The brilliant V. I. Warshawski returns in another hard-hitting entry, combining razor-sharp plotting and compelling characters with a heady mix of timely political and social themes.
V. I. Warshawski’s closest friend in Chicago is the Viennese-born doctor Lotty Herschel, who lost most of her family in the Holocaust. Lotty escaped to London in 1939 on the Kindertransport with a childhood playmate, Kitty Saginor Binder. When Kitty’s daughter finds her life is in danger, she calls Lotty, who in turn summons V. I. to help. The daughter’s troubles turn out to be just the tip of an iceberg of lies, secrets, and silence, whose origins go back to the mad competition among America, Germany, Japan, and England to develop the first atomic bomb. The secrets are old, but the people who continue to guard them today will not let go without a fight.
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Good writing and a dark, intricate plot
It's been a while since I've read a VI Warshawski book and I enjoyed this one a lot.
Recently, I've been disappointed at the quality of writing that I've encountered in a number of mystery novels. Not here. Sara Paretsky is an excellent writer.
The plot in this book relates to World War II and the Holocaust. It's not always the easiest material to listen to but it's clear that Paretsky has done her research well. The intricate plot weaves the current mystery with a back story that feels realistic and detailed.
It's also clear that the author has concerns and a position about current issues. She weaves them in but does not bludgeon the reader with them. As a result, I found the references to current issues like privacy and government surveillance added to the sense of depth.
I have one long-standing gripe with Ms. Paretsky that I had forgotten but which re-emerged when I "read" this book. Many of her characters are hard-edged and interactions are often nasty. Perhaps that is the way of the world but it's a bit of a downer. I am always amazed by VI's ability to maintain her cool in the face of verbal assault.
With all that, Critical Mass is a good and engaging listen. I found myself engaged and wanting to keep listening. The ending is satisfying and the author ties up a lot of lose threads -- another grip I have about many books that seem to end far too abruptly.
I give this book 4.5 stars. It's well worth a listen.
- Charlie K
Shrillness...not for the faint of heat
The novel itself is very interesting. However, my complaint is with the narration. Sara Paretsky clearly wrote very sharp, confrontational dialogue for her characters. That is her style. This audiobook really accentuates that aspect, which can be quite distracting and overbearing. The narrator does a good job of giving each the characters an independent voice, but I felt as if every character was shrilling screeching at me, including the non-adversarial ones. The only reprieve I seemed to get was with the V.I. Warshawski's internal monologue. I don't know if this effect was a result of the abrubt dialogue, or the narrator's own twist on the book. Either way, I had to listen to this audiobook in limited chunks to give myself a break. I felt as if I'd been listening to angry people fighting in every chapter, and it was just too much! It detracted from my enjoyment of the plot. In the future, I will save her books for reading, rather than listening on audiobook.