Joyce Lagow's Reviews > Total Recall

Total Recall by Sara Paretsky
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's review
Aug 24, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: kindle-edition, police-procedural
Read in August, 2010

10th in the V.I. Warshawski series, set in contemporary Chicago.

Paretsky always sets her plots around at least one and usually more social issues, weaving them together in an intricate way so that the issues all bear on one another and the plot as well. Total Recall is one of her best in this respect.

Max Loewenthal, the director of Beth Israel Hospital where V>I>’s other close friend, Lotty Herschel works as a surgeon, has a greed to participate in a seminar about recovery of Jewish assets lost during the Shoah. This is in answer to the political efforts of an Orthodox rabbi who is leading a political movement to force insurance companies to pay on policies made out to Jews who died during the Holocaust; the movement is particularly hard on Jewish institutions that it perceives as not being firm enough on this issue. A bill is pending before the Illinois legislature. But life is complicated by an African-American alderman who is also demanding reparations from companies who benefitted from slavery before the Civil War.

Add to that paul Radubka a man who claims that he was in Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp that held, among others, Jewish children. paul claims that he had lost his memory due to an abusive foster father, that he has reclaimed those memories thanks to a therapist that uses hypnosis to help people recover such memories--and he has decided that Max and Lotty are his relatives. He gains media attention, and suddenly all of Chicago is focused on this fragile little man who then accuses V.I. as well as Lotty and Max of preventing him from reuniting with his family.

Yes, eventually there is a murder. But while that’s sort of standard police procedural stuff, all the issues surrounding the murder are not, and Paretsky handles them superbly in what could very well be her best book in the series to date.

It’s utterly absorbing in what we learn about the transport of Jewish children to England just before the war shut everything down, the survivors, the raging debate over the recall of memories through hypnosis, and the arguments on both sides of the issues, both for recovery of Jewish assets and for slave reparations.

A fine though not particularly unusual plot greatly enriched by Paretsky’s handling of sensitive social issues. As usual, her stock characters is the series--V.I., Lotty, Max, Mr. Contreras, and a first-timer who will reappear in other books--are very well drawn, making up for the relative thinness of the “bad guys”.

An outstanding read, not only for V.I. fans but also for those who enjoy having their police procedurals fleshed out with contemporary issues.

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