Once again, Chicago's durable private-eye V.I. (Vicki) Warshawski is tangling with the forces of evil in her own hometown. This time, an arson fire levels a shabby S.R.O. hotel and brings Vic's disreputable, alcoholic Aunt Elena to her doorstep looking for shelter, along with her friend Cerise—young, black, pregnant, and probably addicted. Some days later, Cerise is found dead of an overdose—inexplicably, at a distant building site; Elena has disappeared from the room Vic found for her; and the Ajax Insurance Co. has hired Vic to try to find the arsonist before they pay off owner Saul Seligman. Policeman, sometime boyfriend Michael Furey isn't much help in all this. Meanwhile, Vic has attended a party at the estate of Boots Meagher, who's unexpectedly hosting a fund-raiser for Rosalyn Fuentes—an old, liberal friend of Vic's who's running for office. Boots is the Chairman of the County Board, and the party abounds with politicos and development contractors. Rosalyn seems to think Vic is sitting on something to her discredit, and, in the week after the party, warnings to mind her own business come at Vic from all sides—including head of the arson squad Roland Montgomery and big-shot developer Ralph McDonald. Trying to figure out what has all these people in an uproar, Vic doggedly continues her investigation—visiting an unwelcoming Seligman; climbing over building sites; nearly dying in another fire, from which she rescues Elena, who's hiding from someone—Cerise's killer, perhaps? More mayhem and another murder follow before the dust settles and our heroine is vindicated. The reader, however, may weary before that point is reached. Unlike her previous novels (Killing Orders, etc.), this one suffers from bloat—too many characters; too much domestic detail—meals, showers, runs, and pointless drives around the city in tedious profusion. Vic may still be lean and mean, but, here, her creator's style borders on the flabby.
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