Dead Land casts the private eye as investigative reporter.

Private eye V. I. Warshawski is the fictional creation of Chicago novelist Sara Paretsky, but she stands in for that city’s best and brightest investigative reporters. Yes, Vic, as she prefers to be known, is a detective, not a journalist. But the cases she pursues, often without being paid to do so, lead her into the thickets of official corruption and corporate misdeeds. And in Paretsky’s latest effort, the twenty-first entry in the V. I. Warshawski series, the now-aging sleuth navigates the shoals of corruption that spans international borders.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

The private eye as investigative reporter

In fact, as in many of the preceding stories in the series, Vic’s work overlaps with that of Murray Ryerson, a fictional Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter. The two are former lovers with a long history of balancing affection with competition. As is the case so often when the two converge on the same story, and this one is “a tangled mess of a story,” the two get themselves into very hot water. And both have a pronounced tendency to cause a great deal of trouble for those around them as well. Vic’s archaeologist boyfriend remarks, “I sometimes think you would be safer working in Sudan or Syria than in Chicago.” As a less generous observer unkindly notes, “Warshawski, I believe you mean nothing but good, but your good creates burnt offerings in the world.”

Dead Land (V. I. Warshawski #21) by Sara Paretsky (2020) 416 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)

“A tangled mess of a story”

Paretsky writes tales that all too often are “a tangled mess.” In Dead Land, the plot involves a corrupt deal to develop land along the shore of Lake Michigan in South Chicago, a mass murder in Kansas four years earlier, and the unrestrained violence of the Pinochet regime in Chile (1973-90). And all the familiar figures in Vic Warshawski’s life get wrapped up in her dogged effort to fit all the pieces together: not just Murray and her current boyfriend but also her late cousin, Chicago Blackhawks star “Boom-Boom” Warshawski, her goddaughter Bernadine Fouchard, Dr. Lotty Herschel, and her boyfriend Max Loewenthal.

“The macroscum, the policy-makers, and the good old cronies”

Is it worth it in the end? Vic may not be so sure. “It used to make me furious that the macroscum, the policy-makers, the good old cronies, the brokers and bankers, almost always got a pass,” she muses. “If you could actually indict one of them, they had a bottomless bucket of money to pay attorneys and investigators.” But at least in her guise as an investigative reporter, the private eye gets out the truth for all to see. Which, of course, is exactly as Sara Paretsky would have it.

Over the years I’ve read nearly all of Sara Paretsky’s novels. Since I began reviewing them here, I’ve covered many others. Here they are, numbered by their publication order:

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