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A V. I. Warshawski Novel

A-BreakdownSara Paretsky is best known for her V. I. Warshawski novels, which feature Chicago's gritty female private investigator. Reviewed: Body Work (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2010), part of the series, and Bleeding Kansas (3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2008), a stand-alone novel. Breakdown is the 15th in the series.

The Story: When V. I. Warshawski looks for a group of tweens who are performing an initiation ceremony based on their favorite author's vampire books in an abandoned cemetery, the last thing she expects to find is a man staked through the heart. The victim turns out to be a sleazy PI, and V. I. comes under suspicion. The case takes on further complications (like a Rubik's Cube, V. I. thinks) when a right-wing news corporation focuses on two of the girls' relations to some of Chicago's powerful, wealthy left-wingers. With loose threads everywhere, V. I. finds herself caught up in a vicious media campaign, antiimmigrant hysteria, a Holocaust survivor's tale, bigotry, and a state mental institution. And that's enough for our hot-tempered heroine.
Putnam. 448 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780399157837

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars"In lesser hands, the sheer number of coincidences and connections that fuel the plot of Breakdown might be a problem. But the story moves so quickly you don't really have time to object. And you don't really want to, because the dialogue is sharp, the satire of politics and media institutions downright biting, and the descriptions hilarious." Jessica Garrison

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars"No one would call Paretsky a nuanced writer, and there are times when she sounds as shrill as [faux-populist journalist Wade] Lawlor, whose televised rants against illegal aliens leave him with ‘spit flecking his lips.' But her cause is righteous, and she certainly knows her enemy." Marilyn Stasio

Chicago Sun-Times 3 of 5 Stars"The popularity and charm of V.I. Warshawski continue in this new novel, but chucking into these cookie-cutter stories a few nods to recent events, without dramatically transforming the woman over all this time, makes this book a pastime when once they were considered required reading. Breakdown reads like fanatic literature, but the fan in this case is the original author, who may be on cruise control when it comes to the caretaking of a groundbreaking character." M. E. Collins

Critical Summary

Paretsky doesn't take any risks in Breakdown, a political and social satire, but it's nonetheless a worthy entry in the V. I. Warshawski series. Paretsky's tried-and-true formula--take some hot-button issues, add in some surprises like vampires and social media, and tuck the lot into the "familiar narrative of an Agatha Christie story from a bygone age" (Chicago-Sun Times)--generally works. Although the novel may feel a little cliched in some parts and overstuffed with plot twists and characters in others, critics felt that this was all part of the fun. Breakdown may not be the best in the series, but it's a solid entry for longtime fans. "Go get the book if you want a quick Sunday afternoon read," concludes the Chicago Sun-Times.