Review: Dead Land by Sara Paretsky

Title: Dead Land by Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski Series Book Twenty
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 416 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


Chicago’s legendary detective, V.I. Warshawski, knows her city’s rotten underbelly better than most, but she’s unable to avoid it when her goddaughter drags her into a fight over lakefront land use, in this propulsive novel from New York Times bestseller Sara Paretsky.

Chicago may be the city of broad shoulders, but its political law is “Pay to Play.” Money changes hands in the middle of the night, and by morning, buildings and parks are replaced by billion-dollar projects.

Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski gets pulled into one of these clandestine deals through her impetuous goddaughter, Bernie Fouchard. Bernie tries to rescue Lydia Zamir, a famed singer-songwriter now living on the streets; Zamir’s life fell apart when her lover was murdered next to her in a mass shooting at an outdoor concert. Not only does Bernie plunge her and V.I. headlong into the path of some ruthless developers, they lead to the murder of the young man Bernie is dating. He’s a computer geek working for a community group called SLICK.

V.I. is desperate to find a mysterious man named Coop, who roams the lakefront in the middle of the night with his dog. She’s sure he holds the key to the mounting body count within SLICK. Coop may even know why an international law firm is representing the mass murderer responsible for Lydia’s lover’s death. Instead, the detective finds a terrifying conspiracy stretching from Chicago’s parks to a cover-up of the dark chapters in America’s meddling in South American politics. Before she finds answers, this electrifying novel pushes V.I. close to the breaking point: People who pay to play take no prisoners.


Dead Land by Sara Paretsky is a multi-layered mystery. Although this latest release is the twentieth installment in the V.I. Warshawski series, it can be read as a standalone.

Private detective V.I. Warshawski accidentally becomes involved in an increasingly complex missing persons case.  Following a mass shooting four years earlier in which her boyfriend Hector Palurdo was murdered, singer Lydia Zamir disappeared from the public eye. That is until V.I. and her goddaughter Bernadette “Bernie” Fouchard stumble across Lydia living in the streets of Chicago. Warshawski is worried about Lydia since she is obviously malnourished and clearly suffering from some kind of mental illness. Lydia is fiercely guarded by Coop who is well known for his anger issues but little else.  V.I.’s search for the missing woman takes her to Kansas where someone makes it very clear they do not want her poking around in the mass shooting case.

As V.I. tries to locate Lydia,  Bernie’s  boyfriend Leo Prinz is murdered following a community action group’s meeting about an upcoming Chicago Park’s project to add a beach to a local lakefront. V.I. is upset the local police are not taking Leo’s death more seriously so she takes matters into her own hands. She is very curious about Leo’s interest in a map that he caught a brief glimpse of not long before his murder. V.I. is very concerned when she discovers another person from the community action group is missing.  But before she can look into his disappearance, Coop leaves his dog Bear with her and vanishes. Her efforts to find Coop lead to an alarming discovery.

Warshawski’s investigations become very convoluted as she searches for answers about where Lydia might be and what is going on with the beach project. Why have two people involved with the proposed project been murdered?  Why is Parks Superintendent Gifford Taggett hostile when she questions him about the project? Where is Coop? And does he have anything to do with Lydia going missing? Some of the answers to these questions are rather shocking and take V.I.’s hunt for the truth in very unexpected directions.

Dead Land is a complicated mystery that is interesting but sometimes a little slow-paced. V.I. is a tenacious private investigator who does not give up even as her investigation turns puts her in danger.  The plot is intriguing and takes several seemingly unconnected turns.  However, Sara Paretsky expertly weaves the various story arcs together into a stunning conclusion that neatly ties up all of the disparate threads. This latest addition to the V.I. Warshawski series will delight old and new readers of this wonderful series.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dead Land, Mystery, Rated B, Review, Sara Paretsky, Suspense, VI Warshawski Series

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