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Sara Paretsky’s ‘Overboard’ plunges into darkness

After Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski finds an unconscious teen on the lakeshore, some very bad people pursue them.
Sara Paretsky's new novel, "Overboard," is her 22nd about Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski.
Sara Paretsky's new novel, "Overboard," is her 22nd about Chicago detective V.I. Warshawski. [ Steven Gross ]
Published May 19

Blame it on the dog.

V.I. Warshawski’s dog doesn’t eat her homework — he drags her right into a perilous case in Overboard.

This is author Sara Paretsky’s 22nd novel about the indomitable Chicago private investigator, and Warshawski — Vic to her friends — is as tough as ever, and as likely to take the side of the underdog.

Speaking of dogs, as the book begins, Vic is walking her two dogs, Mitch and Peppy, by the lake when Mitch breaks free and races down a hillside covered in boulders and concrete debris. He won’t come back, so Vic has to maneuver down to where he’s intent on a crevice — in which she finds an unconscious teenage girl.

The injured girl wakes only long enough to utter a single mysterious word — “Nagyi” — before paramedics arrive. She regains consciousness in the hospital but won’t speak or respond to anyone, including a blustery cop whose name no one seems to know.

Vic has plenty of paying clients she could be working for, but the girl’s case intrigues her. Then the girl vanishes from the hospital, and Vic is hooked. She’s not the only one interested. Several different cops question her about the Jane Doe, and some of them seem to be looking for something the girl might have in her possession.

And then people connected to the girl’s hospital stay start turning up dead.

While Vic is trying to identify the girl, she’s also trying to help some friends. Ilona and Emilio Pariente are an elderly couple whose synagogue has been vandalized with antisemitic graffiti, and she’s advising them on security measures.

Things get more complicated when, in the course of repairing the damage, they discover the insurance has lapsed. Then Vic hears from a high-powered real estate developer who just happens to be interested in the property.

When Vic finally makes contact with the teenage Jane Doe, it turns out that she has a connection to a different property that developers are hungering for, a decaying mansion on Goose Island in the Chicago River. It’s owned by a woman who first came to the U.S. as a refugee from Hungary, but she’s now in a nursing home under suspicious circumstances.

Vic takes the girl in — of course — with the help of her stalwart 92-year-old neighbor, Mr. Contreras. One of the pleasures of the Warshawski books is their recurring supporting cast, like nurturing Mr. Contreras, fierce doctor Lotty Herschel and intrepid reporter Murray Ryerson, all of whom make appearances in Overboard.

Vic also gets involved with an unlikely bunch of allies who have appeared in earlier books: the Litvak family, her nemeses since they were all children together in South Chicago. With a mostly absent father and drunken mother, oldest sister Sonia rode herd on her four brothers, three of whom were “boosting booze and cigarettes from delivery trucks and selling them out of the Litvak garage” when they were barely in their teens. The Litvaks detest Vic because her father was a cop, and because they think she’s a goody two-shoes — they call her “Saint Victoria of the Mills.”

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The Litvak brother she gets along with worst is Donny, so it’s a surprise when his teenage son, Brad, comes to her for help. That’s only the first surprise the Litvaks have in store.

Vic often encounters brutal cops in the course of her work, but in Overboard she keeps running into one of the worst, Scott Coney, who beats her up more than once and menaces people less able to defend themselves than she is.

In pursuit of the truth about rapacious developers, skeevy nursing home operators and corrupt cops, Vic ends up in a lot of places she doesn’t want to be, from a shift on a nursing home cleaning crew to a dunking in the polluted Chicago River to a frightening visit to the Chicago Police Department’s infamous Homan Square station.

How is it all connected? With Warshawski on the case, finding out is a dark ride.

Overboard cover
Overboard cover [ William Morrow ]

Overboard

By Sara Paretsky

William Morrow, 400 pages, $28.99

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