By Ted Ayres
“Dead Land” by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow, 2020, 405 pages, $29.70)
Sara Paretsky was 4 years old when her father accepted a faculty position with the University of Kansas in 1951. After graduation from the University of Kansas, Paretsky moved to Chicago in the late 1960s and she has lived there ever since. She earned a PhD in history and MBA from the University of Chicago.
Paretsky uses her connections to Chicago and Kansas to great effect in her new novel, “Dead Land.” It’s the 21st book in a series featuring V.I. Warshawsky, a public defender-turned-private investigator working out of the south side of Chicago. Warshawsky is an engaging protagonist and Paretsky makes believable her expressions of cynicism, anger, desperation and the kind of fear that happens when someone is shooting at you.
The story revolves around the disappearance of Lydia Zamir – a former piano prodigy who grew up in Eudora, Kan. – and two Chicago murders. Warshawsky ventures to Kansas during her investigation.
Readers of The Active Age will find multiple references to Kansas, including Salina, Ellsworth, the Wichita Eagle, Lawrence, Manhattan, KU and K-State. One character tells Warshawsky: “There’s a big rivalry between K-State and the Lawrence campus, the Jayhawks –you wouldn’t wear Wildcats gear around here unless you liked getting people stirred up.”
The title of this book could refer to several threads of contemporary events that run through it. Paretsky tackles corporate farming; immigration; land use and urban planning; municipal governance shenanigans (part of it is set in Chicago); and gun violence. A mass killing at an annual music festival called “Tallgrass Meet-Up” in Horsethief Canyon in the Kanopolis State Park forms an integral part of the story.
Paretsky writes with a fast-paced style that gives the book a real pulse. I enjoyed it and offer it with a positive recommendation to our readers.
Contact Ted Ayres at firstname.lastname@example.org