Last Friday, I was about half-way through Hardball and decided to read a few chapters before bed. I looked up two hours later, having solved the murders maybe two page ahead of VI Warshawski. Vic, I've missed you, and I've missed submerging myself so deeply into a novel.
Sara Paretsky plays with the timeline in Hardball, but subtly so we don't realize at first that most of the action is in flashback. After interviewing a gang leader she defended decades ago, VI Warshawski arrives at her office to find it's been ransacked and her 20-something cousin Petra has apparently been kidnapped. In Chicago to work on her father's friend's son's Senatorial campaign, Petra seems to have become obsessed with family history, routing through a box containing mementos from Vic's parents and asking for a tour of former family homes. This frustrates Vic, but it's only after several weeks that she realizes that Petra's search ties into one of her active cases.
Lamont Gadsden was a low-level gang member who disappeared the night before a January 1967 snowstorm. His mother always assumed that he'd been killed in a drug deal but his aunt believed he was a "good boy" and now, crippled by a stroke, she wants to know what happened to him. Lamont's friends have either died, disappeared, or refuse to talk to Vic, and no one seems to care about a gang-banger who disappeared 40 years earlier, but as Vic investigates, she discovers that Lamont may have been involved in the murder of a peace activist the prior summer. As she delves deeper into the case, she discovers that her father, whom she always thought of as one of the rare honest Chicago cops, was the arresting officer in the case and that an innocent man may have gone to jail. Paretsky seamlessly weaves Vic's case with Petra's apparently inexplicable interest in family history, and also manages to fit in some Action Nuns, a chase on public transit, and the sad story of a "good girl" still pining after her "bad boy" 40 years later.
I've mentioned in several reviews that series authors have to figure out how to age their characters. Initially, Paretsky aged Vic only slightly less slowly than in real time. In Hardball, written nearly 30 years after Vic's debut in Indemnity Only, Paretsky seems to be using the same technique as her fellow trailblazer Marcia Muller used with Sharon McCone. After a few installments which fudged the age issue, she's rebooted Vic's birth date. Initially born around 1950, Paretsky places Vic's tenth birthday firmly in the summer of 1966 and moves her hockey-playing cousin Boom-Boom's death (a central plot point in 1982's Deadlock) to the mid-90s. Perhaps then it's appropriate that Hardball accidentally dates itself with Vic dipping her toe into the world of social networking - through MySpace.