Sara Paretsky

Books: Mystery

V.I. Warshawski: Indemnity Only (1982), Deadlock (1984), Killing Orders (1985), Blood Shot (1988), Burn Marks (1990)


The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventh Annual Collection (1994)

I give up. I started Guardian Angel but decided that I'd rather read something that I liked.

Indemnity Only (1982) and Deadlock (1984)

Indemnity Only

I used to own the V.I. Warshawski series, but in a fit of pique--and shelf space squeeze--I sold them all. I recently decided that I wanted to give them another chance, which means that I needed to reread them, which means I had to find all the books again. Luckily, I've found most of them used.

The first book, Indemnity Only, is set in 1979, and in some ways it's dated. V.I. Warshawski is constantly asserting her right as a woman to have any job she wants. Yes, in some places today this is still a problem, but it is no longer overt problem that it was at the time the book was written. In many ways the issues that women face are far more insidious, in that they are far more subtle.

This leads to one of my problems with the book--something that Marion Zimmer Bradley brought up when she was editing Sword & Sorceress. Yes, woman may face challenges and sexist, but I can only read so many stories where overcoming those challenges is the focus of the story. Yes, sexism is a problem, but the story should be more than that. Not that this story focuses solely upon V.I.'s gender as a problem in her work, but it comes up. Frequently.

The other issue is more a matter of taste--when I'm reading a mystery, I don't want to read about the constant battles of sexism. They're out there, I know about them, and I just don't want to read about them.

However, to be fair, although the issue of gender comes up frequently in these books, it isn't the complete focus of the story, this is a mystery at heart, and it's a good mystery. In searching for a lost woman, V.I. ends up searching for whoever killed the woman's boyfriend. Good mystery, fast paced, quick read. So not bad.

Rating: 5/10


Deadlock is the second V.I. Warshawski book. V.I.'s cousin has died in an accident, however she beings to wonder if the accident is actually murder.

There is far less emphasis up the idea of a woman doing a man's work, and her biggest problem in this area now seems to come from a police officer who knew her as a child, however there was a bit of "why aren't you at married and raising kids," which I could also do without.

As with Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky is pretty hostile to the wealthy. Not that I have any particular love for the too rich, but reading these books I begin to wonder whether everyone in Chicago with money is completely lacking in morals and virtue. For most of the people in this book are unpleasant in one way or another.

However, the mystery was still pretty good, and the story moved quickly. These are not my favorite mysteries, but they're not horrible either, so I'll keep reading. At least for now.

Rating: 6/10

Killing Orders (1985)

Killing Orders

In Killing Orders V.I.'s bitter and unpleasant aunt asks her to look into a matter for her--securities have been forged at the church where Aunt Rosa works, and as everyone who had access to the safe is under suspicion, she is on leave from her job at the church. Worried, and wanting to clear her name so she can return to work, she bullies V.I. into looking into the case for her. But things aren't nearly as simple as they seem, and soon one of V.I.'s friends is dead, attempts are made on V.I.'s life, and another friend is hospitalized, all for asking questions about securities fraud.

I'm starting to remember what frustrated me so much about these books.

First, I could care less about clothes and shoes. Why should I care about the brands of shoes and clothes V.I. wears? Do I really need the details about her Italian shoes? Annoying.

Second, I don't think I actually like V.I. very much. That isn't a fatal flaw in a book, but it does make it difficult. When one friend is killed, and another seriously injured, she doesn't seem to care very much--oh she says she cares, but do her actions reflect that caring? Not so much.

Although not all the rich come across as selfish, evil, and manipulative in this book, it's still a strong theme. And there is a strong negative view of the Catholic church in this book, although much of that is directed at an Opus Dei type group, there is some general invective thrown at Catholicism in general. That I also could have done without. I think she could have created an evil Catholic group without painting Catholicism so negatively; she did try to create some positive Catholic characters, but they wear and minimal, and so the general tone was one rather Nativist. Strange thing is that I don't think that this was her intention, but that's how things came across.

However, despite these flaws, the stories are good, some of the secondary characters are likable, and I like the mysteries, so I'll keep reading. At least for now.

After giving it some thought, I'm wondering if I'm being to hard on Sara Paretsky. After all, I am continuing to read the series, and I can't put down the books once I pick them up to start reading them. The problem for me is that there are times when I just move past my suspension of disbelief into annoyance. There aren't a lot of times, and they don't last for long, but they are big enough to draw me away from the story, and they are big enough to keep me thinking about them later.

Some of it may also be a matter of personal preference. There were more than a few times when I stopped to think, "V.I., you're being an total asshole". Which is distracting.

So the books aren't bad, I just find them frustrating.

Rating: 5/10

Blood Shot (1988)

Blood ShotV.I. Warshawski reluctantly heads back to the old neighborhood--her childhood next door neighbor wants her help in solving the mystery of her past. V.I.'s mother had befriended the single mother next door, and made V.I. take care of Caroline, the little girl. Now, as her mother lies dying, Caroline begs V.I. to look into the past.

Again, the story is good, but V.I. is still an asshole, and I'm still having a hard time understanding why she has any friends, or her acquaintances even speak to her.

And this story wasn't as good as the others. I had several major plot points figured out relatively quickly, which was okay, since I don't mind reading mysteries multiple times, but I was left wondering what was taking everyone else so long to figure it out.

And I was maddened by the Lotty in this book. She's a doctor, yet she wasn't able to comprehend simple blood test results? Come on. There is no way that she should not have missed the obvious conclusions. I can see her saying that she couldn't make an expert diagnosis, but there is no way that a doctor--especially a general practitioner--should have missed the meaning of those blood tests.

I can easily believe that V.I. didn't understand the results, but there is no way I'm going to believe that a general practitioner--especially one as brilliant as Lotty is suppose to be--is going to miss the significance of those results.

So, I'm getting more and more annoyed with some things in this series, but I'm still reading. At least for now.

Rating: 4/10

Burn Marks (1990)

Burn MarksV.I.'s aunt Elena shows up on her doorstop at 3 in the morning after escaping the fire that burned down the hotel where she was living. As an alcoholic deadbeat aunt is not the idea roommate, V.I. gives her 24 hours to find a new place and get out, but of course that isn't the end of the story, and V.I. ends up investigating the arson.

I was set to give up on this series after this book, until the last few chapters. V.I. is still a jerk, and I was tired of waiting for her to reform, except that at the end of this book V.I. finally has a long overdue talk with Bobby Mallory. So I'm hoping that their relationship will change in future books, and perhaps her relationships with other will change as well. I'm hoping anyway.

This story, although good, jumps around a bit, and I found myself wondering several times precisely why she was continuing with her investigations, but I suppose it was the fact that she'd been told not to that pushed her to continue.

For 1990 V.I. was still fighting a lot of sexism--sexism that I don't remember existing to that degree at that time, but as the stories do not seem to be set in any particular year--and she seems only to have aged a year or two since the first book set in 1978--perhaps they are set in the past, when sexism was still blatant, and less subtle than you find today.

But to give Sara Paretsky her due, she does try to give V.I. realistic injuries, and a somewhat realistic recover from those injuries, although I do have to wonder: who is paying for all these hospital visits? Can a private investigator afford good health insurance? (Actually, I wonder this about most hard boiled mysteries I read, where the hero ends up banged up and in need of major medical care. Now wonder they're all poor. All those hospital bills.)

So the story in this book wasn't quite as good as previous book, but I have hopes that V.I. is going to stop being a complete jerk, and read the next book in the series.

But this is her last chance. If I still find her maddening in the next book, I'm giving up, selling the books back, and finding a new series.

Rating: 4/10

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventh Annual Collection (1994) edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

Freud at Thirty Paces by Sara Paretsky 

Published by St Martins Press