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by Sara Paretsky
Putnam, September 2003
416 pages
ISBN: 0399150854

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

V. I. Warshawski's lover, Morrell, is off playing war correspondent in Afghanistan. Her most reliable client, who lost three employees in the destruction of New York's World Trade Center, asks VI to investigate strange lights his 91- year-old mother has been seeing. Darragh Graham's mother is living in a posh suburban retirement community. Her condo overlooks the old family home, which had been sold twice since the Grahams moved out.

He thinks Mom is a bit gaga, but VI goes to the grounds of the mansion and finds a teenage girl in the grounds. VI gives chase, but the girl eludes her, and she falls into the ornamental pond on the property, where she uncovers the body of a young black reporter, Marcus Whitby.

Marcus was researching a black dancer who had been blacklisted during the witch-hunting days of the days of the Dies Committee and the hearings of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, more familiarly known as the McCarthy investigations.

A young Egyptian dishwasher has overstayed his visa, and, under the Patriot Act, he is to be considered a terrorist. VI cannot see what the disappearance of a 17-year-old boy has to do with the death of an investigative reporter, but the FBI knows that VI is involved in shielding the boy, and therefore, under the Patriot Act searches her home and workplace, and can tap her phones without a court order.

The parallels between the days of the witch hunts of the Dies Committee and the House Unamerican Activities committee under Joe McCarthy and today are chillingly drawn in this novel. It could almost be a roman a clef. There is a McCarthy figure, who, instead of dying in 1957, is still alive in the 21st century.

Witchhunting is not new to our society. The 15th century saw the Spanish Inquisition; the 17th saw the Salem Witch Trials, and the 20th had Joe McCarthy, who never was able to convict a communist. We have the Patriot Act, and the attempt by the government to shred the Constitution in the name of security. Joe McCarthy found no communists. The FBI has found no terrorists. Read this book to see what can happen.

Reviewed by Barbara Franchi, September 2003

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