Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on July 28, 2015
"Romeo would have vanished without a single metaphor if Juliet had appeared on her balcony looking like this." Sentences like that keep me coming back to Sara Paretsky. So do good stories and believable characters. Brush Back is a strong entry in a strong series.
In a story that focuses on Chicago politics, Chicago cops, Chicago's south side neighborhoods, and Chicago sports (Cubs and Blackhawks), Peretsky celebrates and derides the Windy City with love and honesty. The city's history of corruption -- its commingling of crime with politics and law enforcement -- is never whitewashed, yet it's clear that V.I. Warshawski loves no view more than Chicago's skyline as seen from the shores of Lake Michigan.
A high school boyfriend from Chicago's south side wants Warshawski to help his mother, Stella Guzzo, who has just finished a 20 year sentence for killing her daughter Annie. Given that Stella called Warshawski's mother a whore at the mother's funeral, Warshawski has no desire to help Stella. Inevitably, Warshawski returns to South Chicago and pokes her nose into Annie's death. Her investigation quickly changes course after Stella accuses Warshawski's cousin, long-deceased hockey star "Boom Boom" Warshawski, of committing the murder.
Stella was defended twenty years earlier by an easily manipulated young lawyer of marginal competence, but why did he take the case? What secrets is he keeping? Warshawski's investigation takes her to various law offices, to old acquaintances of Stella's lawyer, to Wrigley Field, to a trucking company, to a priest, to a retired judge, and to the police department (involuntarily) when a character who seemed to be on the periphery of the story suddenly turns up dead. That death begins a second murder mystery. There are a handful of suspects who may have killed Annie (including Stella) and maybe a dozen who might have killed the more recent victim. Eventually we learn of a missing person and another murder. Of course, Warshawski's job (and the reader's) is to tie the mysteries together and figure out who did what and why.
The most engaging subplot involves a teenage relative who is staying with Warshawski and who makes her feel old. Plot complications and twists abound but the story is always easy to follow, thanks in part to internal summaries that fit naturally into the narrative.
Paretsky generates credible tension with a good bit of action toward the end. One of the final action scenes pushes the bounds of credibility, but less so than most modern thrillers. Warshawski is a familiar character and she doesn't change significantly in this novel, but not every series entry needs to involve character evolution. Brush Back does, however, shed some new light on Warshawski's past. The solid plot, the clever resolution of the mysteries, and Paretsky's winning prose are easily enough to make me recommend Brush Back.