Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski returns in an exceptionally well-plotted thriller that focuses attention on V.I.'s longtime friend Lotty Herschel. In a handful of chapters that punctuate the contemporary narrative, the Austrian-born physician tells her own story. More than just a device to draw the many threads of this complex novel together, Lotty's history illuminates the depth and complexity of a character that readers of Sara Paretsky's many books-- like V.I. herself--only thought they knew.
At a conference on the recovery of Holocaust assets, a man named Paul Radbuka surfaces, claiming to be part of the past that Lotty left buried in war-torn Europe half a century ago. The aging Lotty is emotionally shattered. She has never talked to V.I. about those years following her escape from Austria--her youth as an orphaned teenager in England and the brilliant medical career that ultimately brought her to America. But Radbuka's claims have such a dramatic effect on her that V.I. feels compelled to investigate him. Radbuka's early life in a concentration camp has recently come back to him, aided by the ministrations of a recovered-memory therapist. Now he's demanding that Lotty and her friend Max, another émigré, acknowledge his connection to them, something neither is prepared to do. Is Radbuka really who he claims to be? And if he's the impostor Lotty says he is, why is she so terrified of him?
V.I.'s efforts to pin down Radbuka's identity dovetail with another case, that of a client with a beef against an insurance company that's trying to keep the state legislature from passing a Holocaust Asset Recovery Act. It's a little too tidy for coincidence, but since it gives Paretsky a chance to show off her knowledge of Chicago politics, the reader is delighted to accept it. While it's Lotty's voice that brings the dead to life and the past into the present, it's V.I.'s dogged perseverance and abiding affection for her friend that drive this powerful, brilliantly executed novel to a conclusion. This is one of Paretsky's strongest outings in years. --Jane Adams