Created by Sara Paretsky (1947--)
"Never tell anybody anything unless you're going to get something better in return."
-- V.I. Warshawski in Deadlock
"Like Lew Archer before her, (V.I.) looks beyond the surface to 'the farside of the dollar,' the side where power and money corrupt people into making criminal decisions to preserve their positions."
-- Parestky on V.I.
Along with Kinsey Millhone, with whom she'll probably always be linked (and Lord, how it must annoy both of them), one of the best known of the new breed of lady dicks who popped up in the late seventies/early eighties was V.I. WARSHAWSKI, a Chicago private eye specializing in corporate skullduggery.
V.I. is very proud of her Italian-Polish roots and her working class background, and seems to take particular delight in going after fat cats. She's got an office in the Loop, complete with the El rattling past every few minutes.
And while she may be a slender 5'8'' but V.I. can take care of herself, thanks. She packs a gun in her purse, and she'll use it if she has to. She'll duke it up if she has to, and she doesn't take any bullshit, especially from men. She's idealistic, and many of her cases revolve around "women's issues," but she's not just some rhetoric-spouting feminist. She lives in the real world and that's the way she wants it. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label, is more than willing to bend the rules for her clients (she seems particularly partial to B&E), but she's also a bit of a clothes horse, likes to sing along with the radio, and isn't adverse to a little sex now and then. She's committed, principled, and uncompromising, and a very welcome addition to the ranks of the genre.
V.I. has proven to be one of the most popular and influential, and certainly one of the hardest of the women eyes. V.I.'s politics are straight up, and she remains determined and committed. TSo determined and committed that she can occasionally come off as "unapologetically strident," as The New York Times once put it.
But it's that same unflinching quality that may have helped attract the attention of actress Kathleen Turner, who used her box office clout to get a big budget film produced. Unfortunately the result, 1991's V.I. Warshawski, is a sloppy mess ruined by a bunch of lazy clichés and a cobbled-together and misguided potboiler plot, and Turner, despite all her good intentions, is simply miscast in this one. Maybe it's just me, but I've always pictured V.I. as rather tight and focussed and more than a little frosty. Turner's just a big, warm comfy femme fatale in this one, with hair about two sizes too big -- presumably to make her more audience-friendly. And don't even get me started on the cute kid and the dog the studio saddled her with.
Because if there's one thing V.I. has never been accused of, it's being "audience-friendly." Trying to recast her as Mary Tyler Moore, the film was just begging to fail. On the other hand, selling the rights to Hollywood did allow Paretsky to quit her day job and start writing full-time, for which I guess mystery readers can be eternally grateful.
Let's face it -- V.I. can be a tad abrasive. And I'm generally with her, when it comes to politics. Her attempts to seem hip or cool just grate -- as when she uses words like "chill" or namedrops pop culture, she just reinforces how out of it she seems. But the same traits that rub me the wrong way if she were a real person ironically make her interesting and compelling as a fictional character. She's about as unapologetically in-your-face as series private eyes come these days. I mean, it's not coincidence that several people have drawn parallels between V.I. and the equally uncompromising and personally obsessed Mike Hammer over the years. Same coin; two very different sides.
In fact, given V.I.'s harsh, unbending beliefs (despite periodic bouts of handwringing), her fierce determination to never compromise and the high toll it's taken on her emotional and social life, I sometimes wonder if she's going to completely breakdown one of these days, or perhaps go completely ballistic, à la Hammer in One Lonely Night.
Sara Paretsky, like her creation, walks it like she talks it. An ardent feminist, she's ready and willing to stand up and be heard. She founded Sisters in Crime to help fellow women mystery writers get their fair share. She has also edited a few major anthologies of short stories by contemporary women mystery writers, A Woman's Eye (1991) and Women on the Case (1996). In fact, her work in other areas seemed to have taken her away from V.I. In 1999, after a long, five year absence, though, V.I. returned, in Hard Time, and has since appeared more or less regularly every few years, every new release scooting to the top of the bestseller lists..
-- Francis Fyfield, from The Scorpion Press
-- Kevin Burton Smith, on Fire Sale
-- a minimum wage mother, fearful of losing her job, confronts V.I. in Fire Sale
STRAIGHT FROM THE AUTHOR'S MOUTH
-- Sara Paretsky, October 2015, Facebook
ALSO OF INTEREST
Still fighting the good fight, Paretsky instills her powerful memoir with all the passion, anger and righteous indignation you'd expect. Paretsky refuses to separate her art and her politics -- and argues that no artist should -- but when she zeroes in on "the Junior Mr. Bush" and the much-hated Patriot Act, the long smouldering rage ignites. Not for the timid or the intellectually slack-jawed, this is as timely and as truly patriotic a tome as I've come across this year. No doubt the stormtroopers will be banging on her door any day now.
The author's official web site. Good for a well-written and intelligent rant or two, plus the usual bios, bibliography, etc.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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