PUBLISHED September 2003
Eager for physical action in the spirit-numbing wake of 9/11, V.I. Warshawski is glad to take on a routine stake-out for her most important client, Darraugh Graham. His ninety-one year-old mother has sold the family estate, but Geraldine Graham keeps a fretful eye on it from her retirement apartment across the road. When Geraldine sees lights there in the middle of the night, Darraugh sends V.I. out to investigate—and the detective finds a dead journalist in the ornamental pond. The man is an African-American; when the suburban cops seem to be treating him as a criminal who stumbled to a drunken death, his family hires V.I. to investigate.
As she retraces the dead reporter’s tracks, V.I. finds herself in the middle of a Gothic tale of sex, money, and power. The trail leads her back to the McCarthy era blacklists, and forward to the ominous police powers the American government has assumed today. V.I. finds herself penned into a smaller and smaller space by an array of business and political leaders who can call on the power of the Patriot Act to shut her up. Only her wits, and an unusual alliance she forges with Geraldine Graham and a sixteen year old girl save her.
Reviews and Quotes
The dependable delights of a Warshawski novel are also in abundant supply: witty dialogue, Warshawski’s “bad girl” behavior when confronted by authority, taut action scenes, sharp social commentary and the return visits of series regulars like Lotty Herschel and the always fretting Mr. Contreras. The real triumph of Blacklist, however, is the intelligence it brings to bear on the once again urgent issues of political dissent and national security: Whatever your views on those subjects, this is a provocative mystery that should prompt you to examine them more rigorously.
— Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
Chicago private eye V.I. (“Vic”) Warshawski needs all her strength and ingenuity to deal with the tragic effects of discrimination past and present in this riveting exploration of guilt and fear, the 12th installment in Paretsky’s stellar series. Longtime client Darraugh Graham asks Vic to investigate his mother Geraldine’s suspicion that trespassers are living in the empty mansion her father built in the suburban Chicago enclave where she has spent most of her life. Vic literally tumbles into trouble when, upon falling into a pond on the property, she comes up clutching the hand of a dead man. He is identified as Marcus Whitby, a young African-American journalist who was writing about members of the 1930s Federal Negro Theater Project especially a beautiful Negro dancer once championed by local liberals and blacklisted during the Communist witch hunt. Hired by Marcus’s sister to look into his death, Vic spans cultures and generations in her investigation. Is Benji, the young Arab student sheltered in the mansion’s attic by 16-year-old Catherine Bayard (whose politically daring publisher grandfather Calvin was once Vic’s hero), somehow connected? Whether or not he has terrorist ties, Benji is at risk, so after Vic finds him she persuades Father Lou, a tough but caring community activist, to hide him in spite of post-9/11 dictums. Digging deeper, Vic must face disturbing allegations about Calvin Bayard and the likelihood that her lover, Morrell, on assignment in Afghanistan, is in danger. Paretsky reminds us that although victims change, prejudice is still alive and all too well. With this top-notch offering, she earns another vote of confidence for V.I. — Publishers Weekly
Warshawski is a kind of female Sam Spade: gritty, passionate, able to take care herself. But she is also subject to the doubts and insecurities of the average woman. Her lover is in Afghanistan and consequently difficult to contact, so despite her numerous adventures, a recurring theme is her fear that she is a modern-day Penelope, “acting like the woman of tradition, home alone and anxious” while her lover travels the world. An exhilerating narrative is interspersed with touching details of this anxiety and the resulting loneliness. The novel’s great achievement is its ability to work on many levels, as a puzzle, a thriller, a thoughtful study of two periods of political turmoil and a portrait of a brave, highly principled but vulnerable woman. Existing crime fans will be delighted while new readers will find themselves as pleasantly surprised and won over as I was. — The London Times Literary Supplement