Sara Paretsky, Killing Orders (Signet, 1985)
Paretsky's third V. I. Warshawski novel begins with the plucky private eye responding to a plea for help from a relative she can't stand. When things start off this badly, you know they're not going to end well. So does Vic. But still, familial obligation pressures her to take the case of her awful Aunt Rosa, the treasurer at a local monastery, who (along with a number of others who work there) is under suspicion when a number of stock certificates in the office safe are found to be forgeries. Vic starts detecting, but Rosa does a one-eighty the next day and wants her to back off; soon after, her life is threatened by a mysterious caller if she doesn't get off the case. Put these two things together, and you can be sure Warshawski will see things through to the bitter, ugly end. With the help of Roger Ferrant, whom we first met in Deadlocked, and the everpresent Lotty, crime is standing on shaky ground in Chicago and its environs!
Well, not quite. Warshawski is one of hard-boiled-dom's more human detectives, and so far in the series, that hasn't shown through nearly as much as it does in this entry. Vic makes some bad choices, and her indecision leads others close to her to make bad choices for her. Of course, you have to throw in the everpresent roadblocks (Bobby Mallory being the most visible of them), and you've got all the ingredients for a very tasty, if foul, stew. There's a lot going on in this novel, and it sometimes seems as if Paretsky may have overextended herself; another reviewer comments that she doesn't think Paretsky "had quite fashioned her own mold for the genre yet" when this novel was written, and that's as fine a way of putting what's wrong with this novel-- especially coming right on the heels of the wonderful Deadlocked-- as any. There's no specific thing to put one's finger on, it's just a general feeling of "this isn't quite as good as it could be." Still, the core of the book is a good, solid mystery, and in the course of solving it, we get to learn more about some of the core characters in the series, so in the end, it does what it seems to have set out to do. ***