Paret­sky’s War­shawski—ag­ing Well!

Sherbrooke Record - - FRONT PAGE - Len­noxville li­brary —Vin­cent Cud­dihy

An­other birth­day present I re­ceived this year was Fall­out (2017) by Chicago-based au­thor Sara Paret­sky. This is the 18th in­stall­ment in the V.I. War­shawski se­ries, which be­gan in 1982. While brows­ing my shelves, I found a copy of Fire Sale (2005)—prob­a­bly a gift from the same friend. Th­ese are but two out of the ten books in this se­ries which are avail­able at the Len­noxville Li­brary (in­clud­ing one in large print!). An­other four are avail­able through ILL. I thought it would be fun to look at both of th­ese works to see how the main char­ac­ter has changed (or not) in the in­ter­ven­ing twelve years.

V.I. (Vic­to­ria Iphi­ge­nia) War­shawski (Vic to her friends) is a prod­uct of the mean streets of South Chicago. Her ath­letic abil­i­ties won her a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship at the Univer­sity of Chicago, where she even­tu­ally ob­tained a Law de­gree, un­like her cre­ator, who holds both an MBA and a PH.D. in His­tory from that au­gust in­sti­tu­tion. But now Vic lives in Lake­view, work­ing full time as a pri­vate de­tec­tive, which she has done from the be­gin­ning of the se­ries.

In both sto­ries, Vic starts out try­ing to do a fa­vor for a friend and ends up be­ing hired to look for miss­ing per­sons. In both sto­ries, she is look­ing for an oddly matched cou­ple, so they should be pretty con­spic­u­ous. But in both sto­ries, they seem to have van­ished with­out a trace, lead­ing Vic to fear the worst has hap­pened. Her in­quiries lead her to find dead bodies, but not those of the cou­ples she has been en­gaged to find.

The two nar­ra­tives take Vic into places that were Paret­sky’s own stomp­ing grounds. Fire Sale takes her back to South Chicago where Paret­sky did so­cial work dur­ing the 60s. Vic’s for­mer bas­ket­ball coach, who is dy­ing of cancer, asks her to vol­un­teer to coach her old school’s team. One of the play­ers asks Vic to visit her mother, who has a prob­lem that she wants help with. It turns out the fac­tory where the mother works has been van­dal­ized on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. She fears that some­one is try­ing to put the com­pany out of busi­ness. Vic her­self is badly in­jured when the fac­tory blows up while she is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the premises.

Fall­out takes Vic far­ther afield to Lawrence, Kansas. Paret­sky grew up there be­cause her fa­ther was a pro­fes­sor of Bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Kansas. This time the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is trig­gered by Vic’s cousin’s god­daugh­ter, a Québe­coise who plays hockey for North­west­ern and has a friend whose cousin has dis­ap­peared. It turns out the miss­ing cousin has been hired by an ag­ing ac­tress of some note to do a video of her life story, start­ing in Kansas where she grew up. No one has heard any­thing from ei­ther of them for sev­eral days, which gets Vic onto the road to the cen­tral plains.

Vic is in­vari­ably very quick to adopt con­spir­acy the­o­ries about why the peo­ple she is look­ing for have dis­ap­peared. But her in­stincts about who is con­spir­ing to do what to whom are ter­ri­ble .... Not only does this trait make her in­ef­fi­cient by send­ing her bark­ing up wrong trees, but it also puts her in dan­ger. One won­ders how she can af­ford her med­i­cal bills on her earn­ings as a de­tec­tive!

One of the charm­ing fea­tures of th­ese tales is Vic’s de­vo­tion to her dogs. They, in turn, are fiercely loyal to her, and some­times help her un­cover clues she could not have found on her own. Some friends, like her neigh­bor Mr. Con­tr­eras and her doc­tor Lotti stick with her for the twelve years. The men in her love life are an­other story.

An in­trigu­ing el­e­ment in th­ese adventures de­rives from Paret­sky’s in­ter­est in small in­de­pen­dent Chris­tian churches. They play an im­por­tant role in both sto­ries, evinc­ing in Vic con­sid­er­able scep­ti­cism about the mo­tives and be­liefs of both the pas­tors and their parish­ioners. And Vic’s in­ter­ac­tions with law en­force­ment of­fi­cials are the source of some very witty di­a­logue.

On the whole, th­ese mys­ter­ies are a good read. While Vic works hard at keep­ing in shape, she must be in her mid 50s by now, which makes some of her more ath­letic feats a bit hard to be­lieve. We know Vic is get­ting older be­cause Paret­sky is care­ful to up­date her ref­er­ences to politi­cians, films, mu­sic and sports fig­ures. In Fall­out, the Cubs have just won the World Se­ries.

Paret­sky’s ef­forts have been well rec­og­nized by her peers. She is one of only four liv­ing writ­ers who have re­ceived both the Edgar Grand Master Award from the Mys­tery Writ­ers of Amer­ica (2011) and the Cartier Di­a­mond Dag­ger from the Crime Writ­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in the UK (2002).

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