Abstract

Women writers challenge the popular and critical entrenchment of male-authored literary detective fiction. A close reading of Sara Paretsky’s 2001 novel Total Recall demonstrates that the ongoing quest for social justice by her woman detective, V. I. Warshawski, is addressed through assertive women’s voices that have also transformed critical approaches to women’s crime fiction. In Paretsky’s novels, V.I. finds herself in a double bind reserved for women in both social and literary terms: having to prove her stability and effectiveness as a professional detective and as a reliable first-person narrator. Total Recall ’s investigations of contemporary corporate crime trace their origins to American slavery and the Holocaust: the novel transforms the generic mean streets of crime fiction into a transnational crimescape with a two-way trajectory between contemporary Chicago and Central Europe’s sites of mass murder. But instead of plotting a conclusion that declares triumph over such evil, the novel joins forces with historical accounts to investigate the staying power of legitimized oppression and the memory of its victims. Reading the Holocaust narratives embedded in Total Recall reveals a story of inhumanity so far reaching that it transforms Paretsky’s local Chicago crimescape into a global epic.

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