Sara Paretsky, the creator of Chicago private investigator V.I.Warshawski, was in town yesterday to coincide with the publication of Hardball, her P.I.’s thirteenth outing. Arriving, she cut a cool figure, clad in gold and skinny trousers with a trendy leopard-print cap and her short cropped silver hair. The audience immediately warmed to her, with her sassy wit and ironic take on life, evident from right from the start of the evening.
Paretsky is a Kansan, who’s lived in Chicago since the late-1960s. She arrived as a political activist, trying to help the tribe-bound city to integrate. She started by telling us a bit about Chicago politics, “In Chicago we’re proud of our corrupt politicians!” There’s a long history of corruption which still goes on, with the city alderman (she calls them alder-creatures) who tried to sell Obama’s senate seat up for trial soon…
Her first novel Indemnity Only was published in 1982, and introduced us to Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, a Chicagoan with a Polish cop father and Italian mother. VI is sassy, with a strong fashion sense, and is not backward in trying to find out what she needs to solve a case, which tends to lead to her getting beaten up. Like her creator she has a strong sense of social justice.
After reading from Hardball, she took questions from the audience. Paretsky told us she came up with the surname Warshawski to celebrate her own descent from European immigrants, adapting Warsaw into Vic’s name. She gave Vic an Italian mother as going to Italy made her feel at home – the Italian and Chicagoan loud and busy lifestyles are very similar. She also revealed that she’s not really ageing Vic and her other recurring characters any more – they started off ageing in real time, but now hover! She loves all her characters and couldn’t kill any of them off, including the dogs.
She made Chicago sound a very vibrant city, and was very proud of all the work she’s done to support the democratic cause that helped to Obama to make history. She was also not afraid to air her views, punctuated with witty asides that made for an entertaining evening. It’s years since I read one of the middle novels in the series, now I’m looking forward to starting back at the beginning having met her.