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Breakdown

Breakdown is the title of the new V I novel, which will be published early next year. In this excerpt, an old law school friend of V I’s has called on the detective for help, and V I is trying to find her. V I describes Leydon like this:

Leydon Ashford was the first person I ever encountered who had two last names.  We’d both grown up along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The difference was, her family owned an eighteen-room mansion backing onto three hundred yards of private beach, whereas the Warshawskis’ five-room bungalow was separated from the lake by a century of cyanide-laced landfill.

When I first met Leydon, in our Civil Procedures study group, I’d been prepared to despise her, along with her family, and the Austin-Healy Sprite her father gave her when she graduated from Wellesley.  Leydon looked like a fairy-tale princess—she had hair like spun gold, and she seemed to float when she walked, like a feathery ballerina. I wasn’t a ballerina, I was a street fighter, product of the mills and ethnic wars of Chicago’s steel city.

12

Murder in the Cathedral

 

“Leydon?  Leydon, if you’re here, come out!  It’s me, Vic.”

I was standing in the doorway to the old library at the Divinity School.  The narrow mullioned windows were so clogged with ivy that even on a light summer evening, the room was too dark for me to see anything.  I ran my hand along the walls, fumbling for a light-switch, but finally had to dig a small flashlight from my briefcase.

I shone it around the room, looking for the switches, or for some sign of Leydon.  I kept calling her name, but when I finally managed to turn on the lights I didn’t see any sign of her.

The old library had vanished, as well.  The angels still soared overhead, which meant I was in the right room, but the library tables had disappeared along with the old biblical studies journals.  I’d thought—hoped—I might find Leydon hiding in the stacks, but those were gone.  The walls had been replastered and painted a bright white.  It was like one of those movies where the villains drug the heroine and try to pretend that the strange house in the country where she wakes up is really her home.

In a corner of my mind, one I didn’t like to visit, I could see Leydon as I’d found her twenty-five years ago: under her kitchen table, hugging herself, as she rocked back on her heels, weeping soundlessly.  She’d been up for three days and I’d been looking for her—we were presenting a case together in Moot Court and I had tried to condense the hundreds of pages she’d spewed out into a document acceptable to the judges.  I’d finally let myself into her apartment and found her.

I tried to think where she might have gone today.  If she’d been calm enough to think, perhaps she would have gone to the coffee shop in the basement—our study sessions often started there.  She might feel safe in the basement.

I stopped at the third-floor landing to call Leydon’s name.  I ducked down to look underneath the stairs, but didn’t check the seminar rooms.   At the second-floor, I shouted her name again.  I was startled when a woman opened a door at the end of the hall and stuck her head out.

“You looking for someone?”

It couldn’t be Leydon, my flickering first thought, unless she’d been transformed from a slender red-gold sylph to a heavy-set grey-haired earth goddess.

I apologized for disturbing her.  “I thought the building was empty.  I used to be a student here and I’m trying to hook up with an old friend.”

The woman looked me up and down, deciding whether to trust me.  “Is your friend on the nervous side?”

“The far side of nervous.  Have you seen her? Slim, fair, a bit shorter than me.  I’m V I Warshawski, by the way, if she asked for me by name.”

“She was sitting on the stairs, sobbing.  I thought maybe someone had died, but when I asked her it turned out she was crying over the reading room, the old library—she was horribly upset because we’d turned it into a conference room. You’re not her case worker, are you?”

“Just an old friend,” I repeated, depressed.  “I’m going to see if she went to the coffee shop.”

“It closes at four in the summer.  You might check the chapels, Bond, or Rockefeller.  She wanted to know where else on campus angels soared and I suggested those two places to her.” She hesitated. “I did wonder if I should call campus security.  I can still do it if you think—well, do you think she might be a danger to herself?”

I scrunched up my mouth—I didn’t know what Leydon might do. “I haven’t seen her for awhile, so I don’t know how shaky she is these days.  If I don’t find her at either of the chapels, I’ll call the cops myself.”

I moved as fast as I could on my sore feet to Rockefeller Chapel, whose carillon tower dominates the neighborhood.  The tower is almost twenty stories high and I wasn’t sure they locked the stairwell.

I pulled open one of the heavy doors and entered into silence and twilight. I stood at the entrance to the nave, involuntarily hugging my arms across my chest: the stones seemed so cold, so ominous that I felt chilled, despite the heat outside.

The building is the size of a cathedral.  The mullioned windows didn’t let in much of the late-day sun, and the lamps hanging from the vaulted ceiling were so remote they might as well not have been switched on.

I strained my ears for any sound, a sob, a laugh, but heard nothing.  “Leydon!  Leydon?”

My voice bounced around the walls and gave me back a mocking echo.  I started up the central aisle toward the chancel, my shoes setting up what sounded like a drumroll.  Too big, too loud.  If Leydon were in here she’d surely hear me, but if she  were feeling abandoned, depressed, she might not be able to respond. I pulled the pencil flash from my bag, shining it under the pews as I searched.

I found her lying face-down near the chancel steps.  Her red-gold hair glinted under my flashlight.  I knelt next to her, smoothing it back from her forehead.

“Leydon, I’m sorry I was late.  Was that too much for you to bear? Did you decide a nip or two of Jim Beam would carry you while you waited for me?”

I kept my voice soft, a loving croon despite the words.  I’d learned long ago how cruel it was to add my criticism to the demons already attacking her.

 

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  • Oh I’m so left hanging now. She’s dead isn’t she? Poor Leydon. I’m looking forward to reading this when it comes out!

  • Wonderful as ever, Sara.

  • Kazuyo K.

    Dear Sara,
    my wife have read IV series in Japanese, and she says she should know whether the Japanese version will come along with original version. Kazuyo K.   

  • Elke

    I‘ve followed VI since the beginning and loved it immediately and, after reading the excerpt, I‘m looking forward to the new book – hope it won‘t be long
    Elke from Germany

  • Elke

    I‘ve followed VI since the beginning and loved it immediately and, after reading the excerpt, I‘m looking forward to the new book – hope it won‘t be long
    Elke from Germany

  • Sara Paretsky

    Thank you all for your support.  Kazuko K, please tell your wife that Hayakawa is publishing my most recent book, Body Work, in Japanese these year.  Mr. Hayakawa has not yet seen the new book–it’s so very new, not edited or ready for publication in America that he won’t see it until it’s more polished.  I hope he will want to publish it in Japan.

  • reader

    Oh, I can’t wait to read it!  I’ve spent the last few weeks going back and re-reading all of your books.  It’s so much fun watching V.I. and the detective business change over time.  I love that you’ve allowed time to pass and your characters to age. 

  • Stacy M. Weaver

    Read the excerpt and am looking forward to the book.
    Stacy
    Bronx, NY

  • Paulannedesign

    Brill…can’t wait to read…

  • Evelynjs04

    Can’t wait to read the book!  Always love a new book by Sara Paretsky!

  • Rileyjo20

    I am so excited to read this new book. If it is as good as all the others then I know I will enjoy it. Just  this short entry is enough to keep me in suspense.

    Thanks,
    rileyjo20

  • Jill Cross

    I just finished Body Work and I loved it. I’m so excited to read VI’s next adventure. She’s my favorite fictional character and I eager await your next

  • Holgerfiallo

    I just read part of Breakdown and Sara Did it again. I can not wait for the book to come out next year. I am hook again. Thanks Sara for another great book.

  • the Baglady

    Love this, Sara! I am definitely looking forward to this newest novel!

  • Mrs6590

    I can only echo what everyone else said: can’t wait for this book to be published!  Thank you, Sara.

  • Skipper Hammond

    VI brushed hair from Leydon’s forehead and didn’t notice cool, dry skin. Does that mean she’s still living? I can’t wait to find out.

  • Leon Pool

    Greetings from the UK. Also look forward with relish to any new VI book, trouble is I read them within a couple of days then have to wait what seems like an eternity for the next one!

  • Idzan Ismail

    As usual it leaves me wanting for more. Very suspenseful.
    P.S. Having visited Chicago, can tell my friends I have visited the places and streets you mention in your books.

  • JoAnn Welsh

    I can’t wait for this to come out. I love getting V.I.’s take on the wealthy, especially when they’re her friends instead of villains.

  • shirleyannb

    Hope you are enjoying a well deserved break after submitting Breakdown to the publisher.

  • Pam

    Cannot wait for Breakdown….. it is difficult to wait each time for the next book!!!!!! 

  • Thanks to all of you for your generous comments.  I will try my best to live up to your kind remarks. 

  • Rachel

    This looks like it will be another wonderful episode in the case files of V.I Warshawski. I look forward to reading it when it comes out. 

  • Bgkris

    ATTN;  Sara Paretsky

    I recently read “Tunnel Vision” in which you mention a Uffizi engraving.  I have a question re something in the Uffizi Museum & thought you may know the answer.  I enjoy your W.I. Warshawski character, but I have to concur with your many supporting characters remarks that she has used up waaaay more than the 9 lives you have allotted to her.  Please call me at (760) 367-7021.  Thank you.  Kristine Barszcz

  • Cecelia Anslinger Sauer

    I just finished the book – “Breakdown”.  I would like to know how you came up with the Brenner

    And Metzger names.  They are my family names–that’s why I am curious.

    Cecelia Sauer

  • Dear Ms Sauer
    I’m glad you commented on the post here, because your email somehow disappeared before I answered it. Sometimes I choose names based on their meaning, because I want a character to embody those traits, and sometimes on sound. I chose Metzger because I wanted Leydon to be indulging in wordplay around the meanings of Metzger, as she does in her conversation with the therapist. And Brenner made me think a bit of Bonhöfer, and also of the ardor which an evangelical might bring to decent care of the mentally ill. I also liked the idea of missionaries coming to America instead of from America. I can imagine it was startling to see them together in one sentence.

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