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Crescent Blues Book ViewsFour Moons gifDelacorte Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-385-31363-2
Hard Time: prison slang for serving a sentence the difficult way. 

Hard Time: Sara Paretsky's new V. I. Warshawski novel, which brings back the tough, streetwise detective after a five year absence. V. I. plunges into an investigation that pushes her spirit and skills to the brink. She travels to the dark night of the soul, to helplessness and hopelessness. V. I. physically and spiritually does hard time. 

Book: Sara Paretsky, Hard TimeParetsky describes Hard Time as V. I.'s journey into the "heart of darkness." As in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, greed drives the story, spawning exploitation and cruelty. Like Conrad's hero Marlowe, V. I. travels to a human-created hell, where the powerful consider themselves gods with a license to tyrannize, inflict mental and physical pain, and decree life and death. 

A freak incident unleashes the brutality and misery V. I. encounters. Hard Time opens with a star-studded launch party to celebrate mega-media conglomerate Global Entertainment's new Chicago-based TV network. V. I. and friends attend the bash. 

Later, driving home with her friends through the inner city, V.I. spots a woman lying in the street and, at the last moment, swerves and misses her. The woman suffers from extreme injuries -- black blood caking her dress front, the humerus jabbing through her left arm, and bubbling and rasping breath. The woman dies in the hospital from advanced peritonitis from a ruptured small intestine. Forensic pathology must determine the "inflicting wounds." 

Surreal events follow. The next morning two detectives storm V.I.'s apartment, accusing her of a hit-and-run and DUI. The police report from the scene, contradicting these charges, disappears. The woman's body vanishes from the morgue, foiling the autopsy. 

The dead woman proves to be Nicola Aguinaldo, an escapee from Coolis, an Illinois women's penitentiary. Her crime? Stealing a necklace from her rich employer, Robert Baladine, for whom she worked as a nanny. Baladine heads Carnifice Security, a billion-dollar P. I. and security corporation, which runs Coolis for the state. Why did Nicola steal the necklace? To obtain medical treatment for her sick baby, who died during Nicola's incarceration. 

Braving threats to business, reputation and life, V. I. investigates Nicola's death. Unlikely allies surface, as well as surprising perpetrators. 

Finally, all clues lead to Coolis, the women's prison. An arrest on a trumped-up kidnapping charge lands V. I. in Coolis. Once there, V. I. realizes the prison holds the mystery's key. She refuses bail to stay in Coolis and solve the case. In the prison passages, Paretsky's writing reaches its apex, graphically portraying the guards' brutality, inmate violence and the small kindnesses of life "on the inside." 

In Heart of Darkness, the dying ivory trader Kurtz, succumbing to the darkness of greed and power, cries out, "The horror! The horror!" In Hard Time V.I. fights not only for answers, but also for her life against the greed and power creating the darkness and horror of the prison. 

Lynn I. Miller 

Click here to read the Crescent Blues interview with Sara Paretsky.

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