Overboard, the 21st novel in Sara Paretsky's venerable V.I. Warshawski series, finds the ageless private investigator still exercising, singing and fighting for justice (including the social kind) in the streets of Chicago. What's different this time is that she's doing it in "the Covid-verse," and the limits imposed by the virus steer the novel's plot in inspired ways.
The thriller begins with Warshawski's dog discovering the unconscious body of a teenage girl in the rocks by Lake Michigan, burn marks on the legs of her jeans. She has no supplies with her; did she intend to die in the rocks? Was she running from someone? Before anyone can learn the girl's identity, she disappears from the hospital where she's been recovering. The hospital hires a grateful Warshawski to look for her: "I'd kept going during the lockdown, but the economic contraction meant my clients hadn't outsourced as many queries as they used to." Or as Warshawski's lawyer puts it, "Your quixotism is charming, but it doesn't pay your bills."
The novel is intricate and involving, its latticework plot including an act of vandalism at a synagogue and encounters with people Warshawski grew up with in South Chicago. Although Paretsky (Fallout; Brush Back) employs a technological gizmo as a major plot point, Overboard offers the comforts of a throwback, enlisting classic PI-story motifs, such as disguises, heartless villains, escapes on foot and feats of physical daring. Would it even be a Warshawski novel without that last one? --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer