Racine Avenue is going upscale—bad news for hand-to-mouth residents like V. I. Warshawski. As tax bills skyrocket, newcomers pressure old inhabitants into fixing up their homes or moving out. To the yuppies on the block, the worst eyesore belongs to old Hattie Frizell, whose yard is “returning to native prairie, complete with hubcaps.” Their block club wants her and her five dogs gone. V. I. and Hattie have a relationship of sorts. One of those five dogs gave V. I.’s dog Peppy an unwelcome litter. When Hattie slips in her bath and is rushed unconscious to the hospital, V. I. feels compelled to get involved. But neighboring lawyer Todd Pichea and his wife, Chrissie, act swiftly to get the courts to make them Hattie’s legal guardians.
V. I. returns from a business trip to find they’ve put the old woman’s dogs to sleep. Furious, V. I. starts poking around in the Picheas’ affairs, hoping to turn up something scandalous enough to make them lose their guardianship. Hattie isn’t the detective’s only worry. When her downstairs neighbor’s oldest friend disappears, Mr. Contreras persuades V. I. to investigate. As she probes both problems, V. I. uncovers a scandal linking one of Chicago’s oldest industrial families to union fraud and a politically connected bank. Her investigation takes her into the depths of the steamy Sanitary Canal and brings her eyeball-to-eyeball with her ex-husband, Dick Yarborough. When her dear friend Lotty Herschel and her own lawyer turn against her, V. I. is left alone to struggle with the most serious case of her career.
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