My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A sure way to get V.I. Warshawski's attention is to cast aspersions on the character of her beloved family, especially her adored mother and father and her favorite cousin, Boom-Boom the hockey player. In Brush Back, all three of these now long-dead loved ones are attacked by a harridan of a former neighbor named Stella Guzzo and that sends V.I. into action.
Stella is the mother of Frank Guzzo, a high school sweetheart of V.I. The mother always hated and was jealous of V.I.'s family who she accused of thinking they were better than anybody else in their South Chicago neighborhood. The fact that they probably were just lent fuel to the flame of her hatred.
Stella was a violent mother who beat her children and she was convicted of beating her daughter, Annie, to death. She spent 25 years in prison for the young woman's murder and, as we enter this story, she's out and causing trouble again, even though she's almost eighty.
Her son, Frank, visits V.I. and asks her to help with his mother's claim for exoneration. Yes, she now claims she didn't kill her daughter. V.I. is very reluctant but feels sorry for her old friend and finally agrees. However, when she goes to interview Stella, things go completely awry. The old woman attacks her physically and afterwards she contacts the media to claim that she has a diary of her daughter's that implicates Boom-Boom in her murder. That, of course, is a challenge that V.I. can't ignore and she is egged on by her goddaughter, Bernie, who is staying with her.
Investigating Stella's claims opens a very unsavory can of worms with the biggest worms being the movers and shakers of Chicago's and Illinois' corrupt politics. Furthermore, those corrupt politicians have links with the Uzbeki Mob which is very active in Chicago and which is utterly ruthless. The chances of V.I. uncovering the truth and getting out alive seem very slim indeed.
The plot of this one is almost too complicated to follow, featuring multi-generational family trees, as well as incestuous connections between politicians and the Mob and Chicago street gangs, all of whom are eager to beat up V.I. There's also a connection to the Cubs and the eventual answer to the mystery is (or was) hidden in the bowels of Wrigley Field.
As a baseball fan, I was delighted with the connections to the game and the fact that most of the chapter titles as well as the title of the book featured baseball terms. A brush back pitch in baseball is designed to get the batter off the plate, make him nervous, and maybe redirect his attention. It's a good metaphor for what V.I.'s enemies try to do to her.
V.I. is getting a bit long in the tooth and maybe slowing down a bit at 50, but she's still the high-energy, sarcastic, smack-talking, working class P.I. that readers have come to know over the years. She takes guff from no one and doesn't hesitate to bend the rules if they get in her way. At the same time, she is loyal to her adoptive family of Mr. Contreras, the two golden retrievers, and her lover, Jake, and maintains her contacts with friends in the media and the police department and a few old friends from the neighborhood.
V.I. is utterly tenacious in her search for the truth, even if she suspects she's not going to be paid to find it. If I were in trouble and needed the help of an investigator, she's the P.I. I would want on my case.
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