Jaine Blackman catches up with a gutsy female private detective on her 17th outing

Next week there’s a chance for fans to join American crime writer Sara Paretsky in Oxford to celebrate the release of the 17th book in her series of novels about VI Warshawski, Brush Back.

She’ll be at Blackwell’s Bookshop to talk about Victoria Iphigenia otherwise known as VI, her fictional private investigator from Chicago.

Brush back, for those not up on their American sports terminology, is a baseball pitch thrown high and inside the strike zone to intimidate the batter away from the plate on subsequent pitches. There’s plenty to scare off VI when she starts to look in to an old crime involving a former neighbour.

An old boyfriend’s mother, Stella Guzzo, has served 25 years after being convicted of beating her daughter Annie to death, before walking up the street to play bingo at her parish church. Now she has been released and old flame Frank Guzzo wants help in an exoneration claim for his mother.

However, there are plenty of people – including the violent and deranged Stella and now powerful figures from the old neighbourhood – who don’t want VI getting involved and she’s soon being threatened both verbally and physically.

Having not read any of the previous 16 books, I wasn’t familiar with VI’s character but it soon becomes clear she’s a gutsy, feisty and at times hot-headed woman. Despite being of a certain age she’s still physically fit, although feeling some of the effects of advancing years. To get the full benefit from the books, it’s probably best to start earlier in the series. The novel does stand alone but there were nuances with her relationships I missed out on not knowing the full history of her dealings with them. However full recaps would be boring for readers who have followed VI from the beginning, so I only have myself to blame.

An Evening with Sara Paretsky will be held on Wednesday, July 15, from 7pm to 8pm at Blackwell’s.

Tickets £3, telephone 01865 333623 or see blackwell.co.uk Brush Back, £17.99, Hodder & Stoughton