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Book Nook - 11-09-2017

Monday, September 11, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Tough Gumshoe
Sara Paretsky is an acclaimed and multiple award-winning author of crime fiction. Her creation, the smart and tough Chicago detective, V.I. Warshawski (she prefers to use her initials over her full name Victoria Iphigenia), daughter of a Jewish Italian mother and Polish father, a kind and loving man, has been topping charts for years.

Killing Orders, that first came out in 1985 and was #3 in the series, has been reissued in paperback. Those who did not get to read Paretsky can get an introduction with one of the finest, in which Warshawski takes the might of the Catholic Church and the Chicago Mafia, while she helps on-off British lover Roger Ferant to save a company from a sneaky takeover.

When Warshawski is summoned by her Rosa for help, she goes to the mean-spirited woman’s house, because she had promised her dying mother Gabriella, that she would always help her sister, even after Rosa had thrown her out on the house.

Rosa works as a treasurer at the St Albert’s Priory, and when some valuable shares kept in the safe are found to be fake, she is under suspicion. However, no sooner does Warshawski start investigating, her aunt wants her to drop it.

Warshawski is not the kind to give up so she continues and starts getting threatening calls. Then she is attacked with acid and her apartment burnt down. Anyone else would have been scared off, but with Ferrant as a her support, she digs deeper till she exposes a major scandal.

In the fast-paced adventure, a lot keeps happening, as Warshawski struggles to solve the crime, as well as trace the man who threatened her and then tried to maim and kill her.   Her friend Agnes, a stock broker gets shot in her office, her friend Lotty’s uncle gets stabbed and Warshawski, cup of woes just overflows—with a baffled by sympathetic Ferrant by her side, trying to make sense of what is going on.

It’s a proper page turner, and you can’t put it down till it’s finished. Because it is set in the pre tech boom era, there are no cell phones or computers, and there is this quaint institution called the answering service, that gave messages from callers whose calls the subscriber may have missed… far more efficient that a cell phone.  Warshawski never seems to be at a disadvantage because she is not at home to pick up the phone.

Killing Orders
By Sara Paretsky
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 355

 


Excerpt of Sara Paretsky’s Brush Back
I didn’t recognize him at first. He came into my office unannounced, a jowly man whose hairline had receded to a fringe of dark curls. Too much sun had baked his skin the color of brick, although maybe it had been too much beer, judging by those ill-named love handles poking over the sides of his jeans. The seams in the faded corduroy jacket strained when he moved his arms; he must not often dress for business.

“Hey, girl, you doing okay for yourself up here, aren’t you?”

I stared at him, astonished and annoyed by the familiarity.

“Tori Warshawski, don’t you know me? I guess Red U turned you into a snob after all.”

Tori. The only people who called me that had been my father and my cousin Boom-Boom, both of them dead a lot of years now. And Boom-Boom’s boyhood friends—who were also the only people who still thought the University of Chicago was a leftist hideout.

“It’s not Frank Guzzo, is it?” I finally said. When I’d known him thirty years and forty pounds ago, he’d had a full head of red-gold hair, but I could still see something of him around the eyes and mouth.

“All of him.” He patted his abdomen. “You look good, Tori, I’ll give you that. You didn’t turn into some yoga nut or a vegan or something?”

“Nope. I play a little basketball, but mostly I run the lakefront. You still playing baseball?”

“With this body? Slow-pitch sometimes with the geriatric league. But my boy, Frankie Junior, Tori, I got my fingers crossed, but I think he’s the real deal.”

“How old is he?” I asked, more out of politeness than interest: Frank always thought someone or something was going to be the real deal that made his fortune for him.
“He’s fifteen now, made varsity at Saint Eloy’s, even though he’s only a freshman. He’s got a real arm. Maybe he’ll be another Boom-Boom.”

Meaning, he could be the next person to make it out of the ’hood into some version of the American dream. There were so few of us who escaped South Chicago’s gravitational pull that the neighborhood could recite our names.I’d managed, by dint of my mother’s wishes, and my scholarships to the University of Chicago. My cousin Boom-Boom had done it through sports. He’d had seven brilliant seasons with the Blackhawks until he injured his ankle too badly for the surgeons to glue him back in any shape to skate. And then he’d been murdered, shoved off a pier in the Port of Chicago, right under the screw of the Bertha Krupnik.

When Boom-Boom and Frank hung out together, Frank hoped he’d be a real deal, too, in baseball. We all did—he was the best shortstop in the city’s Catholic league. By the time I started law school, though, Frank was driving a truck for Bagby Haulage. I don’t know what happened; I’d lost touch with him by then. Maybe he could have been a contender. He wasn’t the only kid in South Chicago with a spark of promise that flared up and died. They start to spread their wings and then they fall to earth. It’s hard to leave the world you know. Even if it’s a painful place at times, you grow up learning how to navigate it. The world north of Madison Street looks good on TV, but it has too many hidden traps, places where a homey can make a humiliating mistake.Perhaps Frankie Junior would have the drive, the mentors and the talent to be another Boom-Boom. All I said was I hoped Frank was right, it would be great.

“You stayed in South Chicago?” I added.

“We moved to the East Side. My wife—uh, Bet—uh,” he stumbled over the words, his face turning a richer shade of brick.

Frank had left me for Betty Pokorny when we were all in high school. Her father had owned Day & Night Bar & Grill. When the mills were running three shifts, no matter what time you got off or went on, you could get steak and eggs with a boilermaker.

When Betty started smirking at me in the high school hallway, I’d been heartbroken for a few weeks, but my dad told me that Frank wasn’t right for me, that I was looking for love in all the wrong places because Gabriella had died a few months earlier. He’d been right: it had been years since I’d thought about either Frank or Betty.

Looking at Frank this morning, in his ill-fitting jacket and uneasy fidgeting, he seemed vulnerable and needy. Let him imagine that hearing about Betty could cause me a pang or two.

“How are Betty’s folks?” I asked.

“Her ma passed a few years back, but her dad is still going strong, even without the bar—you know they had to shut that down?”

“Someone told me,” I said. Day & Night had followed the mills into extinction, but by then I was so far removed from the neighborhood that I hadn’t even felt Schadenfreude, only a vague pity for Frank.

“Her dad, he keeps busy, he’s handy with tools, builds stuff, keeps the house from falling over. I guess you don’t know we moved in with him when, well, you know.”

When they got married, I guessed. Or maybe when Stella went to prison. “What did you do about your place on Buffalo?”

“Ma kept it. My dad’s insurance or something let her make the payments while she was in Logan. I looked in on it once a week, made sure nothing was leaking or burning, kept the rats and the gangbangers from moving in. Ma says she owns it clear and free now.”

“She’s out?” I blurted.

“Yeah. Two months ago.” His heavy shoulders sagged, further stressing the shoulders in the jacket. Annie Guzzo had been three years younger than me and I was finishing my junior year of college when she died. I counted in my head. I guess it had been twenty-five years.

South Chicago was a neighborhood where violence was routine, ordinary. Stella Guzzo had grown up in a hardscrabble house herself and shouting and hitting were her main modes of functioning. We all knew she hit her daughter, but what turned people’s stomachs was that Stella had beaten Annie to death and then walked up to St. Eloy’s to play bingo. Not even my aunt Marie, Stella’s chief crony, stood up for her.

“I never made those marks on my girl,” Stella protested at the trial. “They’re lying about me, making me look bad because I was trying to get Annie to see the facts of life. She was getting those big ideas, way above herself. She didn’t think she needed to vacuum or do the laundry because she was going to school, but she needed to remember she was part of a family. Everyone has to carry their weight in a family. She’s got a brother, he’s the one with a future and he needs looking after, I can’t do it all on my own, especially not with their father dead. But Annie was fine when I left the house.”

Father Gielczowski, the priest at St. Eloy’s, had testified for Stella: she was a good woman, a dedicated mother. She didn’t spare the rod, but that was what made her a good mother; she didn’t tolerate the rudeness a lot of modern women let their children get away with.

Priests usually play well with Chicago juries, but not this time. Stella was built on massive lines, not fat, but big, like the figurehead of a Viking ship. Frank took after her, but Annie was small, like their father. The state’s attorney showed pictures of Annie’s battered face, and the family photos where she looked like a dark little elf next to her mother’s broad-shouldered five-ten. Instead of manslaughter, the state went for second-degree homicide, and got it. I didn’t remember the trial clearly, but I don’t think the jury deliberated longer than half a day. Stella drew the full two dimes, with a little extra thrown in to punish her for her belligerent attitude in court.

I never would be a Stella fan, but the thought of her alone in a decrepit South Chicago bungalow was disturbing. “Is she there by herself?” I asked Frank. “It’s hard dealing with the outside world when you’ve been away from it so long. Besides that, South Chicago is a war zone these days, between the Kings, and the Insane Latin Dragons and about five other big gangs.”

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