June 29, 1998 12:00 PM

by Sara Paretsky

The tough streets of Chicago are still the setting, but this time ace private eye V.I. Warshawski is nowhere to be found. Instead, Sara Paretsky’s latest is a murkier kind of mystery, centering on a trio of dispossessed Chicagoans—Luisa Montcrief, an alcoholic opera diva; Dr. Hector Tammuz, a beleaguered psychiatric resident; and Mara Stonds, a troubled teen—drawn together by a homeless woman’s claims to have seen a holy vision on the wall of a downtown parking garage.

Paretsky paints her hapless heroes with vivid strokes and, for the most part, spins a story that is as absorbing as it is ambitious. But when she weaves in another homeless woman, this one a messianic earth mother with enormous breasts, a headful of hornlike curls and a reputation for Jesus-like miracle-working, Paretsky’s fable veers a bit too far out of the realm of credibility. (Delacorte, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Where’s that hooey-hating Warshawski when you need her?

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