Overboard is Sara Paretsky's 21st novel featuring her Chicago private detective, Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, known as V.I., who debuted fictionally 40 years ago in Indemnity Only. The rest, is as they say, crime fiction history.
Paretsky has said that V.I. provides her with "a voice to the world", a voice Paretsky acknowledges, has "become more sombre" over the decades.
Paretsky wrote the novel during the first year of the pandemic, which becomes incorporated into her "own fears that bleed into the novel". Overboard is darker than usual, with its background of a Trumpian, pandemic-inflicted, America, replete with economic and racial inequalities.
Paretsky's championing of social justice issues certainly play out in Overboard, which opens with V. I.'s two dogs finding a teenage girl lying injured on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The girl only manages to issue one word to V.I. before she becomes unconscious.
The main police investigator Lieutenant Scott Coney, renowned for his violence towards witnesses, refuses to believe that V. I. doesn't know the girl or her background. When the still-unidentified girl disappears from the Chicago hospital, and the two people closely involved with her in the hospital are killed, it is clear this is no simple case.
Finding the missing girl takes V. I. down a dark investigative pathway that will involve significant personal danger. V. I. Is confronted by police aggression and surveillance, a disgruntled mob leader and real-estate corruption involving the forced selling of the homes of residents in a privatised aged-care home.
The main plot-line also includes the activities of the dysfunctional Litvak family, the vandalism of a synagogue, where V.I.'s long-standing characters Lotty and Max Herschel are members, and flashbacks to V. I.'s early years in South Chicago.
In Overboard, V. I. is beaten up by both police and gangsters, dives into a river to escape being killed and is imprisoned in a cellar facing death. This raises the question of V. I.'s age. While Paretsky has tinkered with her age in a previous novel, V. I. still seems young enough to absorb the considerable physical punishment she receives.
Paretsky has not aged V.I. like Ian Rankin's John Rebus, rather using the fictional non-ageing formula, as adopted by Lee Child in his Jack Reacher novels.
Paretsky has said that Overboard, written under lockdown, was much more difficult to bring together, the complicated plot-line going through seven drafts.
This does show in terms of narrative flow, but, while it may not be the best V. I. novel in the series, it has more than enough character depth and action for the global legion of Paretsky fans.
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