Okay let's start with the good, we get into the racial history of a town in Kansas. You can see how things were set up different for those who were white and black. If the book had managed to focus on that this would have been stronger. Instead, Paretsky throws in the military, hidden secrets about germ warfare, Russians (how topical), and the initial investigation seems to be lost in trying to tie into too many things in this town's past.
"Fallout" takes place entirely with VI in Lawrence, Kansas tracking down a man (August) that Bernie (Boom Boom's goddaughter) knows from her hockey teammate. Bernie asks VI to help find him since there was a break in at a gym he worked at and many people are starting to think he had something to do with it. When VI goes to work and finds out August left town to go with an aging African American actress to her hometown in Kansas to film her life, she follows. From there the book flails into a chaotic mess.
VI is at a crossroads with her relationship with Jake. Yeah things looked great in the last book, but out of nowhere he has gone to Switzerland to play music for a year (I was so confused about this) and gets resentful of VI's job, her life, and her not following him. I hated we just got emails from this character with VI not doing anything to head off what is coming her way relationship wise.
VI's nosy neighbor is missing (thank goodness) and Lotty and Max are barely in this one. Unfortunately we have freaking Bernie showing up in this one again and I swear I loathe this character. I am not the only reviewer that cannot stand her. After this book she better not pop up in one of VI's cases again.
The secondary characters we meet are interesting in this one. I did laugh at people pointing out that wherever VI went dead bodies or women in need were out there. Small towns are pretty hilarious. So kudos for Paretsky for capturing that in this book. I just wish the book had focused more on the town and the history. Throwing in the germ warfare and what happened in this town in the 80s (which is not believable) was a hard pillow to swallow. I just found myself rolling my eyes through most of this book. There was another big plot point (who was a character's father) that I could not with. I maybe slammed my Kindle at that point and turned on Netflix to watch Death in Paradise for a n hour.
The writing was typical Paretsky, I just had issues with the logic leaps in this one as I said above. The flow was off mightily in this one though. The whole book felt draggy. Reading about VI trying to work out, or walking her dog (why was the dog even with her???) just became monotonous after a while.
Moving the action from Chicago to Lawrence wasn't a problem for me. Just the way the plot unfolded. I like it when the main character is out of familiar surroundings. Makes the books more interesting when you get into a long running series like this.
I read an excerpt of the next book, "Shell Game" and it looks interesting.
Besides the clever ending which gets at the title of the book, this one was a chore to get through. At first I thought a case tying things back to VI's family, specifically her cousin Boom Boom would be great. But after a while the whole thing sounded so freaking implausible I just could not. I also hated that we get a Petra stand in (Boom Boom's goddaughter Bernie) and Mr. Contreras was maddening. We also get a return of Bobby and Conrad (bah to him, I am glad that VI finally told him to let shit go) and the whole book felt endless. I think the big problem is that there were too many moving parts that didn't make a very cohesive plot.
In "Brush Back" we have VI being asked by her ex-boyfriend (from high school) to look into his mother's murder case. More than decades has passed since Frank Guzzo's mother Stella went to jail for the murder of his sister Annie. Stella admits to beating Annie and going to bingo (as one does) but claims she was alive when she left. Things seem to be out of VI's hands after Stella refuses her help and acts like an asshole while doing so. When Stella accuses VI's dead cousin Boom Boom of murdering her daughter and her father covering it up, VI starts snooping to figure out who could have killed Annie if not Stella.
VI was rightfully riled up in this one. I like to see her mad and her investigation skills have not gotten rusty. She knows immediately her cousin could not have done this and starts pulling out threads about the Guzzo family. You also find out how hard things were for VI after her mother passed away and how some of the neighbors were jerks. I can see why she booked it out of South Chicago.
We get familiar secondary characters in this one: Lotty, Max, Bobby, Conrad, VI's tenant she shares office space with, Mr. Contreas, Jake. We also get some new characters, VI's cousin's god daughter who is obviously a Petra stand-in. I didn't like her much in this book and loathed in the next book. She ends up being a pain in the ass and costs VI in both books cause she doesn't listen and swears she knows all. I hope that Paretsky poofs her in book number 19 (Shell Game).
I have to say though the plot doesn't make a lot of sense. The why behind people trying to set up Boom Boom was dumb as hell. If you met VI even once you have to know that threatening her or her family member's memories would not make her back off. Things don't tie together nicely and I have to say the ending was very frustrating/not believable things at all. VI can't just get people to always come out and rescue her and her doing this I am an independent woman who needs no one shtick. I wish she get a partner again, but looks like we won't see that happening anytime soon.
After the last book in the VI Warshawski series I was tempted to just leave the series alone. But I am a completionist at heart and finally just buckled and bought this book. This one actually hangs together very well. VI is focused on figuring out how a daughter of one of Lotty's childhood playmates is doing after it looks like she may be in danger. The plot revolves around that, pre and post War World II, and the arms race. There were so many lines in this book that I found myself loving.
"Critical Mass" has a 50 year old or 50 plus year old VI off to help a childhood friend of Lotty's daughter. Lotty actually washed her hands of the friend and though she tried to help the daughter, eventually gave up on that too. When VI shows up at a meth house, she finds a man dead (the scene described is stomach turning) and realizes the woman is missing. From there VI finds out the woman's son is also now missing and huge tech giant is scared he has stolen their plans and is out there selling his secrets to the highest bidder.
VI does what she does best, asks questions, and goes investigating via libraries, the internet, and just using old fashioned intuition to put two and two together. She manages to once again find herself in a gun standoff (seriously that part is getting old) and once again has to deal with being so run down and tired but managing to push through. One wonders though when VI is going to just have to retire. I cannot see her still taking punches and getting shot in her 70s. It's already pushing realms of belief that she is able to walk after some of her run ins.
VI is still in a romance with Jake. I do like him and was surprised to see how well they mesh.
The secondary characters of Lotty and Max were welcomed. I was so glad to see Petra (VI's cousin) banished to the Peace Corps. I wish Mr. Contreas would go with Petra. I don't see how a guy pushing 90 is even doing running around with VI.
The writing was good and of course we get some historical facts mixed in to make this more realistic. I do love that Paretsky has made VI an unapologetic feminist and pushes for more individual rights over the government, cops, and anyone that could oppress them. Even though these are fictional characters, reading about what the fictional Nazis did to people during the Holocaust was awful.
The flow was actually pretty good in this one and I was able to follow the plot easily enough.
The setting of Chicago continues to surprise and Paretsky manages to make things fresh.
There were some surprises here and there and the ending was a surprise. We find out a lot of secrets that even the main participants in this one didn't know.