Sara Paretsky’s been writing crime novels for more than twenty years and she just keeps getting better and better. Despite this, there will be a lot of people who won’t like the latest in her V I Warshawski series, Breakdown. In fact, I’d suggest that viewers of Fox News and many readers of the Herald Sun are likely to find themselves even more apoplectic than usual if they happen to pick up this novel, which features a right-wing shock-jock of a familiar kind. No punches pulled here, and little attempt to persuade or convince – this is Paretsky letting loose a mountain of built-up frustration.
And you know what? I love that. I love that in a time when everything is workshopped and focus-grouped within an inch of its life to appeal to the broadest possible market, Paretsky was unafraid to alienate a few people and say what she really thought. I’m sure there are plenty like me who thoroughly enjoy the overdue pasting she gives the right-wing media, but I'm equally sure she has lost readers over the politics of the book. And I reckon she doesn't care.
The book is more than just a polemic, of course. It’s a cleverly-crafted thriller and Paretsky shows she’s a sharp observer of both trends and people – a twilight-esque ritual conducted by teen girls in a cemetery kicks off the action. Warshawski is well-drawn and rounded, as always, a character whose swagger masks a deeper insecurity. And the action draws you onwards, never letting up from the first page.
My one minor quibble is that the title seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book. In fact, it’s one of those one-word, crime novel titles that is so stereotypical it seems to have been generated by a computer program. Similarly, although the cemetery on the book jacket, does reflect the initial scene, it's the kind of gothic-esque scene in blue and black you’ve seen on a thousand covers before. But in the end, the substance is there, and that’s the main thing. Breakdown is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I highly recommend it.