A Book Spy Review: ‘Shell Game’ by Sara Paretsky

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Shell GamePrivate Detective V.I. Warshawski returns for her 18th go-around in Sara Paretsky’s (Fallout, 2017, etc.) latest thriller. 

After performing far better than anyone expected in her new role with a sketchy loan company, a young, good-looking woman named Reno is rewarded by her new bosses, who invite her to a corporate party in the Caribbean for a fun and relaxing weekend. Instead, it was anything but. 

In the following days, a very worried Harmony Seale, who happens to be the niece of Warshawski’s ex-husband, travels from her home in Portland to Chicago when she’s unable to get in touch with her daughter, Reno. Terrified that something awful has happened to her, Harmony turns to V.I. Warshawski for help, who happens to be knee-deep in another case. Just a few days prior, a badly beaten body turned up with no form of identification. The only clue detectives find is a crumpled up piece of paper in the man’s pocket, which has the phone number for Felix Herschel written on it. 

Felix, it turns out, is the nephew of an old friend of Warshawski’s, and she immediately gets involved to help make sure that Herschel, a Canadian studying in the U.S. on a student visa, doesn’t have his visa revoked. Upon being questioned, though, Felix swears he doesn’t know how the man who is later identified as a Syrian named Elorenze Fausson, or why the guy had his phone number. From there it becomes clear that the police have no other leads, so they take a big interest in Felix, and the only way to clear him is for Warshawski to find the real killer. 

As the story unfolds, readers follow Warshawski through the intertwined investigations, which puts the famed investigator on a collision course with a number of unsavory types, including members of the Russian mob and no-nonsense ICE agents, as she tries to save two people who desperately need her help. 

For the most part, Shell Game is about what readers have come to expect from Paretsky. The elaborate plot is a little far-fetched, though that’s par the norm for the thriller genre, but not so complicated that it can’t be easily followed. Newcomers may struggle a bit with getting up to speed on various characters, which is to be expected if you haven’t read the previous books. Really, it’s the lack of suspense that feels like a miss here. Readers will guess the bad guy early, which significantly lowers the stakes for the rest of the story. Diehard fans of the series may not care because they love the characters and will happily follow them until the book’s end, but casual readers may find the final act lacking even though the writing itself is really good. 

Overall, Sara Paretsky continues to build on the success of last year’s Fallout, which offered somewhat of a career resurgence for the long-time writer, turning in another twisting mystery that’s finely written, even if the suspense never reached nail-biting levels. 

Book Details

Author: Sara Paretsky
SeriesV.I. Warshawski
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062435868
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: October 16, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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