CRITICAL MASS by Sara Paretsky


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V.I. Warshawski tackles the monstrous legacy of early nuclear-fission research.

Somebody is trying to kill her, strung-out Judy Binder tells Dr. Charlotte "Lotty" Herschel, who runs the Chicago drug clinic where she’s been a revolving-door patient. So Lotty asks her old friend V.I. Warshawski to drive downstate to Palfry Township to check on her. V.I. doesn’t find Judy, but she does find two mastiffs, one shot to death, the other seriously wounded, and the corpse of Judy’s friend Ricky Schlafly, a meth cooker who came home from Chicago to get killed in the middle of a cornfield. Still looking for Judy, V.I. questions her mother, Kitty Binder, in Skokie and learns that Judy’s son Martin, a brainy computer tech at Metargon, went missing 10 days ago. In the first of many bait-and-switch instances, V.I. decides that she’d rather hunt for Martin than Judy and even talks hard-bitten Kitty into bankrolling her search. The trail will lead her all the way back to the Uranverein, where Kitty’s mother, Martina Saginor, worked with a circle of Nazi physicists to split the atom even though they knew their success would fuel Hitler’s war machine. Back in the present, meanwhile, Cordell Breen, who inherited Metargon (“Where the Future Lies Behind”) from the father who developed the BREENIAC architecture that drove early computer research, makes it clear that he’s just as interested as Kitty in the disappearance of Martin, who’d been closer than he would have liked to Breen’s Harvard-educated daughter Alison. There’ll be more fatalities, more digging into the past, more family skeletons, more brushes with intrusive government agencies and more flashbacks to the early years of the century before a showdown at another farm finally makes it safe for V.I. to venture out in public again.

Beneath the fierce scientific rivalries, the targets are so familiar that there’s little room for mystery, though V.I. has a charismatic and blistering way of bringing old secrets to light.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-16056-1
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2013

Kirkus Interview
Sara Paretsky
author of BRUSH BACK
July 28, 2015

No one would accuse V. I. Warshawski of backing down from a fight, but there are a few she’d be happy to avoid. High on that list is tangling with Chicago political bosses. Yet that’s precisely what she ends up doing when she responds to Frank Guzzo’s plea for help in Brush Back, the latest thriller from bestselling author Sara Paretsky. For six stormy weeks back in high school, V.I. thought she was in love with Frank. He broke up with her, she went off to college, he started driving trucks for Bagby Haulage. She forgot about him until the day his mother was convicted of bludgeoning his kid sister, Annie, to death. Stella Guzzo was an angry, uncooperative prisoner and did a full 25 years for her daughter’s murder. Newly released from prison, Stella is looking for exoneration, so Frank asks V.I. for help. “Paretsky, who plots more conscientiously than anyone else in the field, digs deep, then deeper, into past and present until all is revealed,” our reviewer writes. View video >


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