Total Recall by Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky, for those who have not read her before, writes traditional hard-boiled mysteries set in Chicago.  Her detective, V.I (Vic) Warshawski, is half Polish and half Italian and grew up in the tough neighborhoods of South Chicago.  Vic’s father was a police officer, but she made her way through law school and built up an independent private eye firm.  Her cases have taken her all over the city from the best neighborhoods to the worst and she has dealt with the criminal underworld as well as the politicians and local leaders.

Yet this brief description doesn’t do this series justice.  All of Warshawski’s cases have much more to them than a simple murder mystery.  Total Recall, for example, begins with a recent widow finding out that the life insurance company has denied her claim because someone reported her husband dead ten years ago and claimed the money. Not only does her nephew have to pay for the funeral, but then both of them are considered suspects in insurance fraud. Warshawski is hired to clear their names. Following the trail of this mystery leads her to a somewhat sketchy insurance company, and then suddenly a murder, possibly involving a local African American minister with political aspirations.

Meanwhile, old friends of Vic’s are being stalked by a man who claims to have recovered his past memories as a Holocaust survivor and believes he is a long lost relative.  Her friend Lottie has never discussed her past and does not want to talk about it now, but she swears he cannot be a relative.  After Lottie faints upon seeing the man, Vic is very worried and begins to investigate the man’s claims.

Paretsky’s mystery novels are always complex, and this one is no exception.  Regression hypnotherapy, Slave Reparations, recovering the lost property of Holocaust victims, and corruption in large companies are all topics that somehow converge into a fascinating story.  In addition, the author’s descriptions of the various ethnic neighborhoods and the somewhat corrupt political system in Chicago really give you a feel for the city.  Mystery fans should try this novel, or better still, start with the first in the series, Indemnity Only.

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