cover image Hard Time

Hard Time

Sara Paretsky. Delacorte Press, $24.95 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-385-31363-6

V.I. Warshawski's first outing in five years begins with a party celebrating the TV debut of her reporter friend Murray Ryerson and attended by Lacey Dowell, Chicago native and star of Mad Virgin films. On the drive home, V.I. swerves to avoid hitting an injured young woman, who later dies. A hostile cop barges in the next day to question Vic about the ""hit-and-run"" of Nicola Aguinaldo, who seems to have escaped from the medical ward of Coolis, a privately operated prison in northwestern Illinois. Nicola was serving time for stealing a $50,000 necklace from her employers, the Baladines, owners of Carnifice Security, which operates state prisons. Vic gains access to the Baladine enclave--where no one but the Baladine son, Robbie, seems concerned about Nicola's death. Then one of Lacey's childhood friends is found drowned. Things get even murkier when Robbie shows up at V.I.'s house and the PI is arrested and herself shipped off to Coolis to await bail. Suddenly powerless, V.I. learns how quickly freedom can be lost. But her faithful neighbor Mr. Contreras and her mentor Lotty, the activist doctor, never waver; further, unexpected support comes from an advocate for political prisoners and an inner-city priest. Illegal aliens, labor problems, political corruption and prison abuse all mix into the intrigue. Paretsky (Tunnel Vision) weaves a thread of loss though this journey to hell and back in which Vic ponders the death of her own mother and the end of a relationship, as well as the pain of those caught in the far-reaching tentacles of corrupt power. The use of short chapters with catchy, ironic titles keeps the action moving without giving too much away and helps to marshal the abundant characters and plot turns. Hurrah and welcome back, V.I.--and Sara P. Major ad/promo; 9-city author tour. (Oct.)