The Holy Spirit, or someone very like her, appears on the mean Chicago streets usually watched over by Paretsky’s detective V.I. Warshawski (Windy City Blues, 1995, etc.)--and, brother, is she in a state. If ever a world needed a lift, it’s the environs of Midwest Hospital, where bean-counters have reduced dedicated psychiatric residents like Dr. Hector Tammuz to drug-dispensing slot machines and the neighborhood streets surrounding the Orleans Street Church and Hagar’s House, its shelter for homeless women, teem with the poor, the hopeless, and the dispensers of those other drugs. The ranks of the downtrodden have been swelled by the addition of Luisa Montcrief (né Janice Minsky), an alcoholic diva who’s fallen a long way from Verdi, and Mara Stonds, the ugly-duckling granddaughter of legendary neurosurgeon Dr. Abraham Stonds. Both women, stung by the retributive preaching of Promise Keeper look-alike Rafe Lowrie at Orleans Street, are drawn instead to Madeleine Carter, who swears that she saw the Blessed Virgin on the concrete wall of the Hotel Pleiades on Underground Wacker, and that the rust stains on the wall are the Virgin’s blood. Throughout her impassioned opening scenes, Paretsky limns a world hurting for redemption despite the best efforts of its (overwhelmingly male) leaders to buy it off. But although she skillfully prepares for the advent of her savior, the aphasic street-person Starr, Paretsky isn’t quite up to the task of breathing life into this psychotic saint, “the most urgently alive person Mara had ever met,” as she goes about curing the sick, turning grape juice into wine, and raising the dead before meeting her own violent death and mysterious resurrection. It’s disappointing to find that Starr, so shadowy and indistinct herself, lives in her far more vivid followers mainly as a rallying point for feminist social reform--which comes down here to settling scores with men. Still, Paretsky’s ambitious, ambiguously religious novel earns an honorable place in the gallery of straight fiction by mystery writers from P.D. James’s Innocent Blood to Walter Mosley’s RL’s Dream.