Hard Time by Sara Paretsky

Pros: reasonable thriller that held my interest…

Cons: …but character’s motivations are suspect

Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski novels are like old shoes.  Reliable, comfortable, but might not have a lot of shine.  Such is the case with Hard Time.  It’s an OK mystery/thriller but nothing exceptional, nothing terribly exciting, and nothing I’ll even remember next week.

Who is V. I. Warshawski?  She’s a private investigator.  And a pretty good one at that.  She’s passionate about everything she tackles – from street fighting, to her fierce independence, and of course, to solving her cases.

In Hard Time, she literally stumbles onto a case.  Driving home one night she comes upon a woman lying in the road.  Swerving, V. I. just barely avoids hitting her.  A little investigating reveals that the woman is a prisoner escapee.  Prior to her stint in jail, she was the nanny for one of the town’s wealthiest families.  V. I. should just let the police investigate the case, but she can’t let it go.  She just has to know more about the woman, trying to figure out how she ended up in the road the way she did.  However, V. I. will come to find out that some very powerful people will do – well – pretty much anything – to prevent the real story from coming out.

I don’t really understand V. I.’s motivations in this book.  No one would have blamed her if she left the investigating to the police.  After all, there was no reason to suspect that the woman was anything more than a hit-and-run victim.  Later it becomes clear that the story’s far more sinister than that.  But, initially, there was no reason to suspect anything more than what it looked like.  Yet, V. I. can’t just let it be.  Despite the fact that she has other cases – paying cases – to work on, she devotes time to this case, on nothing more than a nagging feeling that there’s more than meets the eye.

I suppose, though, that there wouldn’t be a story, if V. I. didn’t put her nose where it didn’t necessarily belong.

Then there’s the gigantic BAD DECISION she makes about half-way through the book.  I capitalize it to emphasize just how bad her decision was.  I won’t spoil anything by giving the details, but let’s just say that if you or I or any rationally-thinking person were in the same spot, we would have acted differently.  In fact, the hideous situation in which V. I. lands is largely of her own doing; a different path would have made so much more sense, and avoided so much pain and suffering!

But – again – I suppose we needed V. I. to end up in a dire situation or we wouldn’t have the final third of the book!

Still, it seems to me that authors can manage to get their stories told without taking extreme short-cuts to get there.  In other words, use some imagination to get where you want to be without making our “hero” act like a fool.

Despite its flaws, Hard Time is a decent mystery/thriller that held my interest.  It really has a little of everything – murder, police and prison corruption, sweatshops, and black market logo merchandise.  There were also two dogs, and a really cool kid that I was definitely rooting for.

A decent read – but nothing great.  A solid 3-star thriller.

Also by Sara Paretsky:

Bitter Medicine

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