"This older guy, he's kind of crude, and he can't keep his hands to himself. So first I kidded him, you know, going, 'Whoa, buster, seems like your fingers kind of forgot curfew. Better tell 'em to stay home where they belong.' Well, that was like slapping a whale with a goldfish -- totally useless. So the next time I kicked him good on the shin, and he talked to Olympia, and she came to me and said I couldn't go around kicking customers. So I explained what happened, and she said, Are you sure? And I said, I know what a hand feels like when it's inside my pants, and she said, if I overlooked it, there'd be something extra in my pay envelope. But--"
"Quit." I said flatly "If Olympia is running drugs -- and a bar is a perfect Laundromat for drug money -- you don't want to be there when the cops shut her down. And if she's pimping for some sleazoid, you need to run for the exit."
"I will if I have to. But Vic, it's almost four hundred a week in tips I'm getting there, pretty much tax-free. And my day job, I don't know how much longer they'll keep me on. Would you -- I know it's a lot to ask, but could you--"
"What, shoot him?"
Synopsis: VI Warshawski might be getting old and finally reaping some of the karmic payback of her terrible twenties and thirties, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still know how to party, social justice-style.
In the 14th installment of Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski series, the aging, cynical detective again finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time: while checking out The Body Artist, a controversial new performer who lets a Chicago nightclub audience paint on her naked body, Vic chases after two arguing patrons, one of whom is shot and dies in her arms.
I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me.
Nonetheless! When Warshawski is hired the next morning by the father of the angry Gulf War veteran charged with the crime, her initial reluctance to dig too deeply gives way to the familiar perverse delight Warshawski takes in shaking trees and turning over stones, and giving whatever emerges a good swift kick.
Aided by her niece Petra, geriatric super-hero landlord Mr Contreras and a handful of surprisingly sympathetic minor characters, Warshawski fights the good fight on multiple fronts: in addition to working on the murder, the P.I. becomes fascinated by the mysterious Body Artist and the club who was showcasing her wares. If, like Warshawksi, you suspect that basically no one in Chicago is telling the truth, ever, you’re halfway right.
While this story felt like one of Warshawski’s tamer cases, the plot was still gritty and believable, and Paretsky tackles the bias and trauma faced by of Gulf War veterans -- both abroad and at home -- with skill. But the main attraction of the stories remains Warshawski and her cast of North Racine Irregulars.
Reviewer Julia M. Walker has written that Warshawski “hasn't aged well. She still lives hand-to-mouth, still takes stupid risks (no, not all risks are stupid, but most of Vic's are, willfully so); she still hurts the people she loves -- both of them -- and has failed to form any adult friendships, having instead surrogates whose shins she can kick: a mother and a dog-sharing grandpa.”
I only partially agree. It’s clear Warshawski still enjoys getting under people’s skin (Warshawski has a couple of exquisitely immature moments when she expertly torments the club’s owner for no apparent reason) she’s definitely begun to pick her battles. She’s no longer, as Lotty once accused, the “dog that has to get down in the pit -- the ring -- and fight every damn person, even its friends”.
Instead, and especially with her impressionable niece, Warshawski has developed a weary kind of patience with her inner circle by accepting finally, in part, that they long used a similar forbearance to deal with her.
Warshawski is both aware of her failings and still stubbornly refusing to move past them, rightly recognizing that her flinty personality is a double-edged blade. Here, Warshawski wields that personality like a knife, cutting through the conspiracy of lies at the heart of this above-average entry in the Warshawski canon.