Brush Back by Sara Paretsky is the 18th novel featuring Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski, who'll reluctantly investigate the case of a hateful woman from the old neighborhood, convicted of killing her own daughter decades ago (available 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. For six stormy weeks back in high school, V.I. thought she was in love with Frank. She forgot about him until the day his mother was convicted of bludgeoning his kid sister, Annie, to death and did a full twenty-five years for her daughter’s murder.
Newly released from prison, Stella is looking for exoneration, so Frank asks V.I. for help. V.I. Stella hated the Warshawskis, in particular V.I.’s adored mother, Gabriella, but life has been hard on Frank and other childhood friends, still stuck on the hardscrabble streets around the dead steel mills. When V.I.'s grudging few questions lead her straight into the vipers’ nest of Illinois politics and a beating at a youth meeting in her old hood, her main question becomes whether she'll live long enough to find answers.
This special excerpt is offered by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons. All rights reserved. No part may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
I didn’t recognize him at first. He came into my office unannounced, a jowly man whose hairline had receded to a fringe of dark curls. Too much sun had baked his skin the color of brick, although maybe it had been too much beer, judging by those ill-named love handles poking over the sides of his jeans. The seams in the faded corduroy jacket strained when he moved his arms; he must not often dress for business.
“Hey, girl, you doing okay for yourself up here, aren’t you?”
I stared at him, astonished and annoyed by the familiarity.
“Tori Warshawski, don’t you know me? I guess Red U turned you into a snob after all.”
Tori. The only people who called me that had been my father and my cousin Boom-Boom, both of them dead a lot of years now. And Boom-Boom’s boyhood friends—who were also the only people who still thought the University of Chicago was a leftist hideout.
“It’s not Frank Guzzo, is it?” I finally said. When I’d known him thirty years and forty pounds ago, he’d had a full head of red-gold hair, but I could still see something of him around the eyes and mouth.
“All of him.” He patted his abdomen. “You look good, Tori, I’ll give you that. You didn’t turn into some yoga nut or a vegan or something?”
“Nope. I play a little basketball, but mostly I run the lakefront. You still playing baseball?”
“With this body? Slow-pitch sometimes with the geriatric league. But my boy, Frankie Junior, Tori, I got my fingers crossed, but I think he’s the real deal.”
“How old is he?” I asked, more out of politeness than interest: Frank always thought someone or something was going to be the real deal that made his fortune for him.
“He’s fifteen now, made varsity at Saint Eloy’s, even though he’s only a freshman. He’s got a real arm. Maybe he’ll be another Boom-Boom.”
Meaning, he could be the next person to make it out of the ’hood into some version of the American dream. There were so few of us who escaped South Chicago’s gravitational pull that the neighborhood could recite our names.
I’d managed, by dint of my mother’s wishes, and my scholarships to the University of Chicago. My cousin Boom-Boom had done it through sports. He’d had seven brilliant seasons with the Blackhawks until he injured his ankle too badly for the surgeons to glue him back in any shape to skate. And then he’d been murdered, shoved off a pier in the Port of Chicago, right under the screw of the Bertha Krupnik.
When Boom-Boom and Frank hung out together, Frank hoped he’d be a real deal, too, in baseball. We all did—he was the best shortstop in the city’s Catholic league. By the time I started law school, though, Frank was driving a truck for Bagby Haulage. I don’t know what happened; I’d lost touch with him by then.
Maybe he could have been a contender. He wasn’t the only kid in South Chicago with a spark of promise that flared up and died. They start to spread their wings and then they fall to earth. It’s hard to leave the world you know. Even if it’s a painful place at times, you grow up learning how to navigate it. The world north of Madison Street looks good on TV, but it has too many hidden traps, places where a homey can make a humiliating mistake.
Perhaps Frankie Junior would have the drive, the mentors and the talent to be another Boom-Boom. All I said was I hoped Frank was right, it would be great.
[Continue reading Brush Back by Sara Paretsky...]