Review: “Bitter Medicine” by Sara Paretsky

This is the 4th novel in the V. I. “Vic” Watshawski, P. I., series, an interesting story of murder and medicine, set in 1985 or ’86.

The central issue is, who killed Dr. Malcolm Tregiere, the assistant at the women’s health clinic run by Vic’s friend, Dr. Lotty Herschel. The main suspect is Fabiano, shotgun-married to 16-year-old Consuelo, whose pregnancy ends in her and the baby’s deaths. Fabiano is suddenly upset that his wife and baby are dead. Or maybe Rodriguez is the killer. He’s a local gang leader who resents the representation Vic provided while she was working as a public defender and takes his revenge on her when she turns to him for information.

Vic has to balance her initiatives against the efforts of the police to control her. The situation becomes even more serious when Lotty’s clinic is ransacked by an anti-abortion mob and Vic’s apartment is broken into, leaving her protective, 70-year-old neighbor in intensive care.

A number of reviewers have reacted negatively to what they perceive as Paretsk’s “politics.” Certainly her main characters have no sympathy with the anti-abortion movement, but surely one can put characters with political or moral positions into fiction without the fiction being rejected. The same can be said for the way Paretsky illustrates some of the ethical and economic problems that for-profit hospital systems create.

[Spoiler alert.] It’s too bad that the book descriptions at Amazon and at Goodreads include a spoiler. The Amazon description reads,

‘Private eye V.I. Warshawski knows her friend Consuelo’s pregnancy is already risky—she’s sixteen and diabetic. Despite V.I.’s efforts to provide Consuelo with proper care, both mother and daughter die in the local hospital. Suspecting malpractice, V.I. begins an investigation—and a reluctant romance with an ER doctor. But deadly complications arise when a series of vicious murders and an attack on a women’s clinic lead her to suspect a cold-blooded cover-up. And if V.I. isn’t careful, she just might have delivered her final case… [ellipsis in original].”

Once I read this description I knew early on where the solution to the murder mystery lay.

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