Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky and the Transformation of Crime Fiction Women

Sara Paretsky (born June 8, 1947) is a modern American author of detective fiction.

Life and career

Paretsky was born in Ames, Iowa and raised in Kansas, graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in political science. She did community service work on the south side of Chicago in 1966 and returned in 1968 to work there. She ultimately completed a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago; her dissertation was entitled "The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before the Civil War." She also earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Married to a professor of physics at the University of Chicago, she has lived in Chicago since 1968.

The protagonist of all but two of Paretsky's novels is V.I. Warshawski, a female private investigator. Warshawski's eclectic personality defies easy categorization. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label, breaks into houses looking for clues, and can hold her own in a street fight, but also she pays attention to her clothes, sings opera along with the radio, and enjoys her sex life.

Paretsky is credited with transforming the role and image of women in the crime novel. The Winter 2007 issue of Clues: A Journal of Detection[1] is devoted to her work.

Like the plots of other mystery writers including Dick Francis and Robert B. Parker, Paretsky's plots are based on the traditional formula: someone is murdered in the early pages to conceal a crime (which often involve important corporations and their business in Paretsky's novels), and more killings follow, culminating with Warshawski herself narrowly escaping being killed in a climactic confrontation with the murderer. As with Francis, the lack of variety in Paretsky's storylines is compensated for by rich details about the lives and businesses of Paretsky's characters. And, as in Parker's novels, local color abounds, in Paretsky's case including traffic on the Stevenson Expressway and the perennial travails of the Chicago Cubs.

Sara is an alum of the Ragdale Foundation.

V. I. Warshawski

Victoria Iphigenia “Vic” Warshawski is a fictional character in a series of detective novels and short stories by Sara Paretsky. She is a gritty, independent private investigator from Chicago. Aside from one short story, The Pietro Andromache, all of Warshawski's adventures are written in the first person.


Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, called 'Vic' by her friends is the daughter of the Italian-born Gabriella Sestrieri and Polish police officer Tony Warshawski, a member of the Chicago Police Department. Both her parents are deceased; Gabriella died of cancer, two years before Vic went to college, and ten years before the death of her father in 1976[1]. This implies that Vic was born in about 1950. We also learn from Toxic Shock that Vic was last at her high school some 20 years previously; therefore this story was set in 1988, the year of the book’s publication. Sara Paretsky, in an interview, tells us that Vic ages in real time.

Vic grew up on the Southeast Side of Chicago, in the shadow of shuttered steel mills and factories.

After earning a law degree at the University of Chicago, Vic had a short stint as a public defender before becoming a private detective specializing in commercial cases and company finances—white-collar crime. Vic has been divorced once, from corporate lawyer Dick Yarborough. She has no children.

In most novels, she is drawn into murder cases that have a connection to white-collar crime. Vic regularly ends up pursuing cases that affect her friends and estranged family, or those she feels are being bullied by the upper crust of Chicago.

A lean, athletic brunette who runs to keep in shape, Vic is not afraid of physical confrontations with would-be attackers, relying on either her karate skills, or her Smith & Wesson automatic pistol with nine-shot clip.

Hot-tempered, sarcastic and fiercely self-reliant, Vic tends to be a slob. She prefers T-shirts, sweatshirts, jeans and running shoes; can dress stylishly if necessary and sleeps nude. She hates to admit being scared or vulnerable. She loves opera and classical music; she often sings arias and plays her piano in times of stress. She stays trim despite ravenous appetite and favors multi-course ethnic meals with good wine. She often indulges in big, greasy breakfasts and Polish sausage sandwiches.

She shares two dogs, Peppy and Mitch, with her neighbor.

In addition to one failed marriage, Vic has had a few lovers over the years. Some of them appear in more than one book, and some even after the relationship has ended.

Recurring characters
(Note: Because the novels and short stories span a large number of years and there are changes at the end of each one, some characters do not appear as the novels progress, or do not appear until later novels. Characters listed here appear in at least two novels.)

Carol Alvarado, a nurse at Dr. Herschel’s clinic

Sal Barthele, statuesque owner of the Golden Glow bar

Freeman Carter, V.I.’s legal counsel on retainer

Salvatore Contreras, downstairs widower neighbor and slightly overbearing friend

Terry Finchley, a police detective whom V.I. interacts with regularly

Darraugh Graham, an extremely important and long-standing client

Dr. Charlotte “Lotty” Herschel, close friend and perinatologist at Beth Israel Hospital; formerly had her own clinic as a general practitioner

Max Loewenthal, Lotty’s significant other; executive director of Beth Israel Hospital and an art and music aficionado

Bobby Mallory, police officer and friend of V.I.’s father Tony

John McGonnigal, police officer who regularly interacts with V.I.

Mary Louise Neely, an officer in the Chicago P.D. who provides a significant amount of assistance to V.I. over time

Conrad Rawlings, a detective in the Chicago P.D.

Murray Ryerson, reporter at the Herald-Star newspaper; V.I.’s longtime friend and sometime rival


With year of first publication:
Indemnity Only (1982)
Deadlock (1984)
Killing Orders (1985)
Bitter Medicine (1987)
Blood Shot (1988) Published as Toxic Shock in the UK.
Burn Marks (1990)
Guardian Angel (1992)
Tunnel Vision (1994)
Hard Time (1999)
Total Recall (2001)
Blacklist (2003)
Fire Sale (2005)
Hardball (2009)

Short Stories
Windy City Blues (1995) Published as V.I. For Short in the UK.
V.I. × 2 (2002)

Only Deadlock has been turned into a movie, V.I. Warshawski, with Kathleen Turner in the title role. The film, which took many creative liberties with Paretsky's character, was meant as a franchise for Turner, but those plans were scrapped when it was not a commercial success, grossing only $11.1 million domestically.

Radio Adaptations
BBC Radio 4 has produced three radio dramas based on the series. The first two, Deadlock and Killing Orders, feature Kathleen Turner reprising her movie role, with Eleanor Bron as "Lotty". The third, Bitter Medicine, stars Sharon Gless as Warshawski.

Indemnity Only (1982)
Deadlock (1984)
Killing Orders (1985)
Bitter Medicine (1987)
Blood Shot (1988)
Burn Marks (1990)
Guardian Angel (1992)
Tunnel Vision (1994)
Ghost Country (1998) - non-Warshawski novel; ISBN 978-0385333368
Hard Time (1999) ISBN 0-385-31363-2
Total Recall (2001) ISBN 0-385-31366-7
Blacklist (2003) ISBN 0-399-15085-4
Fire Sale (2005) ISBN 978-0739455944
Bleeding Kansas (2008) - non-Warshawski novel; ISBN 978-0399154058
Hardball (2009)

Short story collections
Windy City Blues (1995)
V.I. x2 (2002)

Writing in an Age of Silence (2007) ISBN 978-1844671229

As editor
Women on the Case (1997) ISBN 978-0440223252
Sisters On the Case (2007) ISBN 978-0451222398

Newer Article: Berlin: City of Stones, A Review by John Fellows


Older Article: The Fall by Brubaker and Lutes, A Review by Nick Brownlow

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