Sara Paretsky

I’m listening to my first Sara Paretsky novel right now, her 2005 V.I. Warshawski mystery Fire Sale. I’ve been meaning to read Paretsky for a while, ever since reading about her in Maureen Corrigan’s book Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, where Corrigan has a chapter on mystery novels and praises Paretsky highly. With the caveat in mind that I am more likely to like a book I listen to than one I read on paper, I’m really enjoying the story so far. The novel is set in Chicago, and Warshawski is a private investigator. She has a thriving business, but in this novel, she is involved in a investigation she won’t be paid for: a case of arson and murder that she stumbles upon after agreeing to serve as a substitute basketball coach at her old South Chicago high school. The mother of one of the players asks her to investigate strange happenings at the factory where she works, and the next thing she knows, she’s caught up in a story of big business and corporate intrigue.

The basketball coaching and the investigation force her to spend a lot of time in South Chicago where she is confronted by her past, which was a harsh one. This novel doesn’t give very many details, but we do find out she lost her mother when she was young, and that she grew up to be a tough street fighter. In this novel, she still has that toughness, but also the perspective and experience of a woman who has seen more of the world. She is brave and courageous, although not without fear, and there’s a certain amount of sadness to her character, which, of course, is not at all surprising for someone who makes a living as an investigator.

The plot is overtly political, as Warshawski investigates a big Walmart-like corporation that exploits its workers and is run by a family full of nasty, suspicious, racist tightwads. The fact that they claim to be committed evangelical Christians makes them even worse. I suppose the argument here is a little too easy and too obvious — the religious characters are hypocrites, or at least the rich ones are, and all big business owners care about nothing at all but making money. But still, Paretsky’s picture of how families struggle to make a living working in low-paying jobs and are first exploited so they can barely get by and then condemned for the very fact that they struggle is a powerful one. Paretsky explores the complicated causes of poverty on the south side and why it is so many young people struggle in school and so many teenage girls get pregnant, while the big business owners live in their gated mansions in the suburbs, getting rich through their stinginess. The ideas and issues may be familiar, but Paretsky does a good job bringing them to life.

9 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

9 responses to “Sara Paretsky

  1. I read a lot of Paretsky in my twenties and very much enjoyed her. I haven’t read one of her novels in an age, though. But I did buy a recent straight fiction novel she wrote and I’m intrigued to see how that turns out (I can’t remember the title or I’d write it here!!).

  2. My mom is an avid mystery/crime reader and loves these books. She’d babble on happily for hours about them if she could. Glad you are enjoying it, it sounds like the perfect sort of book to listen to.

  3. Not too long ago I bought a couple of her mysteries and am looking forward to reading them–glad to hear you are enjoying this one. VI Warshawski sounds like an interesting character. And I still need to read Maureen Corrigan’s book, too!

  4. I haven’t read one of hers for a while, but I’ll put it on the list for the next time I’m hankering for a mystery.

  5. I’ve been meaning to read Paretsky for years (basically since the V.I. Warshawski movie came out), but for some reason, I never seem to get around to her. (Yet) Another author for the mystery book club?

  6. Litlove — I’m curious about her non-mystery novel too. I have Deadlock on my shelves for when I want more Paretsky, and I’m curious about the first in the series, as I know Rohan Maitzen teaches it.

    Stefanie — it’s definitely a great listen. How funny that you mother loves them so much. That hasn’t tempted you to try them? Or did you hear about TOO much? :)

    Danielle — I think you will like Paretsky when you get to her. She really is a great heroine. It’s interesting reading a female version of the hard-boiled detective genre.

    Lilian — excellent idea! It’s nice to have authors you know you will like for when you get in just the right mood.

    Emily B. — I was really close to choosing Paretsky for our group, but my desire to read something in translation won out. But if no one else chooses her before my next turn, I’ll probably do it. Then you can finally get around to reading her!

  7. Another mystery author I haven’t tried yet! I’ll look out for one of her books on another trip to the used book store.

  8. Unfortunately not tempted. My mother and I have vastly divergent reading tastes so I have never trusted that I would like them. Since you liked it though, now must reconsider :)

  9. Debby — there are so many, right? I’m listening to another audio book by her right now, and so far it’s just as good.

    Stefanie — well, I can understand that, but it would be cool if you reconsidered! :)

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