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Picking up the latest Sara Paretsky book is like sitting down with an old friend to hear a new story. Paretsky penned her first book featuring private investigator V.I. Warshawski in 1982. Nearly thirty years later, the newly released Breakdown is the fifteenth book in this long running series.

V.I. receives a frantic call from her cousin Petra late one night - a group of girls holding a initiation ceremony based on their favourite author's vampire books get more than they bargained for when they stumble across a corpse - staked through the heart. And these aren't just any teens - they're the offspring of some of Chicago's wealthiest and politically powerful families. Rescuing the girls makes V.I. late for a meeting with her old friend Leydon Ashford. By the time V.I. makes their meeting, it's too late - either troubled Leydon has jumped from a balcony or she was pushed. In a coma, she is unable to let anyone know what happened. As V.I. decides to investigate further into both of these seemingly disparate occurrences, she is warned off - by more than one party. Of course, that only fuels V.I.'s fire....

What has made this such an enduring series? V.I. has aged and her life has progressed in real time. She was a character I liked from the first book and my opinion hasn't changed. She's true to her principles and beliefs, always with an eye towards justice. Now, that's not to say that she won't bend the rules just a bit to get the results she needs. And she's tough, having taken more than her fair share of hard knocks. But she gives as good as she gets. She says what she thinks, she's smart, loyal and someone you'd want on your side. "...sometimes you are so single-minded in your search for answers that you don't always think of the consequences."

Paretsky's plotting is always good - the mysteries are intricate and not easily solved. It is the personal issues and plot lines that elevate this series beyond a simple whodunit. It almost feels like V.I. and her friends and family are real people. The writing and reading flow effortlessly.

You can certainly read Breakdown without having read any of the others in this series, but I bet you'll be hunting down her backlist once you discover this fantastic female protagonist!
11 comment62 of 66 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Sara Paretsky is an excellent writer of popular fiction - as her sales will attest - but she is also a novelist who combines good writing with an examination of topical subjects. Most novelists will not try to tackle today's social problems but the reader always knows Paretsky's social views by reading her books.

Paretsky's newest novel, "Breakdown", is an examination of how right-wing radio and politicians affect American society. It's an edgy book, with a Glenn Beck-like TV and radio commentator stirring up hatred for illegal aliens and Jews and blacks on a Fox News-like network. And a Sarah Palin-like female politician who looks to lock down the votes of like-minded Illinois voters in a US Senate race. She's running against a black woman and she and the radio host come out with racial epitaphs that might be disturbing to the reader. It's sort of Fox-News-on-steroids.

But if racial and other bigotry is part of the story, then Paretsky's heroine "VI Warshawski" is the other part. Maybe a little old at 50 to do the dangerous physical work and sustaining the hits she does, Warshawski remains the center of the story and the personalities she's involved in. The story, which is set in current day Chicago, brings in everything from the Holocaust to the above mentioned right-wing politics, to several murders, much of it with a mental health facility connection. The old favorites from Paretsky's previous books are back - Mr Conteras, cousin-Petra,and the dogs of the household are just a few of the old friends we meet in a new story.

"Breakdown" is a terrific book; Paretsky's done herself proud with the newest. But it is her most overtly "political" and might be too much so to a reader looking for a "light" read. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then my politics and sympathies are right in tune with Paretsky's.
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on February 18, 2012
I saw this at a B&N and snapped it up........no worries right? I started it &by page 48 I was thinking.....this is very complicated and not very interesting but maybe I'm tired and should try again later. When the character of Leydon was introduced the story did pick up but then........it just kept clunking along & by the time I was about half-way thru I just didn;t care anymore. What a disappointment! This novel is not bad but it is not good. It goes into attack media, political dysfunction, the lack of good mental health options/health care in this country, immigration issues,tweens & the vampire craze ....it is just TOO much and OH....there's a murder mystery or 2 to be solved. I'm a liberal so I wasn't offended by Ms Paretsy's rants about the right but the main evil-doer is SO over the top that he is both unbelievable and easily dismissed as a complete kook. But my main complaint is that the book did not hold my interest.I skipped to the end to see who did what (and it didn;t surprise me that it required quite a number of pages to explain the story line!)& then I was glad to pick up my next book. I have enjoyed Ms paretsky's books for years and will read her next one but I do hope she keeps it simpler and more interesting.I understand her desire to make her points but V.I. comes across as shrill, bitter & intolerant instead of smart, experienced & world weary.
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on January 5, 2012
A new Paretsky book is a red letter day. Yet though this one is far better than "Body Work" it is not one of her best. It takes too long to really get going - but once it does, it becomes umputdownable. As usual Paretsky brings her social conscience to bear, and one would hope her description of the media is a litte overdone. However the dialogue is crisp, the story well crafted (except for the ending, which defies logic)the villains are villainous enough, V.I gets her usual bashing but gets the job done and a nice bonus too. Can't wait for the next installment....
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on February 2, 2012
I have enjoyed the V.I. Warshawski novels for decades, until this one. Petra is still whiny, demanding, and clueless. Mr. Contreras is nothing but a cardboard character at this point. Lottie and Max make uninspired appearances. We find that V.I. has had a lifelong close friend who only just turns up now. If you've read the V.I. novels before, you're used to corporations and Republican causes being targets of venom, but this time, they are so over-the-top evil that they are unbelievable and, actually, laughable. The ending, as someone else wrote, defies belief and yet, is basically so predictable that I saw it coming from the first time we meet the "bad guy".

I'll read the next V.I. book and hope Paretsky has recovered her magic. This one needed a stake through it.
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on March 4, 2012
I read some VI Warshawski books many years ago when I lived in Chicago--it was fun to read the references to local haunts. However, this book is a great disappointment. As mentioned in other posts, the political backdrop is unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous. I am no fan of the Rush Limbaughs of the world, but Paretsky paints all conservatives in this light. Considering what we know of Chicago politics (exemplified well in both Pres. Obama's tactics and other fictional depictions such as "The Good Wife"), it surprises me that Paretsky wants to "go there" from either a liberal or conservative perspective. Regardless, the caricatures of these vitriolic conservative politicians contrasted with the angelic and victimized liberals is only slightly nauseating.

In addition to the political issues of the novel, VI has become a much less likeable character. In some cases she jumps to conclusions that are very hard to follow (or believe). At other times, she is so incredibly obnoxious that it is a wonder that she has managed to have any kind of PI career lasting more than a few days. In addition, in this book, she is somehow involved in a case for which she is receiving no payment and has really no jurisdiction. She decides to be involved due to the near-death of a friend, but the connection of that to the other crimes is loose at best, until the end of the story.

Also, who has heard of a gold cotton dress? Is VI still that "hot" at 50? She seems to think so herself...

I highly recommend finding another author to read -- John Sanford, Agatha Christie, etc. if you want a better crime novel.
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on March 5, 2012
I too looked forward to reading the latest VI exploits, she used to be so much fun! this appears to be a forum for the author'ssocial and political commentary, does not draw the reader in and jumps from vampires shape shifting, to racial and religious bigotry, I read fiction for pleasure, not to be lectured by liberals. As an independent, I even found the commentary insufferable, cliched, unbelievable, and boring. I actually agreed somewhat with Mr Salanter's statement about how Americans use "Hitler and Stalin as political. Insults too freely" and we don't always understand the context,

I stopped reading at the point where VI disagrees with Mr Salanter's opinion that most people are decent and don't act on hate- VI immediately segued into the lyncings, murders of abortion providers, assaults on Muslims and gays -as if these relatively few incidents occurring today are common behaviors practiced by most people and as if it negates the premise that most people are decent, Regardless of your stance on an issue such as abortion, many people, yes even Democrats, liberals, and independents- view the act log abortion as equally hateful as the murder of an abortion provider.

I got bored by the oddly placed political and social commentary and couldn't connect with the threads of the plot, and the just didn't care about the characters enough to read past the first quarter of the book. This was a Kindle purchase not worth the money, read Micael Connolley instead.
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on January 25, 2012
There was a day when I couldn't wait to dig into the latest Paretsky novel. Those days are over. I didn't finish her previous book and I'm not finishing this one. I woke up this morning and realized I don't care what happens to the characters or "who done it" and I'm about 3/4 through the book. I'm putting it down to go on to authors who really engage me. I'm very liberal politically, but I also found her characters to be too broadly drawn.
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VINE VOICEon February 3, 2012
This is Paretsky's 17th novel and features private investigator V. I. Warshawski. In this outing, Warshawski is sent to a local Chicago cemetery one rainy night to find several girls who are out after curfew. Warshawski not only finds them, but a dead body as well. The girls were all members of a book club dedicated to the Young Adult books featuring a vampire and his friends.

Warshawski, of course, wonders if there is any connection between the dead man and any of the girls. As it turns out, one of the girls is the granddaughter of the billionaire Salanter while another is the daughter of woman running for political office. Throw in a muckraking radio commentator, a rabidly conservative woman funding anti-everything organizations, a powerful media mogul, a journalist, and a dead private investigator and you have some of Paretsky's large cast of characters.

Halfway through this 400+ page book, I realized that (1) I was bored, and (2) I didn't care about any of the characters. It's been a while since I've read a Warshawsky mystery so I was surprised to be bored. It became abundantly clear that Paretsky didn't have any more of an idea of where this story was going than I did. The storyline meandered all over the map and the reader meandered along with it through the various neighborhoods of Chicago. All the loose ends, and there were many, were tidily wrapped up in the last pages of the book.

All in all, not one of Paretsky's best outings.
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on October 23, 2012
I found Hardball depressing. Bodywork, too. Paretsky works diligently to include, no, explore, real contemporary issues and has her characters respond to them in more or less real time, so I told myself it shouldn't be too surprising that Warshawski was getting old and tired and bitter. But I picked up Breakdown because I just needed the sensible, passionate, tough-and-tender Vic and decided to give her another chance. I'm so glad I did.

As usual, a seemingly merely annoying event turns into a big disaster; Vic is called by her cousin Petra to break up a misguided teen/preteen seance in a cemetery where it turns out a murder has just taken place. Points to Paretsky for understanding exactly how the teen vampire literature craze works. Meanwhile, her friend Leydon, who has always battled mental illness, is out of control, and a Glenn Beck type shock jock is out to get everybody who doesn't see things his way, which would naturally mean Vic.

Rare for a mystery series, I believe you could pick this up without any of the previous books and follow the story. Paretsky has also made more sense of her backstory, quite muddled in Hardball, and made Vic more philosophical and less bitter about the choices she made that lead to a life a freedom but not money. She even has a realistic almost reconciliation with her ex, Dick, which makes sense in the story and in Vic's age.

Vic and Paretsky are both feminist and liberal, and if that doesn't work for you this is not your series.

The compassion with which Paretsky writes about mental illness is touching and shows a good deal of research. Paretsky often comes under fire for her apparent dislike of rich people, but I don't see that. In this book, as with others in the series, there are wealthy people who misuse their wealth or obtained it unethically and they are balanced by wealthy who are generous with what they have.

Mr. Contreras is hanging in there, Murray is aging with a dash of the old fire we used to see in him, Terry Finchley makes a brief appearance (I always had a crush on Terry but I guess Vic does not!) and Vic's newish flame is my favorite partner for her since Roger Ferrant (whom I always believed is based on a real person).

The ending was one that is not only used in mysteries fairly regularly, but one Paretsky herself has used, but frankly I can't see any way to have ended the book more neatly and I must say that I very much need the "announcement in front of a lot of people who the killer was" to wrap things up.

I am disappointed that a writer with Paretsky's history, longevity and clout was given such pathetic cover art. No clue what the book, or even the series, was about from the amateurish, garish without being pleasantly jolting yellow and blue waves over a shadow cityscape.

For those who have followed the series all along, it is a pleasure to see the Where's Waldo (or pink snail in Blues Clues)-ish nod to an opera, usually Mozart, that Paretsky puts in much of her work. In this case, Carmilla, the spirit the teens call to in the cemetery, is also known as the Queen of the Night. Hee hee.
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