In the 1980s, most, if not all, of the private eyes in fiction were men, loners mostly. With their macho brands of honor. Then, in 1982, Sara Paretsky introduced private investigator Victoria Iphigenia (V. I.) Warshawski in Indemnity Only to break the mold. Here was a protagonist who was smart, confident, and strong with a touch, okay a heap, of snark. Much like Paretsky and her friends.
V.I. (also known as Vic) lived and worked in her hometown of Chicago. Her father was a Polish-American cop and her mother a Jewish opera singer who fled from Italy under Mussolini during World War II. While in high school, her mother passed away. Ten years later, her father died. After a rebellious time, when her mother died, Vic went to the University of Chicago on a basketball scholarship, then earned a law degree before working as a public defender. From there, she became a private detective specializing in white-collar crime.
Set on the gritty streets of Chicago, the atmosphere in the novels was very realistic, showing the citizens of a lower to lower-middle class part of the city. Paretsky lived in Chicago and showed us many areas and locations in the city.
A rabid Red Sox and Bears fan, Vic represented the true person of the street. She wasathletic, a fan of fine clothes, and a brunette whose chosen form of exercise is running. She stayed thin despite loving big meals which are often described in the stories. With experience in karate and a Smith and Wesson in her purse, she encountered little she isn’t capable of handling. Yet, she still seemedadept at getting herself in over her head.
While in law school, she married Dick Yarborough, who showed up in some of the stories. They divorced after nearly two years. He became a corporate lawyer. Their different outlooks on people and life showed up in many of the stories.
While she had several well-heeled clients, most of the novels concerned people who were unable to pay her regular fees. The cases often involved a murder that led to some type of conspiracy. In some of the stories, the person or persons behind the murders were so well connected that they are too powerful for her to bring to justice.
The V.I. Warshawski series has ran continuously since 1982. It includes 20 novels and four short-story collections. For most of the series, Paretsky let Vic age in real time until 2010’s Hard Ball.
Paretsky wrote her V. I. novels in first person, giving us a closer look into the detective’s life and personality. Her books usually came out every couple of years with many of them making best-seller lists.
Some of the recurring characters include Salvatore “Sal” Contreras, who lived downstairs. He was a World War II veteran who fought in Italy and was involved in militant trade strikes with his manufacturing union.
One of her closest friends was Charlotte “Lotty” Herschel, a Viennese physician who iwas often called on to treat Vic’s various illnesses and injuries. A refugee from Nazi-controlled Austria as a child, she acts as Vic’s surrogate mother.
Paretsky does not shy away from being political in her novels. Her character, Vic, detests the Republican Party, while not being all that happy with the Democratic Party. Her cases often involve ethnic minorities and social justice. Many fans and critics regard V. I. Warshawski as one of the few feminist detectives.
She also opposed the wars America fought in the Middle East, while being sympathetic to the soldiers who fought in them.
Paretsky has said that the idea for writing a detective novel came while she worked a CNA Insurance. She had been thinking about writing a book for about eight years. During one meeting on a particular dreary Chicago day, a male coworker (she called him Fred) had been droning on and on. She said, “Gosh, Fred, heck of an idea.” When what she really wanted to say was ’you expletive-deleted turkey bird.’ “That’s when V. I. came to me. Not Philip Marlowe in drag, but a woman like me and my friends, doing a job that hadn’t existed for women while we were growing up, but saying what was in the balloon over her head because she dealt with the turkey birds without fear or favor.”
That’s a good description for the character she created. A character whose influence is being seen in a lot of the heroines of mysteries who are being written about today.
Paretsky is one of only a few masters who have won the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association of the United Kingdom, the Edgar Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and the Gold Dagger by the Crime Writer’s Association.
Here is a link to an interview with the author about V. I. Warshawski
Here is a link to a list of her novels and date of publication.An introduction to one of America's most popular private eyes. V.I.Warshawski by Sara Paretsky @OpenAMystery @TimSuddeth #mysteries Click To Tweet