Johnny's Reviews > Blacklist

Blacklist by Sara Paretsky
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's review
Jul 18, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: mystery
Read in July, 2009

Not being a regular reader of Paretsky or her protagonist, V. I. Warshawski, there were times when I was surprised by her illegal actions and very legal connections. However, I was delighted by the descriptions of Chicago--both historical and modern Chicago. The history surrounding Bronzeville particularly resonated with me since we had recently heard the "African-American Symphony" composed by a former resident of that all-black community and had listened to the official Chicago historian talk about bank failures and cultural changes in that area. One portion of the book describes a wedding that took place at Fourth Presbyterian Church and I happened (in Jungian synchronicity)to read that passage just as I was traveling home on the "El" after walking past that vine-covered edifice.

Yet, I'm not rating this book so highly on the basis of local color (though I'll be reading other mysteries by Paretsky for precisely that reason, just as I enjoy that aspect of Greeley). I like everything from the title (Blacklist) referring literally to the ostracism of "fellow travelers" during the Cold War and figuratively to the lives of African-Americans from that era. I enjoyed the fact that this was a book of socio-economic "incest," cultural-political betrayal, and family secrets. I liked the fact that I guessed the perpetrator early on, but still flirted with the red herring suspects who floated to the surface like the dead carp in the pool where the first victim was found.

The history is vivid, the protagonist is creative, and the plot seems plausible to me. I particularly like the way the detective's circumstances are constantly changing in a spiral of changing clients, accusations, clues, and possibilities. Did the black journalist actually find something that caused him to be murdered or did his research into an intelligent and talented performer from the '50s cause him to despair enough to commit suicide? Does the appearance of a very wealthy teenager at the crime scene indicate complicity in the crime or is it coincidence? Is the character of Arab descent who is present at the scene of the crime evidence that he is a terrorist or further evidence of coincidence? For almost 500 pages, I was mesmerized by this beautifully-etched portrait of Old Chicago versus Modern Chicago, a landscape written in blood and tears.
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