Created by Sara Paretsky
"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, 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, principaled, 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 sloppy 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's can be pretty shrill and even at times unlikable as a person -- and I tend to agree with her politics. And 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.
In fact, given V.I.'s harsh, unbending beliefs, her fierce determination to never compromise and the high toll its 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 anthologies of short stories by contemporary women mystery writers, A Woman's Eye, in 1991, and Women on the Case in 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.
- " 'A series character,' says Paretsky in an interview, 'is your secret Playmate.' Interviewers have their own way of changing the emphasis of the most self deprecating quote and V. I. is more than a playmate. Once she was given life, she could not and will not be controlled and she will certainly not conform to anyone's games. Some playmate. You must love or hate her, since the only other choice is a kind of cold fascination which really will not do for such a glorious woman. The best route is to learn to love her even when she makes you choke, but don't consider her as a cosy and don't apologize for her behaviour. Not a playmate then, but an alter ego for the bravest as well as the coward; an example of consistent honour: a piece of damaged goods propelled in wrong directions as well as right. Led by the kind of energy which can destroy as well as reform, V. I. is a lost soul of conspicuous intelligence and hectic kindness. One who sheds a skin as easily as a car, she heals her own wounds without crying for help because each time she cried that way before, the silence was not golden. She is lonely often, pathetic, never. The wit is a downtown acid, the eating habits eclectic, the apartment a mess, but the shoes and the courage are divine. Her best possessions are frequently ruined, which she accepts with resignation but not without regret, especially the shoes. To fill the vacuum of her energy and to feed the gnawing conscience, Warshawski will push herself to the limit. She will vex her friends and I wish she was the best of mine, not for the knife edge of anxiety she would cause, but only for the joy of it."
-- Francis Fyfield, from The Scorpion Press
- "Fire Sale is at least in one sense all about mothers and children -- which I find rather amusing since V.I. Warshawski is possibly the least maternal of all P.I.s. Brittle, hard and judgemental, fixated on her dead mother and so wrapped up in her own world she seems completely lacking in actual empathy, it's hard to imagine anyone less mom-like. God, a child might break one of her precious Venetian wineglasses! And yet, once again, Paretsky pulls it off."
Kevin Burton Smith, on Fire Sale
- "You think you mean well, but you know nothing about life down here. And don't tell me a story about growing up down here because you still know nothing, anyway."
-- a minimum wage mother, fearful of losing her job, confronts V.I. in Fire Sale
ALSO OF INTEREST
- Writing in an Age of Silence (2007) ....Buy this book
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 Takamoku Joseki" (January 1984, AHMM)
- "Three-Dot Po" (1984, The Eyes Have It)
- "At the Old Swimming Hole" (1986, Mean Streets)
- "Skin Deep" (1987, New Black Mask #8)
- "The Case of the Pietro Andromache" (December 1988, AHMM)
- "Settled Score" (1991, A Woman's Eye)
- "The Maltese Cat" (1990, Sisters in Crime #3)
- "Strung Out" (1992, Deadly Allies)
- "Grace Notes" (1995, Windy City Blues)
- "Publicity Stunts" (1996, Women on the Case; 1998, Lethal Ladies II)
- "Photo Finish" (Summer 2000, MHCMM)
- V.I. WARSHAWSKI ..Buy this video ..Buy this DVD
(1991, Hollywood Pictures)
Based (allegedly) on characters created by Sara Paretsky
Screen story by Edward Taylor
Screenplay by Edward Taylor, David Aaron Cohen and Nick Thiel
Directed by Jeff Kanew
Produced by Jeffrey Lurie
Co-producers: Doug Claybourne
Co-executive producers: John Bard Manulis, Lauren Weissman
Executive producers: Penney Finkelman Cox, John P. Marsh, Lauren Weissman
Starring Kathleen Turner as V.I. WARSHAWSKI
Also starring Charles Durning, Jay O. Sanders, Angela Goethals, Charles Durning, Nancy Paul, Frederick Coffin, Charles McCaughan, Stephen Meadows, Wayne Knight, Lynnie Godfrey, Anne Pitoniak, Stephen Root, Robert Clotworthy, Tom Allard, Mike Hagerty
- Sara Paretsky
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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