Hardball (V. I. Warshawski Series #13)

( 46 )


The long-awaited return of V.I. Warshawski

Chicago politics-past, present, and future-take center stage in New York Times bestselling author Sara Peretsky's complex and compelling new V.I. Warshawski novel. When Warshawski is asked to find a man who's been missing for four decades, a search that she figured would be futile becomes lethal. Old skeletons from the city's racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets-her own and ...

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Hardball (V. I. Warshawski Series #13)

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The long-awaited return of V.I. Warshawski

Chicago politics-past, present, and future-take center stage in New York Times bestselling author Sara Peretsky's complex and compelling new V.I. Warshawski novel. When Warshawski is asked to find a man who's been missing for four decades, a search that she figured would be futile becomes lethal. Old skeletons from the city's racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets-her own and those of the elderly sisters who hired her-rise up with a vengeance.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski has a gold-plate name that she doesn't use and a gritty street sense that makes her a modestly successful Chicago private investigator. On her latest Windy City assignment, V.I. (as she's universally known) learns that even a routine four-decade-old missing person case can escalate into matters much more immediate, deadly, and personal. A powerful urban thriller with an unforgettable female main character.
Marilyn Stasio
The thing about Sara Paretsky is, she's tough—not because she observes the bone-breaker conventions of the private-eye genre but because she doesn't flinch from examining old social injustices others might find too shameful (and too painful) to dig up…While her themes here are familiar…she gives them a personal spin by drawing on her own experiences as a community organizer during the summer of 1966 and sharing them with a large cast of voluble and opinionated characters, whose memories are as raw as her own. There's a real sting to both the anger of a black man who took care of a friend beaten to insensibility by racist cops and the grief of an old white woman displaced from her family home. Voices like these can ring in your ears for—oh, 40 years and more.
—The New York Times
Maureen Corrigan
This is an ambitious novel layered in the grit of recent American racial history. Paretsky has always written intelligent mysteries, but sometimes—as she did in Blacklist, her excellent 2003 Warshawski novel that wrestled with the legacy of McCarthyism—she strives for more, realizing the potential of the homegrown hard-boiled detective genre to investigate the more troubling mysteries at the heart of our national identity…V.I. may be graying and sometimes a tad grim, but she's still the gal you want beside you in a fight, be it short, dirty and physical or a longer campaign for social justice. In Hardball—a standout, nuanced mystery about civil rights struggles past and present—V.I. demonstrates, once again, that when push comes to shove, the scrappiest street fighters are from Chicago.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Paretsky tracks the poisonous residue of racial hatred that still seeps into Chicago life and politics in her fine 13th novel to feature gutsy PI V.I. “Vic” Warshawski, last seen in 2005's Fire Sale. In her search for a black man who disappeared in 1967, Lamont Gadsden, Vic reconnects with some of her father Tony's old police colleagues; pays a prison visit to Johnny Merton, a notorious gang leader she once defended in her lawyering days; and tracks down Steve Sawyer, who disappeared following a murder conviction. Vic confronts an ugly period in Chicago's history, a peaceful march in 1966 by Martin Luther King that resulted in a white riot and the murder of a young black woman, Harmony Newsome. Digging into this ancient history stirs passions and fears of what secrets might be revealed. The apparent kidnapping of Vic's fresh-out-of-college cousin, Petra, who's come to Chicago to work on a senatorial campaign, raises the ante. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Fans of Chicago sleuth V.I. Warshawski will cheer her return (after Fire Sale) as she handles a case steeped in local politics and civil unrest. V.I. accepts a cold missing-persons case and immediately begins to unearth memories that might better stay buried deep in the past. Her own family is brought up in this investigation: her father was the arresting officer on a related case; her young cousin Petra (in town working for a rising-star politician with family ties to V.I.'s uncle) takes a sudden interest in Warshawski family history and Vic's life; and V.I. has to balance her solitary bristle with a desire for connection with the past. VERDICT Packed with Chicago history and racial and personal conflict, this story picks up quickly and is a finely honed mystery with serious depth. Expect high demand from series fans. This will also appeal to any local-crime or social- issue mystery readers. Race riots, police brutality, political bribery, Chicago's dirty history—this one has it all. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
V.I. Warshawski's 13th case (Fire Sale, 2005, etc.) drags her back to Chicago's tumultuous summer of 1966. Pastor Karen Lennon, chaplain to Lionsgate Manor nursing home, wants V.I. to help elderly Ella Gadsden and her ailing sister Claudia Ardenne with a little pro bono work. The assignment-track down Ella's missing son Lamont-would be simple, if the boy hadn't vanished more than 40 years ago, and if Chicago's finest had shown the slightest interest in his disappearance. As V.I. is settling into this cold, cold case, life goes on happening in the present. She breaks up with her most recent lover. Her cousin Petra, a bright-eyed college grad from Kansas City, pops up, lands a job working on charismatic Brian Krumas's senatorial campaign and showers V.I. with questions about their family. Lamont's surviving friends stonewall and revile V.I., even if they're in jail. Yet the draw of the past is paramount. A nun who shared murdered civil-rights activist Harmony Newsome's last moments at a Martin Luther King-led march in 1966 is murdered under V.I.'s nose. Evidence links her beloved cop father to a cover-up of police torture. And Petra disappears hours after she enters V.I.'s home with a mysterious pair who turn it upside down looking for something-a plot twist Paretsky begins with and then spends 270 pages working back up to. A tormented, many-layered tale that seems to have been dug out of Chicago history with a pickax. Readers who persevere through that interminable first-half flashback will be rewarded with the tremendous momentum of the second half.
The Barnes & Noble Review
To understand the current state of mind of both Sara Paretsky and her private detective alter ego, one must first roll back the clock to 1982, when Victoria Iphegenia Warshawski took her first investigative bow in Indemnity Only. Both Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett had been dead for over two decades; Kenneth Millar, better known as Ross Macdonald, wouldn't succumb to Alzheimer's for another year, while John D. MacDonald had two more Travis McGee novels to publish before his 1985 death. Robert B. Parker was the king of neo-private eye fiction, his hero Spenser both homage and contemporary reworking of the Marlowe-esque knight errant in search of lost selves, with Lawrence Block, James Crumley, and Bill Pronzini not far behind in critical and commercial acclaim. The Private Eye Writers of America, an organization of established and emerging mystery writers in this still-fecund subgenre, was about to give out its very first Shamus Awards to the best books of the previous year. And the only novel featuring an American woman as gumshoe, Marcia Muller's Edwin of the Iron Shoes, had been published in 1977 to little fanfare.

By the end of 1982 the game changed. Muller published her second Sharon McCone novel, Sue Grafton introduced Kinsey Millhone in A Is for Alibi, and the floor was now open -- whether some liked it or not -- for more women to claim the tropes of private eye fiction for their own. As influential as Muller and Grafton became, McCone and Millhone invited readers to take in their world, to root for them as they uncovered secrets and local ills. Their characters developed and darkened and the authors have lately taken some interesting narrative steps, but one finishes their books with a sense of order more or less restored.

Indemnity Only and the 13 Warshawski novels published since are more disquieting experiences. From the get-go, V.I., as she refers to herself ("Vic" is fine; "Tori" is reserved for select members of the family; "Vicki" makes her seethe) seems imbued with an astonishing sense of anger, whether directed at the breakdown of social contracts, the corruption of her Chicago hometown, or those who abuse systems and people alike. V.I.'s investigations are not meant as mere entertainment; she'd chafe at the notion that her raison d'être is to give the reader a good time between the covers. Her manner can be strident, even off-putting. She hardly cares about her sense of dress (but can be coaxed into putting on evening wear if there's a strong reason). Lovers come and go, their appeal in direct correlation with how long they are absent from her life.

The temperature of Warshawski's "burning anger, wrath and indignation," to crib from the Passover Seder, has only risen with time, seemingly reflective of her creator's growing disillusionment with the world. As Paretsky detailed in her short memoir Writing in an Age of Silence (2007), early optimism buoyed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s has, in her view, all but crumbled in the face of a bombardment of sadism and misogyny, the withholding of civil liberties, and the nation's move from proud speech into near-deafening silence. It's why Hardball's main storyline, contrasting the impending election of Barack Obama with a missing persons case dating to the 1966 riots surrounding Martin Luther King's Chicago appearance, strikes such an unsettling chord: Paretsky has V.I. face family myths rooted in childhood and, in upending them, also appears to sever the detective's remaining link to order and hope.

Hardball's narrative runs at a solid clip, starting with the opening set piece of V.I. returning from a difficult prison visit with a nasty gang leader she once defended in her primordial, pre-series days as a lawyer to find her office thoroughly trashed, and her visiting young cousin Petra, "a freshly minted college graduate with an internship in her daddy's hometown" disappeared -- and, by virtue of a bracelet left behind in the wreckage, possibly implicated in the crime. But the investigative engine kicks in for real when Paretsky flashes back a few weeks earlier, when a homeless man's near-death and an inquisitive hospital administrator put Warshawski face to face with a bitter, rage-filled octogenarian whose son Lamont Gasden vanished more than forty years before, on January 25, 1967. She's not so interested in what happened, but her dying sister can't leave the world without knowing the truth.

In tandem with classic P.I. genre tropes (threatening phone calls, inexplicable requests, Warshawski's life in peril a few times, grandstanding federal agents) and more recent ones (brushes with Homeland Security, "Millennium Gens" fond of text messaging, tedious paperwork) Paretsky unspools a tale of corruption, police brutality, and racism that hits V.I. where it hurts the most: the reputation of the father she still idolizes decades after his death. The posthumous fate of Tony Warshawski brings about a prevailing father-daughter theme in Hardball. When a woman of Lamont's acquaintance rises up in passionate defense of her own father, a preacher prone to abuse and bad temper, Warshawski wonders, "Were we daughters always like this, always ready to leap to our fathers' defense against the evidence?" The same passion, in reverse, takes place when Tony's much-younger brother Peter rails against V.I. for putting Petra in needless danger. After grabbing her shoulders and shaking her, V.I. observes that Peter "was almost seventy, but his fingers still held the strength he'd gotten on the slaughterhouse floor in his teens."

Despite the volatile mixture of family, politics, and past misdeeds darkening the present, Hardball doesn't have the sharp tang of the early novels or the expansive reach of more recent series installments. Part of the problem is that Paretsky's vow to age V.I. in real time -- she's a little over thirty in Indemnity Only -- has stalled out somewhat. The detective reports several times that she was "about ten" during the blizzard of 1967, making her "almost fifty" now. It comes off as more off a minor quibble precisely because Paretsky's taken such care to be true to today's times and keep V.I. reasonably up to date with current events.

Hardball does leave V.I. Warshawski in an understandably ruminative place, having had to question the very bedrock of her family: "[I could] try to realize that you never fully known anyone, that we, most of us, live with our contradictions. I, too, have many flaws, the hot temper...that had frightened my cousin so much it almost cost her her life. Could I learn from that terrible mistake?" The entire trajectory of V.I. Warshawski's life and work has been, to date, about her struggles with her own impulses, the best of which connect her to community and friends and the worst of which alienate and endanger those closest. And the prospect of her finally coming to terms with and conquering that formidable anger is why those future series books will be required mystery reading --Sarah Weinman

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction for the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun and blogs about the genre at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (http://www.sarahweinman.com).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423319986
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 7/27/2010
  • Series: V. I. Warshawski Series, #13
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Abridged, 5 CDs, 6 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara  Paretsky
Sara Paretsky is the author of fourteen previous books, including twelve V. I. Warshawski novels. She is the winner of many awards, including the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers’ Association. She lives in Chicago.


Sara Paretsky grew up in eastern Kansas, where she attended a small country school. The publishing bug bit Paretsky early—at age 11, her first published story appeared in the magazine The American Girl. It was about children surviving a Kansas tornado. She attended the University of Kansas for her undergraduate degree, but after spending a summer in Chicago doing community service work, she fell in love with the Windy City and decided after college to make the move permanent.

Paretsky eventually earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago but had a hard time finding a job as an academic, so she returned to school for an M.B.A., after which she started working full-time in marketing. (In order to complete her first three novels, she juggled family and job with writing at night.) An avid reader, Paretsky has always been a fan of detective fiction, but noticed a lack of intelligent, likable female protagonists in the genre. Thus, with the inspiring city of Chicago as the background, her signature character, V. I. Warshawski, was born.

Readers and critics have responded with appreciation for Paretsky's confident, modern, noir female detective. Unlike other noir heroines, V. I. refuses to be categorized by her sexuality. Despite the patriarchy she confronts on every case, she's a single woman in total control. Paretsky says of V. I., " I started aging V. I. because although she is a fictional character, she is grounded in historical events: she came of age during the Civil Rights movement and the anti-War movement. Her mother was a refugee from Fascist Italy. And her cases are all based on real events. Who she is depends on her being born in the Fifties. Now, of course, I have this dilemma of how to let her get older while still continuing to be an effective detective. I haven't quite figured that out yet."

Beyond her successful series, Paretsy has proven her range of talent with short stories (1995's Windy City Blues) and a handful of stand-alones (Ghost Country, Bleeding Kansas). She has also edited anthologies of mysteries and crime fiction by famous and less well-known female writers.

Generous with all she has learned throughout the years, Paretsky is a co-founder of Sisters in Crime, an organization dedicated since 1986 to bringing the female voice in detective fiction to the attention of booksellers and libraries. Sisters in Crime is a business resource for women on how to prepare a press kit, arrange a signing at a local bookstore, or search for an agent—as well as a treasure chest of new writers on the scene. Check out all they have to offer at www.sistersincrime.org.

Good To Know

Paretsky worked for ten years as a marketing manager at an insurance company and draws on the experience when writing about white-collar crimes for the V. I. Warshawski series.

Comparing herself to V. I. Warshawski, Paretsky says that they both love dogs, enjoy good food and good Scotch, and are both diehard Cubs fans.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sara N. Paretsky
    2. Hometown:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 8, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Ames, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Political Science, University of Kansas; Ph.D. and M.B.A., University of Chicago
    2. Website:

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 46 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 46 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Grand Return

    I have long been a fan of Sara Paretsky's detective, V.I. Warshawski, a no-nonsense, hardboiled female P.I. And this novel was a grand return of this intriguing character. The mystery is set in the city of Chicago and harkens back to a murder during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

    The racial tensions of that period are almost palpable. Even a younger reader will feel the trauma of that painful time in our nation's history.
    The mystery of the story is a crackling one and quite intricate. It seemed like an onion, with so many layers which needed to be peeled to find the truth at the core. It was also fascinating to read about Vic's childhood and her recollections of her father, a police officer, and her mother, a frustrated opera singer from Italy.

    This book is quite long, at almost 400 pages. I found it to be a quick read, though, and I would have loved another 200 pages or so!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2009

    V.I. Returns

    I'm so glad to have VI back. Ms. Paretsky is exploring new characters, and aspects of VI's family. VI's voice is still there, and I like the way characters are allowed to age and use current technology. Good book. I'm keeping it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Another excellent read from Sara Paretsky . . .

    It was so great to have the gift of another V.I. Warshawski novel that words can hardly describe my joy and delight in experiencing this tale! Sara Paretsky, you truly are a magnificient story teller . . your stories are so rich with detail, and alive with reality, so that not a word is wasted. A note to the author: you don't need to title each chapter like you did in this book (if you ever did this before I didn't notice, in my eagerness to get on with the story); your writing is good and clear enough that each chapter stands on its own and doesn't need the added distraction of a flippant title. I really needed this novel, at this time in my life, to bring up my spirits . . .this book will stay with me and keep me warm for days to come. My only regret is the long wait ahead for another installment in the V.I. Warshawski storyline. Thank you! Thank you!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Reward For Perseverance

    This one fooled me. I was ready to give it up after 60 or 70 pages as I just wasn't getting into it. There was only one review here, and that was about some other book than this one. So I re-read Marilyn Stasio's comments and stuck with it since Stasio hasn't let me down yet.
    Sara Paretsky took her time building her story, and I liked that it features many women in heroic roles, but it finally started taking me in only with the depth of its characters, and the honesty of the storyline. By the finish I felt quite rewarded for having read an interesting tale of crime and corruption being battled yet again by decency and honor. So you can't always tell from the beginning that a writer is going to play Hardball with your views.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Good Book

    I have to say this book started pretty slow but it picked up the pace eventually to become a fantastic read. Paretsky is still injecting too much of her own liberalism for my taste but, if you can overlook this small flaw, you will be rewarded with an enjoyable plotline. I wish all of Paretsky's books were this well thought out and interesting Good job on this one. Stephanie Clanahan

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  • Posted October 23, 2011


    These are all very good books. If you like mysteries these are some of the best.

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  • Posted June 25, 2011


    I loved this book. Very well written, with alot of history of chicago in it, but entertaining history, not the kind that drags on that you wish you could skip. Definitely ready for another v.i. book

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    Warshawski is back!

    This is like having an old friend return. Sometimes painful, always exciting. I love reading about Chicago and it's history. And, the old familiar characters are comfortable, and great to hear from again.
    I can understand why Ms. Paretsky needs time to develop these stories! These are my favorite of all her books! I anxiously await the next V.I Warshawski book!

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    V.I. Warshawski Comes Through again

    Once again I found myself wanting to be a fly on the wall while V.I. Warshawski goes into action. With her usual sense of humor and ability to acknowledge her weaknesses, Warshawski goes to bat for the little guy, in this case, her young cousin who, like a lot of young, naive idealists, want to change the world through politics.
    While not a "thrill a minute" plot, something that Paretsky in not known for, her books give the reader a satisfaction that is all to rare these days.

    Take time to read and savor this book, you will not go away hungry (except for more Warshawski stories).

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    One of the best.

    I love VI and Sara Paretsky has given me another great story about her and her friends. The writing is top-notch and fast paced. The interweaving of current political and past crimes was perfect

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2009

    Just Started...

    Just started... have a load of books ahead of this one and a couple O just added...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2009

    She's Back

    How nice to see VI Warshowski back in town and follow her on her latest adventure. The character is always interesting and I can relax with what seems like my "old" family that is always so well integrated into the books.

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  • Posted July 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Capri with is vivid setting enhances a deep look at families that as a unit may not survive a tragedy

    In spite of her wealth, heiress Lyra Nicholson is lonely while living on Capri, Italy. Her two teenage daughters, sixteen years old Pell and fourteen years old Lucy are almost as lonely as their mom while residing with their grandma in Newport, Rhode Island.

    Lucy, a math prodigy, with the help of her best friend Beck tried to use equations to contact her late father, but failed (see Geometry of Sisters). Pell decides it is time to confront Lyra so she travels to Italy to demand her mother finally be a mom to them; having abandoned them years ago. Playwright Max Gardiner, who loves Lyra, encourages Pell to go for it while the older daughter is attracted to his nineteen years old Rafe, a recovering addict.

    This profound sequel to GEOMETRY OF SISTERS focuses on the older sister (whereas the previous one centered on Lucy) who after a decade of separation has come to challenge her mom. Ironically when mother and daughter meet, the former seems like a young teen and the latter appears as the more mature fortyish parent. Capri with is vivid setting enhances a deep look at families that as a unit may not survive a tragedy, but the component members endure coping in their own ways.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 8, 2010

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    Posted August 15, 2011

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    Posted September 2, 2010

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    Posted August 30, 2010

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    Posted January 10, 2010

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