Paretsky, Sara (1947—)

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Paretsky, Sara (1947—)

Creator of Chicago's famous feminist detective V. I. Warshawski, author Sara Paretsky paved the way for a new category of female detectives within the mystery genre. In 1986, angered at the treatment of female mystery writers, who were often ignored, unrewarded, underappreciated, and forced into creating stereotypical protagonists, Paretsky helped to create Sisters in Crime. This group has consistently worked to garner awards for female mystery writers, demand that more reviews of mysteries be written by women, and improve the image of women in mystery novels.

Paretsky, who was born in Iowa and grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, was influenced in her choice of career by her mother, a children's librarian at the Lawrence Public Library. Young Sara began writing at the age of five. As an adult, however, Paretsky worked as a dishwasher, secretary, market manager, and freelance writer before writing her first V. I. Warshawski mystery, Indemnity Only, in 1982. In her first novel Paretsky combined her love of writing with her experience in the insurance industry to create a realistic, feminist detective who dealt with real problems on her own terms.

Victoria Warshawski, who prefers to be called V. I. or Vic, is described as being 5'8" tall, weighing 140 pounds, with dark brown hair and green eyes. She loves Black Label whiskey, red wine, and pasta. V. I. is ferociously loyal to her friends and tenacious when solving crimes. Although she is frequently assisted in her endeavors by her friend Dr. Lotty Herschel and downstairs neighbor Mr. Conteras, V. I. primarily applies her own intelligence and physical abilities to solve cases. Paretsky has succeeded in her goal of creating a female detective who combats the stereotypes of women prevalent in fiction before 1980. In her wake, other mystery writers, such as Dorothy Cannell (Ellie Haskell) and Selma Eichler (Desiree Shapiro), challenged the traditional mode of women in mysteries throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Within the mystery genre, major female characters now include Black, Jewish, lesbian, 60-plus, and divorced protagonists.

In addition to Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky has written eight mysteries featuring V. I. Warshawski: Deadlock (1984), Killing Orders (1985), Bitter Medicine (1985), Blood Shot (1988) (entitled Toxic Shock in Great Britain), Burn Marks (1990), Guardian Angel (1991), Tunnel Vision (1994), and Windy City Blues (1995). She also edited Women on the Case (1997), a collection of short stories with female protagonists.

In 1998 Sara Paretsky turned her attention to writing a novel that dealt with the lives of women in a broader context than was possible with the V. I. Warshawski series. Ghost Country features a group of women from distinctly different backgrounds who come together in Chicago's underground network of streets. Paretsky's characters become involved with exploring their own identities and their relationship to the world around them.

Sara Paretsky, a mother and grandmother, lives in Chicago with her husband, physicist Courtenay Wright and her golden retriever Cordhu. She was named Ms. Magazine's Woman of the Year in 1987, awarded the Mark Twain Award for the Society of the Study for Midwestern Literature, and nominated for a Silver Dagger for Blood Shot. In all her novels, Paretsky addresses traditional perceptions regarding the role of women in American society.

—Elizabeth Purdy

Further Reading:

Paretsky, Sara. Blood Shot. New York, Dell Books, 1989.

——. Ghost Country. New York, Delacorte, 1998.

——. Indemnity Only. New York. Dell Books, 1991.

Reddy, Maureen T., editor. Sisters in Crime: Feminism and the Crime Novel. New York, Continuum, 1988.

Swanson, Jean, and Dean Jones. By A Woman's Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women. New York, Berkley Books, 1994.

Trosky, Susan M., editor. Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Biblio-graphical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Nonfiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television, and Other Fields, Vol. 129. Detroit, Gale Research, 1990.