Among the first, and perhaps the most compelling, female private investigators of contemporary fiction, Sara Paretsky's incomparable character V. I. Warshawski at last returns to the page in her first full-length appearance since 1994's Tunnel Vision. Hard Time is the work of a master--a riveting novel of suspense that is indisputably Paretsky's best V.I. Warshawski novel yet. Multimedia conglomerate Global Entertainment has purchased the Chicago Herald-Star, forcing the paper's staff to scramble to stay employed. Reporter Murray Ryerson, V.I.'s longtime friend and sometime rival, manages to reinvent himself as the host of a television show on Global's network.
On her way home from a party celebrating Murray's debut, V.I. almost runs over a woman lying in the street. Stopping to help, V.I. soon learns that her Good Samaritan act will drop her squarely in a boiling intrigue. In a case that forces her to go head-to-head with one of the world's largest providers of private security and prison services, a case that exposes dark hidden truths behind the razzle-dazzle of the entertainment industry, V.I. will be ahead of the game if she gets out alive.
V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky's tough-talking, dog-loving, justice-seeking private investigator has been missing in action since 1994, when she ratted out a big city political scandal on the streets of Chicago in Tunnel Vision. But now our Vic is back for her ninth adventure--a wee bit older, a tad more jaded, and as broke as ever. It all begins when Warshawski weasels an invitation to the hottest event in town, a glitzy party celebrating television's brightest new star, Lacey Dowell, or, as she's better known, the Mad Virgin. Vic's old pal (and one-time fling) Murray Ryerson now works for Global Enterprises, the corporate giant behind the Lacey sensation. On the way back from the party, Vic almost runs over a woman lying in the middle of the road, her Mad Virgin T-shirt soaked in blood from an earlier beating. The victim, Nicola Aguinaldo, dies in hospital, and Vic quickly realizes that a particularly nasty cop, Detective Lemour, intends to frame her for vehicular homicide. Her anger at these absurd charges hits the boiling point when Nicola's body disappears from the morgue before an autopsy can be carried out. Why was this woman, an escapee from the local Coolis prison, so important to Lemour? And why does the whole Mad Virgin phenomenon smell so rotten? "I didn't want to dive into Nicola Aguinaldo's wreck," V.I. grouses, "but it felt as though someone had climbed up behind me on the high board to give me a shove." In her search for answers, Warshawski runs afoul of Global Enterprises magnate Edmund Trant, and Robert Baladine, the head honcho of the nation's biggest security firm. They have enough clout to have V.I. thrown into Coolis for another crime she did not commit. But incarceration gives the resourceful Vic a perfect opportunity to snoop into Nicola's last days there--and uncover a sensational scandal.
As she has done throughout the series, Paretsky brilliantly juxtaposes strikingly different environments. Here she contrasts the dilapidated environs of the jail with the exorbitant homes of Chicago's filthy rich. In fact, readers who have anxiously awaited V.I. Warshawski's return will be glad to find that little has changed in her world. Mitch and Peppy the wonder dogs are as endearing as ever, her landlord, Mr. Contreras, is his normal fearless self, and V.I. is victorious. It really is like coming home. --Naomi Gesinger