— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Total Recall (V. I. Warshawski Series #10)by Sara Paretsky
Now Paretsky brings her/i>/i>
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The bestselling V.I. Warshawski novels have dazzled readers and earned the acclaim of critics everywhere. “V.I. Warshawski rules,” writes Newsweek, crowning her “the most engaging woman in detective fiction.” Of V.I.’s creator, the Chicago Tribune says “Sara Paretsky has no peer.”
Now Paretsky brings her incomparable storytelling brilliance to her most powerful Warshawski novel yet. Total Recall follows the Chicago P.I. on a road that winds back more than fifty years — and into an intricate maze of wartime lies, heartbreaking secrets, and harrowing retribution.
For V.I., the journey begins with a national conference in downtown Chicago, where angry protesters are calling for the recovery of Holocaust assets. Replayed on the evening news is the scene of a slight man who has stood up at the conference to tell an astonishing story of a childhood shattered by the Holocaust — a story that has devastating consequences for V.I.’s cherished friend and mentor, Lotty Herschel.
Lotty was a girl of nine when she emigrated from Austria to England, one of a group of children wrenched from their parents and saved from the Nazi terror just before the war broke out. Now stunningly — impossibly — it appears that someone from that long-lost past may have returned.
With the help of a recovered-memory therapist, Paul Radbuka has recently learned his true identity. But is he who he claims to be? Or is he a cunning impostor who has usurped someone else’s history ... a history Lotty has tried to forget for over fifty years?
As a frightened V.I. watches her friend unravel, she sets out to help in the only way she can: by investigating Radbuka’s past. Already working on a difficult case for a poor family cheated of their life insurance, she tries to balance Lotty’s needs with her client’s, only to find that both are spiraling into a whirlpool of international crime that stretches from Switzerland and Germany to Chicago’s South Side.
As the atrocities of the past reach out to engulf the living, V.I. struggles to decide whose memories of a terrible war she can trust, and moves closer to a chilling realization of the truth — a truth that almost destroys her oldest friend.
With fierce emotional power, Sara Paretsky has woven a gripping and morally complex novel of crime and punishment, memory and illusion. Destined to become a suspense classic, Total Recall proves once again the daring and compelling genius of Sara Paretsky.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Read an Excerpt
“They wouldn’t even start the funeral service. The church was full, ladies were crying. My uncle was a deacon and he was a righteous man, he’d been a member of that church for forty-seven years when he passed. My aunt was in a state of total collapse, as you can imagine. And for them to have the nerve to say the policy had already been cashed in. When! That’s what I want to know, Ms. Warshawski, when was it ever cashed in, with my uncle paying his five dollars a week for fifteen years like he did, and my aunt never hearing word one of him borrowing against the policy or converting it.”
Isaiah Sommers was a short, square man who spoke in slow cadences as if he were himself a deacon. It was an effort to keep from drowsing off during the pauses in his delivery. We were in the living room of his South Side bungalow, at a few minutes after six on a day that had stretched on far too long already.
I’d been in my office at 8:30, starting a round of the routine searches that make up the bulk of my business, when Lotty Herschel called with an SOS. “You know Max’s son brought Calia and Agnes with him from London, don’t you? Agnes suddenly has a chance to show her slides at a Huron Street gallery, but she needs a minder for Calia.”
“I’m not a baby-sitter, Lotty,” I’d said impatiently; Calia was Max Loewenthal’s five-year-old granddaughter.
Lotty swept imperiously past that protest. “Max called me when they couldn’t find anyone — it’s his housekeeper’s day off. He’s going to that conference at the Hotel Pleiades, although I’ve told him many times that all he’s doing is exposing — but that’s neither here nor there. At any rate, he’s on a panel at ten — otherwise he’d stay home himself. I tried Mrs. Coltrain at my clinic, but everyone’s tied up. Michael is rehearsing all afternoon with the symphony and this could be an important chance for Agnes. Vic — I realize it’s an imposition, but it would be only for a few hours.”
“Why not Carl Tisov?” I asked. “Isn’t he staying at Max’s, too?”
“Carl as a baby-sitter? Once he picks up his clarinet the roof of the house can blow off without his noticing. I saw it happen once, during the V-1 raids. Can you tell me yes or no? I’m in the middle of surgical rounds, and I have a full schedule at the clinic.” Lotty is the chief perinatologist at Beth Israel.
I tried a few of my own connections, including my part-time assistant who has three foster children, but no one could help out. I finally agreed with a surly lack of grace. “I have a client meeting at six on the far South Side, so someone had better be able to step in before five.”
When I drove up to Max’s Evanston home to collect Calia, Agnes Loewenthal was breathlessly grateful. “I can’t even find my slides. Calia was playing with them and stuck them in Michael’s cello, which got him terribly cross, and now the wretched beast can’t imagine where he’s flung them.”
Michael appeared in a T-shirt with his cello bow in one hand. “Darling, I’m sorry, but they have to be in the drawing room — that’s where I was practicing. Vic, I can’t thank you enough — can we take you and Morrell to dinner after our Sunday afternoon concert?”
“We can’t do that, Michael!” Agnes snapped. “That’s Max’s dinner party for Carl and you.”
Michael played cello with the Cellini Chamber Ensemble, the London group started back in the forties by Max and Lotty’s friend Carl Tisov. The Cellini was in Chicago to kick off their biannual international tour. Michael was also scheduled to play some concerts with the Chicago Symphony.
Agnes gave Calia a quick hug. “Victoria, thank you a million times. Please, though, no television. She only gets an hour a week and I don’t think American shows are suitable for her.” She darted back into the drawing room, where we could hear her furiously tossing cushions from the couch. Calia grimaced and clutched my hand.
It was Max who actually got Calia into her jacket and saw that her dog, her doll, and her “favoritest story” were in her day pack. “So much chaos,” he grunted. “You’d think they were trying to launch the space shuttle, wouldn’t you. Lotty tells me you have an evening appointment on the South Side. Perhaps you could meet me in the Pleiades lobby at four-thirty. I should be able to finish up by then so I can collect this whirling dervish from you. If you have a crisis, my secretary will be able to reach me. Victoria, we are grateful.” He walked outside with us, kissing Calia lightly on the head and me on the hand.
“I hope your panel isn’t too painful an outing,” I said.
He smiled. “Lotty’s fears? She’s allergic to the past. I don’t like wallowing in it, but I think it can be healthy for people to understand it.”
I strapped Calia into the backseat of the Mustang. The Birnbaum Foundation, which often underwrites communications issues, had decided to hold a conference on “Christians and Jews: a New Millennium, a New Dialogue.” They came up with the program after Southern Baptists announced plans to send a hundred thousand missionaries to Chicago this past summer to convert the Jews. The Baptist drive fizzled out; only about a thousand stalwart evangelizers showed up. It cost the Baptists something in cancellation fees at the hotels, too, but by then the planning for the Birnbaum conference was well under way.
Max was taking part in the bank-account panel, which infuriated Lotty: he was going to describe his postwar experiences in trying to track down his relatives and their assets. Lotty said he was going to expose his misery for the world at large to stare at. She said it only reinforced a stereotype of Jews as victims. Besides, she would add, dwelling on missing assets only gave people fuel for the second popular stereotype, that all Jews cared about was money. To which Max invariably replied, who cares about money here, really? The Jews? Or the Swiss who refuse to return it to the people who earned it and deposited it? And the fight went on from there. It had been an exhausting summer, being around them.
In the seat behind me, Calia was chattering happily. The private eye as baby-sitter: it wasn’t the first image you got from pulp fiction. I don’t think Race Williams or Philip Marlowe ever did baby-sitting, but by the end of the morning I decided that was because they were too weak to take on a five-year-old.
I started at the zoo, thinking trudging around for an hour would make Calia eager to rest while I did some work in my office, but that proved to be an optimism born of ignorance. She colored for ten minutes, needed to go to the bathroom, wanted to call Grandpapa, thought we should play tag in the hall that runs the length of the warehouse where I lease space, was “terrifically” hungry despite the sandwiches we’d eaten at the zoo, and finally jammed one of my picklocks into the back of the photocopier.
At that point I gave up and took her to my apartment, where the dogs and my downstairs neighbor gave me a merciful respite. Mr. Contreras, a retired machinist, was delighted to let her ride horseback on him in the garden. The dogs joined in. I left them to it while I went up to the third floor to make some calls. I sat at the kitchen table with the back door open so I could keep an ear cocked for when Mr. Contreras’s patience waned, but I did manage to get an hour of work in. After that Calia consented to sit in my living room with Peppy and Mitch while I read her “favoritest” story, The Faithful Dog and the Princess.
“I have a dog, too, Aunt Vicory,” she announced, pulling a blue stuffed one from her day pack. “His name is Ninshubur, like in the book. See, it says, Ninshubur means ‘faithful friend’ in the language of the princess’s people.”
“Vicory” was the closest Calia could get to Victoria when we met almost three years ago. We’d both been stuck with it ever since.
Calia couldn’t read yet, but she knew the story by heart, chanting “For far rather would I die than lose my liberty” when the princess flung herself into a waterfall to escape an evil enchantress. “Then Ninshubur, the faithful hound, leapt from rock to rock, heedless of any danger.” He jumped into the river and carried the princess to safety.
Calia pushed her blue plush dog deep into the book, then threw him on the floor to demonstrate his leap into the waterfall. Peppy, well-bred golden retriever that she was, sat on the alert, waiting for a command to fetch, but her son immediately bounded after the toy. Calia screamed, running after Mitch. Both dogs began to bark. By the time I rescued Ninshubur, all of us were on the brink of tears. “I hate Mitch, he is a bad dog, I am most annoyed at his behavior,” Calia announced.
I was thankful to see that it was three-thirty. Despite Agnes’s prohibition, I plunked Calia in front of the television while I went down the hall to shower and change. Even in the era of casual dress, new clients respond better to professionalism: I put on a sage rayon suit with a rose silk sweater.
When I got back to the living room, Calia was lying with her head on Mitch’s back, blue Ninshubur between his paws. She bitterly resisted restoring Mitch and Peppy to Mr. Contreras.
“Mitch will miss me, he will cry,” she wailed, so tired herself that nothing made sense to her.
“Tell you what, baby: we’ll get Mitch to give Ninshubur one of his dog tags. That way Ninshubur will remember Mitch when he can’t see him.” I went into my storage closet, where I found one of the small collars we’d used when Mitch had been a puppy. Calia stopped crying long enough to help buckle it in place around Ninshubur. I attached a set of Peppy’s old tags, which looked absurdly big on the small blue neck but brought Calia enormous satisfaction.
I stuffed her day pack and Ninshubur into my own briefcase and scooped her up to carry her to my car. “I’m not a baby, I don’t get carried,” she sobbed, clinging to me. In the car she fell asleep almost at once.
My plan had been to leave my car with the Pleiades Hotel valet for fifteen minutes while I took Calia in to find Max, but when I pulled off Lake Shore Drive at Wacker, I saw this wasn’t going to be possible. A major crowd was blocking the entrance to the Pleiades driveway. I craned my head, trying to see. A demonstration, apparently, with pickets and bullhorns. Television crews added to the chaos. Cops were furiously whistling cars away, but the traffic was so snarled I had to sit for some minutes in mounting frustration, wondering where I would find Max and what to do with Calia, heavily asleep behind me.
I pulled my cell phone out of my briefcase, but the battery was dead. And I couldn’t find the in-car charger. Of course not: I’d left it in Morrell’s car when he and I went to the country for a day last week. I pounded the steering wheel in useless frustration.
As I sat fuming, I watched the picketers, who belonged to conflicting causes. One group, all white, was carrying signs demanding passage of the Illinois Holocaust Asset Recovery Act. “No deals with thieves,” they were chanting, and “Banks, insurers, where is our money?”
The man with the bullhorn was Joseph Posner. He’d been on the news so many times lately I could have picked him out in a bigger crowd than this. He was dressed in the long coat and bowler hat of the ultra-Orthodox. The son of a Holocaust survivor, he had become ostentatiously religious in a way that made Lotty grind her teeth. He could be seen picketing everything from X-rated movies, with the support of Christian fundamentalists, to Jewish-owned stores like Neiman Marcus that were open on Saturday. His followers, who seemed to be a cross between a yeshiva and the Jewish Defense League, accompanied him everywhere. They called themselves the Maccabees and seemed to think their protests should be modeled on the original Maccabees’ military prowess. Like a growing number of fanatics in America, they were proud of their arrest records.
Posner’s most recent cause was an effort to get Illinois to pass the Illinois Holocaust Asset Recovery Act. The IHARA, suggested by legislation in Florida and California, would bar insurance companies from doing business in the state unless they proved that they weren’t sitting on any life or property claims from Holocaust victims. It also had clauses dealing with banks and with firms that benefited from use of forced labor during the Second World War. Posner had been able to generate enough publicity that the bill was being debated in committee.
The second group outside the Pleiades, mostly black, was carrying signs with a large red slash through Pass the IHARA. NO DEALS WITH SLAVE OWNERS AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE FOR ALL, their signs proclaimed. The guy leading this group was also easy to recognize: Alderman Louis “Bull” Durham. Durham had been looking for a long time for a cause that would turn him into a high-profile opponent to the mayor, but opposition to the IHARA didn’t strike me as a city-wide issue.
If Posner had his Maccabees, Durham had his own militant followers. He’d set up Empower Youth Energy teams, first in his own ward and then around town, as a way of getting young men off the streets and into job-training programs. But some of the EYE teams, as they were called, had a shadier side. There were whispers on the street of extortion and beatings for store owners who didn’t contribute to the alderman’s political campaigns. And Durham himself always had his own group of EYE-team bodyguards, who surrounded him in their signature navy blazers whenever he appeared in public. If the Maccabees and the EYE team were going head to head, I was glad I was a private detective trying to make my way through traffic, not one of the policemen hoping to keep them apart.
What People are saying about this
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Meet the Author
Sara Paretsky is the author of eleven other books, including the bestselling Hard Time, Tunnel Vision, Guardian Angel, and Burn Marks. She lives in Chicago with her husband.
- Chicago, Illinois
- Date of Birth:
- June 8, 1947
- Place of Birth:
- Ames, Iowa
- B.A., Political Science, University of Kansas; Ph.D. and M.B.A., University of Chicago
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"Total Recall" was definitely more complicated than the previous Warshawski books, with a couple of sub-plots to make it interesting. One of the sub-plots was about her good friend Lotty, and it included several chapters about Lotty's past, written in the first person by Lotty. Unlike the previous books in the series, I figured out the main plot about half way through the book because I remember seeing basically the same plot on a tv show some years ago (don't remember how long ago or what show it was). This was the longest book in the series so far, over 500 pages in the paperback version. And somewhat different because V,I. didn't get beaten to a pulp the way she had been in previous books. Someone did try to kill her of course, but not until near the end of the book. All in all, "Total Recall" is the best book in the series (IMO) so far. It is well worth reading.
I have read and thoroughly enjoyed all of the previous Warshawsky books but this one was not written in the same style and it was a bit of a disappointment. I think the author should have published this ad a stand-alone piece not in the Warshawsky series. Readers have certain anticipations when reading a series. Certainly, we e xpect the series to surprise us with new plots, but we also expect some continuity. I wanted to escape into a good crime story with a familiar format. I didn't get that so I felt misled. I would have read the book anyway if it had been a srand-alone; I just would have had different expectations. - S. Clanahan
Sara Paretsky's tough-as-nails detective Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski (V I to us, and Vic to her friends) has been getting better and better with each entry in this series, and "Total Recall" keeps that ball rolling.
As a previous reviewer has made clear, this is a V I Warshawski novel, but it's really the story of her friend and mentor, Lotty Herschel MD. One of the two main threads of the story deals with Lotty's escape from Nazi Germany before things really went sour, and her life as a young woman in the England of that era. There is something in that past that is somehow related to the sudden appearance in the present day of a man named Paul Radbuka, who claims to have escaped from the Nazis in a manner similar to Lotty, and was supposedly raised by a man who may have been an escaped Nazi war criminal. Now he's searching for his past and for his real family, but it's rather obvious that the man is somewhat nuts, and it doesn't help matters that he's enlisted the help of a Dr Laura clone who makes the real one look normal by comparison.
That part of the story (Rabuka's claims) is never really resolved, but what's important is the memories and emotions they stir up in Lotty, and Vic's attempts to help her friend. Along the way we see just how deep the friendship is between these two women, and that each would do literally anything within the bounds of reason and (most times) the law to help the other.
The other main thread of the story deals with a new client named Isaiah Sommers, who hires Vic to find out how an insurance company paid out a death claim on his aunt years before she actually died. The case and Vic's progression on it progresses slowly and logically, although you won't believe for a minute how the two threads end up twining together - I literally screamed out "plot device!" when I realized what Paretsky was doing.
But that aside, this is still a well-written and excellent entry in a series that has only improved with time. I look forward to my next V I novel.
I would have graded this book at 3.5 stars if that were possible, so I rounded to the even number above as my math teachers always taught me to do. Total Recall is built around the theme of how our current behavior is held prisoner by our perceptions of the past. Ms. Paretsky does a fine job of making it clear that we should keep our eyes open, look around, and exercise an open mind instead. The strength of this book is the way that many different story lines are intertwined in a way that keeps your attention and mostly make sense. Despite this successful plot design, I was disappointed that several promising themes were raised and not fully dealt with, such as ¿recovered¿ memory, what Holocaust survivors should and should not feel guilt about, and the need for proper management and regulation of insurance companies. I would have been glad to read another 100 pages of this fine work to explore more in these areas. The book¿s key weaknesses were in two areas: First, the characters are developed in ways that make them less strong and heroic than you probably have thought of them based on earlier V.I. Warshawski novels, particularly Lotty. Ms. Paretsky seems to have a jaundiced view of the moral strength and courage of her characters in this book except for Vic, which left me feeling a little down at the end. To me, the book¿s portrayal of the ongoing characters in this series seemed inauthentic in terms of the earlier novels. Second, the ultimate resolution of who the ¿bad guys¿ are and why they have been misbehaving didn¿t seem quite believable. I would have liked a better ¿rabbit out of the hat¿ to explain all of the contemporary wrong-doing. Overall, the book gains a rich glow of context from touching on children escaping the Holocaust that I thought allowed the book to transcend the usual mystery genre. Ms. Paretsky effectively uses Lotty as a narrator for parts of the book, which helps to give her story line a richer flavor. Vic is well portrayed in the book. She is her usual impatient, remorseless, and rule-bending self. You will enjoy her frustration with traffic, cell phones, and people who will not help her immediately. The story line of her relationship with Morrell is very delicately and interestingly done here. After you finish this book, I suggest that you think about where you could change your assumptions about who you are and what you are able to accomplish . . . for the better. Break the chains of beliefs that create self-confining habits. Then, act with the potential you hold within you! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise
This is a compelling story of discovery. I could not put it down. This novel is well-written, powerful and skillfully plotted.
V(ictoria) I(phigenia) Warshawski is up to her neck in cases which is the norm for the feisty independent private detective that takes no guff from anyone. Isaiah Sommers, a black man, is furious when Ajax Insurance isn¿t paying up on his uncle¿s life insurance. They say the client¿s widow presented the agent with a death certificate and cashed it in years ago. Isiah wants VI to get back the money due him. While she is dealing with that case, Paul Radbuka claims he was a child survivor of the Nazi concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Repressed memories that came out during a hypnosis session leads him to VI¿s friend, mentor and surrogate mother Dr. Lotty Herschel. She adamantly refuses to talk about any Radbukas. VI known for her intuitive hunches thinks these two disparate cases are linked but proving it is going to be impossible with important documents turning up missing and people getting shot. Sara Paretsky raises some very interesting questions concerning companies who dealt with people who supported Hitler and those who were slave owners in the United States. TOTAL RECALL serves to make one ponder social issues something only very special authors are able to gain from the readers. VI is her magnificent self as she cuts through layers of misinformation to get at the truth. TOTAL RECALL is one of the better books in their long running series. Harriet Klausner