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Hard Time Summary

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 28)

Sara Paretsky is the author of the consistently best-selling and highly acclaimed series of mystery novels featuring V. I. Warshawski, a Chicago lawyer turned private investigator who is known for her toughness, her personal integrity, and her persistence in solving crimes, especially those whose victims are the downtrodden. In this, the tenth novel in the series that started with Indemnity Only in 1982, V. I. needs all the determination and strength she can bring to bear against a multiplicity of corrupt and murderous forces.

The novel opens at a party at the Golden Glow, the neighborhood bar run by V. I.’s friend Sal Barthele. Chicago’s glitterati and the media are swarming to see Hollywood star Lacey Dowell, “The Mad Virgin,” currently back in her home city to make a new film. The bar was chosen by Murray Ryerson, a former reporter and now a budding television personality. In the past, Murray played a supportive role in several of V. I.’s cases, but he is now enamored with what V. I. calls the “mediagenic set.” Murray’s willingness to go along with the television and film moguls and other power brokers rather than trust V. I., his onetime lover, forms one of the continuing threads of the novel.

By the end of the first chapter, titled “Media Circus,” V. I. has seen several persons connected to the far- ranging case in which she will soon be unwittingly involved. These include Edmund Trant, head of Global’s Midwest operations (which include the television station where Murray Ryerson works as well as the film studios producing the Lacey Dowell films); Alexandra Fisher, one of Global’s lawyers, who turns out to have been a classmate of V. I.’s years ago when they were in law school, though then she went under her real name, Sandy Fishbein; Jean-Claude Poilevy, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives; and Lucien Frenada, a young man who, upon learning that V. I. is a private investigator, mentions that he has been having problems at the plant he owns and takes her business card. Lucien says he grew up with Lacey Dowell. A few minutes later V. I. sees him talking to Lacey, but almost immediately a security guard hustles him away and out the door. Thus begins V. I.’s involvement in what immediately escalates into a complicated and repeatedly life-threatening case extending over the next three months.

As she is driving down a dark and isolated street with her assistant Mary Louise Neely and Neely’s foster daughter Emily Messenger, V. I. sees a body in the middle of the road and swerves to avoid it. Mary Louise screams and grabs V. I.’s arm, spinning the car into a fire hydrant. The woman V. I. avoided hitting is barely breathing, the front of her body black with blood. V. I. phones for help, and soon paramedics and a squad car arrive. The next morning, before V. I. is awake, two plainclothes detectives, Lemour and Palgrave, try to barge into her apartment. Mr. Contreras, V. I.’s protective downstairs neighbor, comes up with Peppy and Mitch, the golden retrievers that he and V. I. share, racing ahead of him. Lemour kicks at Mitch. He repeatedly calls V. I. “Warshki,” despite her correction that it is “Warshawski,” and accuses her of manslaughter, hit and run, and refusing to take a breath analyzer test. The police report from the previous night has disappeared. The police officers finally leave, saying they are going to impound V. I.’s Trans Am for evidence.

V. I. arranges to have her car inspected by a private laboratory before Lemour can plant evidence or falsify the report. Her insurance company offers her no help for the battered, ten-year-old Trans Am or for a rental car. Chronically short on money, Warshawski pays for an old Buick Skylark. She learns that the injured woman had died shortly after being taken to Beth Israel Hospital, where V. I.’s longtime friend Dr. Lotty Herschel works. The attending doctor’s report indicated a severely ruptured abdominal cavity that...

(The entire section is 1,920 words.)