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Indemnity Only

Sara Paretsky

One of the first strong female PI sleuths to make their mark on the genre was V.I. (Victoria Iphigenia) Warshawski (one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters). She first appeared here in Indemnity Only.


V.I. Warshawski Novels Meeting an anonymous client late on a sizzling summer night is asking for trouble. But trouble is Chicago private eye V.I. Warshwski's specialty. Her client says he's the prominent banker, John Thayer. Turns out he's not. He says his son's girlfriend, Anita Hill, is missing. Turns out that's not her real name.


V.I.'s search turns up someone soon enough - the real John Thayer's son, and he's dead. Who's V.I.'s client? Why has she been set up and sent out on a wild-goose chase?


By the time she's got it figured, things are hotter - and deadlier - than Chicago in July. V.I.'s in a desperate race against time. At stake: a young woman's life.



The novel begins when Warshawski gets an evening visit from an unusual client. The client introduces himself as John Thayer, a powerful banking Vice-President. He wants to hire Warshawski to find Anita Hill, girlfriend of his son Pete. Anita has disappeared, and Thayer says that Pete blames him; he’s even threatened to change his own name and disappear unless Anita is found. A few things about the case don’t seem quite right to Warshawski, but she agrees to take it on. The next day, she goes to the campus of the University of Chicago, where both young people are students and where Anita Hill was last seen.

When Warshawski gets to Pete Thayer’s apartment, she’s shocked to find his body. He’s been shot, execution-style. Now Warshawski’s faced not just with a missing young woman, but with a case of murder. She leaves the apartment as quickly as she can, reports the murder and begins to dig even harder into the disappearance of Anita Hill.

What Warshawski soon finds is that nothing is quite as it seemed.

The real John Thayer, whom we get to know in this novel, represents money, power and social position. Andrew McGraw represents the views and concerns of the working class. As Warshawski learns more about how unions and their leaders, at the same time as she gets to know the wealthy and powerful Thayer family, we get a look at how both sides live. It’s especially interesting because unions have been a force to be reckoned with in Chicago for a long time.

Another element that keeps the reader’s interest is the set of characters. They’re three-dimensional characters, and we get interested in them. And as a side note, it’s not easy to create believable and sympathetic teen characters, but Paretsky has created a very authentic teen character in Jill. And then there’s Andrew McGraw. As a union leader, he’s done some things he’s not proud of, but he’s far from a mindless thug. He genuinely cares about the needs of working men and women. He loves his daughter deeply and is very proud that she seems to share his views about the rights of workers.

And then there’s the character of Warshawski herself. She’s half-Italian/half-Polish, all Chicago. She’s tough, strong, independent and gutsy, and she’s not afraid to stand up to some very nasty people. But at the same time, she’s not unfeminine and she has a caring, compassionate side. She has a devoted and loyal circle of friends, all of whom know that she has a generous heart and a strong sense of what’s right. She’s a Cubs fan who drinks plenty (although she’s not a stereotypical alcoholic) and sings opera music. She worries like the rest of us about paying her bills, and she has a sense of humour.

Although it’s become almost cliché, it’s accurate to say that in this novel, the setting – the city of Chicago and its suburbs – is almost a character in itself. Warshawski grew up in Chicago’s South Loop and has lived in the city all her life. She couldn’t imagine living and working anywhere else and through her eyes, we get a real sense of being in the city. I’ve been to Chicago several times and, speaking strictly for myself, the novel really does place the reader there.

There’s plenty of action in this novel, and the pace is fast, although it’s not bewilderingly so. It’s gritty, but not gratuitous. And it provides a solid introduction to Warshawski’s character and those of some of the “regulars” we meet again in later novels.

An intriguing and believable mystery with a strong, independent sleuth in a very effective setting, Indemnity Only has a solid pace and interesting characters.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Sara Paretsky:

Sara Paretsky is a modern American author of detective fiction. Paretsky was raised in Kansas, and graduated from the state university with a degree in political science. She did community service work on the south side of Chicago in 1966 and returned in 1968 to work there. She ultimately completed a Ph.D. in history at the University of Chicago, entitled The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before the Civil War, and finally earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Married to a professor of physics at the University of Chicago, she has lived in Chicago since 1968.

The protagonist of all but two of Paretsky's novels is V.I. Warshawski, a female private investigator. Warshawski's eclectic personality defies easy categorization. She drinks Johnnie Walker Black Label, breaks into houses looking for clues, and can hold her own in a street fight, but also she pays attention to her clothes, sings opera along with the radio, and enjoys her sex life.

Paretsky is credited with transforming the role and image of women in the crime novel. The Winter 2007 issue of Clues: A Journal of Detection is devoted to her work.

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