Book: Blacklist

Cover image

Blacklist: A V.I. Warshawski Novel

Author: Sara Paretsky
Publisher: Signet Book

Blacklist is a story of secrets and betrayals that stretch across four generations, but with particular resonance for today.

The secrets are many—political, social, sexual, and financial—and they all have the power to kill, as V.I. soon learns. Eager for physical action in the spirit-numbing wake of 9/11. V.I. is glad to take on a routine stake-out for her most important client, Darraugh Graham. His ninety-one-year-old mother sold the family estate when she could no longer manage it, and now that it’s standing empty, Geraldine Graham keeps a fretful eye on it from a retirement apartment across the road. When the old woman sees lights on in the middle of the night, V.I. checks it out—and finds a dead man in the ornamental pond.

A reporter, it turns out, for an African-American publication, and as far as the suburban cops seem to feel, a black criminal who stumbled to a drunken death. Furious, the man’s family hires V.I. to investigate—and that’s when things begin to get complicated.

As she retraces the dead reporter’s tracks, V.I. is sucked into the middle of a gothic tale of sex, money and power, the trail leading her back to the McCarthy-era blacklists, and forward to some of the darker aspects of the Patriot Act. As she scrambles desperately for a way to save herself and her clients, V.I. finds herself penned into a smaller and smaller space by an array of people trying to silence her, and before she can untangle the whole sordid truth, not only will two more people lie dead…but her own life will hang in the balance.


Privilege, politics, and perfidy jointly propel the circuitous plot of Blacklist, Sara Paretsky’s 11th novel featuring tenacious Chicago private-eye V.I. Warshawski. By the time this story runs its course, V.I. will have harbored an alleged Arab terrorist, resurrected the ghosts of America’s 1950s anti-Communist hysteria, and questioned the integrity of a man she once admired “to the point of hero worship.” In other words, it’s a typical case for this hard-headed, sarcastic, and perpetually sleep-deprived sleuth.

Still suffering from “exhaustion of the spirit” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, V.I. is hired to find out who may be sneaking into a vacated suburban mansion. Geraldine Graham, the home’s 91-year-old former owner, who still lives nearby, claims she’s seen lights in the attic at night. Our heroine suspects this is simply a bid by the wealthy dowager for greater attention, but agrees to do some nocturnal prowling—only to stumble (literally) across the body of a dead black journalist, Marcus Whitby, in the estate’s ornamental pond and encounter a teenage girl fleeing the scene. The girl turns out to be Catherine Bayard, the granddaughter of Calvin Bayard, an unapologetically liberal book publisher who survived a hounding by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee in the ‘50s without being blacklisted like so many of his authors. Digging deeper, V.I. learns that Whitby was doing research for a book about an African-American dancer and anthropologist who had enjoyed Bayard’s support before she too was branded a Communist. Was Whitby killed en route to visit Bayard, one of Graham’s neighbors—and a man who has strangely vanished from public view? And is there any connection between this murder and the disappearance of an Egyptian dishwasher, or the recent demise of a right-wing attorney and Bayard foe, in whose apartment V.I. is attacked by an intruder?

Except for a few astounding turns of luck (including the 11th-hour discovery of a revealing audiotape left in a car’s player), Paretsky rolls out a credible yarn here, enriched by meticulous character development and an agreeably ambiguous conclusion. The author’s intention to link McCarthy-era abuses with post-9/11 government assaults on civil rights is obvious, without being didactic, and it adds currency to a fictional investigation that’s already rife with sex, betrayal, and long-held secrets among the rich. It’s good to see that V.I. the P.I. hasn’t lost the compassion or righteousness that first made her attractive two decades ago, in Indemnity Only. —J. Kingston Pierce

Barnes and Noble

In the wake of 9/11, Sara Paretsky examines the devastating effect of personal fear set against an escalating climate of national paranoia and despair. Blacklist, the 12th outing for private eye V. I. Warshawski, is rife with weighty themes, including terrorism, McCarthyism, and the never-ending fight to preserve the First Amendment; but the author balances out the heaviness with plenty of her trademark dark humor, one-line zingers, intense action, and thrills galore.

V. I. “Vic” Warshawski agrees to investigate the story of a 90-year-old female nursing home resident who claims to have seen lights in a nearby abandoned mansion. In no time, Vic has stumbled across the corpse of a reporter who was hunting down a reclusive dancer blacklisted in the Red Scare of the 1950s. Each event combines with others to reveal a complex cover-up involving the FBI and terrorists at large.

Blacklist, a powerful entry in Paretsky’s popular series, gives Vic a chance to show her tender, vulnerable side, as the plucky P.I. wrestles to overcome her feelings of anxiety and powerlessness. Offering up a solid mixture of excitement and thought-provoking issues, the author pulls us into a story that combines the best elements of political intrigue with a classy, first-rate mystery. —Tom Piccirilli

Views: 861 • Modified: • Elapsed: 0.018 sec