Sara Paretsky never shies away from burning social issues, and in Total Recall, she takes on insurance fraud and cultural guilt surrounding holocaust and slavery victims. VI takes on the largest insurance company in the state of Illinois, when a bereaved family asks her to find out how their deceased relative’s life policy could have been paid off before his death, as the company claims. Along the way, she becomes entangled in a political firestorm. As is typical in these novels, part of VI’s personal life also becomes entangled with her case, this time when a survivor of the holocaust claims to be related to Max, the partner of VI’s beloved mentor, Lotty Herschel. VI is asked to validate his claims, and that isn’t an easy task, given that most of his memories are derived from past life regression therapy performed by a smarmy psychoanalyst. Murders begin to occur, the victims all people who are connected to the life insurance scam. But Lotty is an emotional victim, and comes so close to breaking down completely that VI is afraid of losing her friendship and her very presence in her life.
Paretsky does her usual outstanding job creating vivid, memorable characters in Total Recall. She handles the difficult political and social problems with skill and sensitivity. What falls a bit farther from her typical stellar performance is the plot, which is less than riveting in many places, becoming somewhat lost in the myriad of details. The most engaging parts of the story are the sequences in which Lotty finally reveals the details of her traumatic past to VI, and this information is important in understanding the relationship that has developed between the two women.
This book deserves a four star rating because, in spite of its weaknesses, it stands head and shoulders so many other offerings within the genre. Thoughtful and pertinent, definitely worth reading.