Total Recall

by Sara Paretsky

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Featured image for Total Recall

Paretsky is one of my very favourite authors so nothing I say about her books is likely to be particularly objective. Six years ago I picked up a copy of Burn Marks in the library and it changed me from being an occassional mystery reader to a fully fledged addict who only occassionally reads other genres. Strangely enough the first Paretsky I read wasn’t a mystery at all but a short story called A Taste of Life which was published as one of the mini 60p books brought out to celebrate Penguin’s 60th anniversary. That must have been 1995. And here I am today with Paretsky as one of only a very small handful of authors I think deserve buying in hardback when they come out. I just can’t wait.

I’ve avoided reading reviews of this book because there was no point to me reading them. Even if the book was declared the biggest pile of garbage ever produced I was going to read it and like it. But the vibe that I’ve picked up is that it’s not great. Not Paretsky’s best. That she’s done better. I read the book slowly, both to savour it and to put off any possible disappointment. And in the end I find that I don’t agree, I think it’s a good chapter in VI Warshawski’s life so long as you’re following the series.

One of the problems I have with some long running series are that the characters don’t get developed enough or that they just repeat themselves over and over. A couple of books back it looked as if this series might be heading into that territory. In this book however I think many members of the series cast have reached pivotal points in their lives and that future books will take them to new heights.

Vic has annoyed me in the past with her ability to lose good men as if they were going out of fashion and also with her ability to get cracked over the head twice a book without suffering any ill effects. In this book she manages to both hang onto a man who I hope is to become a permanent fixture in the series. Actually her boyfriend reminds me very much of Hy Ripinsky in Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone books which is probably just because he’s got a job that takes him off to obscure regions of the world for long periods of time. (Though how obscure Afghanistan is at the moment is another matter ;-) I wonder what experiences he will tell us about in the next book.) Also Vic manages not to get injured in this book. She scrapes her knees a couple of times but she seems to have given up chucking herself off buildings.

This book also reveals major details about Lotty Herschel’s past. I think the mystery part of this storyline was a bit weak but though I guessed what had happened almost from the beginning I still very much enjoyed this part of the book.

So this was definitely a great character book, but what about the plot? The main mystery plot gets a bit lost in all the other stuff going on to be honest. And there are a few too many coincidences in how everythign gets tied up. I didn’t mind too much but I can see why this book could get marked down for it.

For a fan of the series and the characters this is great stuff, but it’s not the book to read first.