Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Total Recall

No, not the movie, but the book by Sara Paretsky. I mentioned in the AG Chronicles blog when i started reading this book, and I am horrified that it took a month to finish it. It should have taken me a few days at most. I am not doing very well at keeping up with my reading list.

Anyway, I've read two or three VI Warshawski books, and enjoyed them thoroughly. Total Recall is no exception. I stayed up till 3am or so to finish the last quarter of the book, it was so engaging. Paretsky is masterful at setting up the scenery. I remember that in the other books of the series I've read, it was Chicago. In this book, Chicago is the main backdrop, but World War II Europe also makes an appearance.

I like these Paretsky books because they are quite sophisticated, meticulous, yet a whole lot of fun. Victoria, as the protagonist, is easy to relate to. Yet many of the characters in the stories are, by their nature, of a world beyond mine... but Paretsky brings them to my level, for me to see and study. Journalists, doctors, executives, politicians.

This installment had the typical gum-shoe detective work that makes VI so engaging. But an added element really took me aback. The story dug back into the WWII history of Victoria's friends, Dr. Herschel and Max Loewenthal. It masterfully tied the Chicago insurance industry to the Holocaust, using the vehicle of a seemingly mundane fraud investigation. Modern day murder and the horrors of war and the Holocaust are seamlessly weaved into the storyline so that it never becomes too burdensome for recreational reading. These books are the best. They serve primarily as entertainment, but educate along the way.

I am always amazed at either the great depth of knowledge good authors like Paretsky have, or the thorough research they do for their books. I typically am impressed by the well researched scientific basis of science drama authors like Michael Crichton (last book I read being Prey, most excellent). In Total Recall, it was history rather than science, but equally impressive. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm an aficionado of history (unless it involves biographies of the titans of industry) as I am of science, so I can't really say whether the history is accurate, but it sounds accurate. And I trust Paretsky enough to believe she would be painfully accurate in her portrayal of the Holocaust and its survivors. For her to not be accurate, would be a discredit and a destruction to her and to her characters, whose history defines them.

So, a thumbs up. Wikipedia says that the VI Warshaski series goes back to 1982, with 12 novels in all, two since Total Recall (2001). With so much on my reading list, I won't add them to my queue, despite the fact I enjoy them so much. I'll leave it to my wife to find me recreational reading books. She does a great job and thanks to her, I've discovered some marvelous authors and reads I wouldn't have found had I focused on a few authors.

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