. Total Recall, which is in no way related to the sci-fi Arnie movie by the same name, is her 11th book featuring lawyer-turned-private-eye V.I. (Victoria) Warshawski.This time around, the intrigue surrounds Warshawski's surrogate mother figure, Lotty Herschel, who was smuggled out of Germany 50 years earlier, during the Holocaust, but lost all known relatives to the death camps. Wartime secrets and Nazi fraud are thrust into the light when an unknown man claims to have recovered memories of his childhood that mysteriously intertwine with Lotty's.
Meanwhile, Warshawski has been hired to investigate an insurance firm that seems to be scamming money from people in Chicago's black neighbourhoods. Random-seeming protests initiated by leaders of the Jewish and black communities appear to be related. Or are they? Warshawski repeatedly debunks what the reader knows to be true, and, with backup from her 70-year-old neighbour, proves again that things aren't what they seem.
What sets Paretsky's work apart from pulp genre writers is the complexity of her plots and the richness of her characters. Warshawski's comfortable in the high-class world of insurance execs and concert musicians, yet street-smart and not quite law-abiding. She has a past, grows older, develops (and jeopardizes) friendships and invariably believes in the little guy. She's an ordinary person, with foibles and strengths, who makes the same connections that the reader would make in her situation.
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