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Critical Mass (V.I. Warshawski Novel) Hardcover – October 22, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: V.I. Warshawski Novel (Book 16)
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons; 1st edition (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399160566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399160561
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (263 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. V.I. Warshawski helps out her closest friend, Vienna-born Dr. Lotty Herschel, when an unwelcome figure from Lotty's past resurfaces in MWA Grand Master Paretsky's stellar 17th novel featuring the Chicago PI (after 2012's Breakdown). Lotty and another Viennese girl, Kitty Binder, were sent to London in 1939 on the Kindertransport. After the war, Lotty settled in Chicago, while Kitty arrived in the area some years later. Lotty gets in touch with V.I. after Kitty's drug-addicted daughter, Judy, leaves a message claiming that she and her college-age son, Martin, whom she had left in Kitty's care, are in danger. Judy then vanishes. V.I.'s investigation takes her from the high-tech world of computer engineering to a literally stinking meth pit in a farm town outside Chicago, on the hunt for the now-missing Judy and Martin. V.I. also unearths WWII secrets related to the race to build an atomic bomb. Paretsky builds the suspense by deftly weaving the contemporary narrative with flashbacks to Lotty's Austrian childhood. Author tour. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Agency. (Nov.)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As in previous V. I. Warshawski mysteries, Paretsky works elements of Chicago history into the story, this time referencing the city as a nexus for atomic research and linking the science to the work conducted in Austria during the Nazi occupation. When Judy, the drug-addicted daughter of Kitty Binder, a Holocaust survivor whom Lotty Herschel knew in wartime Vienna, calls Lotty for help and then disappears, Lotty turns to Vic. The investigation leads to a burned-out crack house and the mutilated body of a dead man but not to Judy. Kitty, a bitter, uncooperative, seemingly paranoid crank, seems uninterested in finding her estranged daughter, but she hires Vic to locate her grandson, giving Vic two missing-persons cases in the same family. Twentysomething Martin, whom Kitty raised, has vanished without a trace, and Vic and his grandmother are apparently not the only ones who want to find him. Martin’s boss is afraid that the young man, a physics genius, has absconded with sensitive company information, and he isn’t too forthright about what will happen if he finds Martin first. It’s clear V. I. has several puzzles to solve, and, as usual, she becomes the proverbial stick in the hornet’s nest, putting herself at risk as she follows a twisted trail of ruined lives rooted in the international race to develop an atomic weapon. Vic is at her stubborn, reckless, compassionate best in this complicated page-turner about selfish secrets passed down through generations. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Paretsky has been on a roll lately, her long-running, trailblazing series at its most dynamic since the early days. --Stephanie Zvirin

Customer Reviews

Much too technical and confusing which slowed the story to a halt at times.
Jack Shenkan
Sara does a great job of weaving an intricate story as well as introduce the reader to history Her characters are complex.
Valerie C. Davis
This one was very interesting as it tackled the subject of nuclear science, nazis, and modern technology.
Bethany Spacek

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am comparing Sara Paretsky's new book, "Critical Mass" to her previous novels, not to novels in general.

Sara Paretsky has written 19 books. Most of them - 17 - were VI Warshawski novels and the other two are "stand-alones". Having read them all, I think her newest, "Critical Mass" is the deepest and best written so far. I suppose the title could refer to both the "critical mass" needed to produce an atomic bomb and the "critical mass" of people and plot needed to produce a good book. The atomic bomb stuff I can't explain - way above my pay grade! - but the second, the contents of this novel, I can try to explain.

"Critical Mass" is set in both Vienna and Chicago, the past and the present. The past is the 1900's to the 1940's and focuses on VI's old friend, Lotte Herschel's, family and friends as they find that being Jewish in Vienna, particularly after the Anschluss in 1938, as an increasingly dangerous business. Lotte and her brother are rescued at the last minute and sent to London - and safety - on the Kindertransport. Her family was left behind and all perished in the Holocaust.

Also sent with Lotte and her brother was Kathe Saginor, the daughter of a single mother, Martina Saginor, who was raised with Lotte in Vienna. Kathe, later Kitty, was regarded as a "poor relations" both in Vienna, and later in Chicago, where both women settled after the war. Martina Saginor was a genius who worked in the scientific academies looking into atom. She was later arrested by the Nazis and served as a slave laborer and vanished in the war.

But the Saginor family is not the only family in Paretsky's book. Martina's lover and father of her daughter, a Nobel prize winner, Benjamin Dzornen, has fled to Chicago with his family before the outbreak of war.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Julia Walker VINE VOICE on October 27, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
5 stars for plot, 3 for characters

Critical Mass does what all good mystery/thrillers should do: it provides riveting action to distract the reader from ungraded midterms and unplanted bulbs, and it opens a window on new information - in this case the back-story of women who worked in early atomic weapons research and computer math/physics. Chicago, of course, is a logical setting for such subjects, and while we don't get scenes under Stagg Field's bleachers back in the day, we do get V.I.'s vivid encounters with various of the university's libraries and librarians as she follows the history of scientists both real and fictive.

The link between present-day Chicago and WW II European women is, of course, Dr Lotte Herschel, although her actual presence in the book is relatively slight. But character development has never been a hallmark of this series.

It's at this point in a Paretsky review where I generally complain that Vic is tiresomely trapped in 80's feminist knee-jerks, and I'm happy to report that very little of that pattern appears here. But there's nothing much to replace it, either. It seems absurd to complain about missing a first-person narrator, but in this installment of her career, VI Warshawski is curiously absent. We get none of the housekeeping angst, little of the dogs, only occasional descriptions of food (no cooking) and no real description of clothing, plus a love-interest where she's literally phoning it in.

These were all elements of the series that originally marked it as a personal narrative of a personable woman, elements now absent or so thin as to be transparent.

Along with Kinsey Milhone and Sharon McCone, VI was the break-through detective of the women's movement.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By David A. Appling on November 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, although set as usual in contemporary Illinois, reaches out in both time and place, harking back all the way to 1913 Vienna for its first piece of background.

The complex, well-researched plot centers around the life and career – including her fate in the Holocaust, which is key – of brilliant Austrian physicist Martina Saginor and her family and associates, and on a late-thirties invention whose provenance the bad guys are desperate to cover up. Martina’s great-grandson, who has vanished, is the inheritor of her brilliance, and her daughter, granddaughter, and one-time lover all loom large in the telling.

The plot is both intricate and satisfying, and contains some well-camouflaged red herrings and surprises as the action unfolds. It will come as no surprise to Paretsky fans that a top Chicagoland corporation is somehow involved, and that neither the corporation nor the Feds come off heroically. The Homeland Security agents involved are not only pretty dumb but also vicious thugs – caricatures. One hopes that the people who work for DHS are of higher caliber.

V.I.’s young cousin Petra does not appear here; she’s in the Peace Corps in Central America. I didn’t miss her; she was really getting rather tiresome.

Paretsky does rely on the long arm of coincidence a bit more than I like, but that’s just me (and Ross Macdonald; if something in his Lew Archer capers seems coincidental, it’s not.)

All in all, superbly plotted and executed, as always. For my money, both V.I. and her creator are at the top of their professions. Five stars.
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More About the Author

Sara Paretsky is the award-winning creator of the V I Warshawski detective novels. When Sara introduced V I in Indemnity Only in 1982, she revolutionized the mystery novel. By creating a female investigator who uses her wits as well a her fists, Sara challenged a genre in which women were traditionally either vamps or victims.

V I is the quintessential urban woman. She grew up in the shadow of the old steel mills on Chicago's Southeast side and knows her way around every alley in town. She's a street fighter, a singer, a bit of a clothes horse, and a woman of great intensity and passion.

So how much like V I is her creator? They certainly come from very different places. Sara grew up in rural Kansas where she attended a two-room school. She continues to believe the high point of her life came at the age of twelve when she was picked to play third base for the Kaw Valley District 95 baseball team.

Bleeding Kansas, Sara's 14th novel, is set in the part of the Kaw River Valley where Sara grew up.

Sara first came to Chicago in 1966 to do community service work in the same neighborhood where Martin Luther King was organizing. It was a time of fierce passions in the city and in the country as people fought over racial justice, the rights and wrongs of the war in Vietnam, and women's rights. Sara has always felt that that summer changed her life forever, and when she finished her undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas, she came back to make Chicago her home. Some of the history of that summer is recounted in her essay collection, Writing in an Age of Silence.

Like V I, Sara likes to sing, in an amateur way, has a hopeless passion for the Cubs, loves Italian shoes'and is obsessed by the search for the perfect cappuccino, so much so that she even went to cappuccino school.

In other academic ventures, Sara received a PhD in American History and an MBA from the University of Chicago. In 1976, she married physics professor Courtenay Wright. The two live in the city of Chicago with their wonder dog Callie. Their lives are made brighter by their adored granddaughter, Maia.

Sara shares V I's passion for social justice. She founded Sisters in Crime in 1986 to support women readers and writers in the mystery world. To give back to the community, Paretsky established the Sara and Two C-Dogs Foundation, which primarily supports girls and women in the arts, letters, and sciences. She has endowed several scholarships at the University of Kansas, and has mentored students in Chicago's inner city schools. She serves on the advisory boards of Literature for All of Us, a literacy group for teen moms, and Thresholds, which serves Chicago's mentally-ill homeless.

Sara has received numerous awards, including the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers Association, the Gold Dagger for best novel for her book Blacklist, and the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from several different universities. Sara's books have been translated into almost thirty languages.

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Critical Mass (V.I. Warshawski Novel)
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