'Doctors take days off - why not PIs?' V.I. Warshawski demands. But when the hardest-working of private eyes goes out one night, a stranger is shot and dies in her arms. V.I. has been visiting Club Gouge, Chicago's edgiest night spot, where a woman known as the Body Artist turns her naked body into a canvas for the audience to paint on. The show attracts all kinds of people, from a menacing off-duty cop to Ukrainian mobsters and Iraq war veterans - and V.I.'s impetuous cousin, Petra. A tormented young painter shows up too, and the intricate designs she creates on the Body Artist drive one of the soldiers into a violent rage. When the painter is shot, the police think it's a clear-cut case: a shell-shocked war veteran goes off the rails. But the soldier's family hires V.I. to clear his name, and the detective uncovers a chain of ugly truths that stretches all the way from Iraq to Chicago's South Side.
Paretsky's superb 14th novel featuring PI V.I. Warshawski (after Hardball) delves into Chicago's avant-garde art scene. At the trendy Club Gouge, where Warshawski is keeping an eye on Petra, a young cousin who caused trouble in the previous book, performance artist Karen Buckley (aka the Body Artist) invites members of the audience to step on stage to paint her nude body. The intricate design that one woman paints on Karen's back provokes a violent outburst from Chad Vishneski, a troubled Iraqi war veteran. When two nights later, someone shoots the woman who upset Chad outside the club, Chad is the logical murder suspect. Hired by Chad's estranged parents to clear his name, Warshawski straddles a minefield that reaches from the Windy City's neighborhoods to the Gulf War battlefields. Scenes with her aging neighbor and a new love interest give a much needed balance to the serious plot. This strong outing shows why the tough, fiercely independent, dog-loving private detective continues to survive.