Tag Archives: Sara Paretsky


Sara Paretsky has managed to put both her late husband as well as her dog into Overboard, her latest crime novel. Those are among the lighter points in what of necessity has to be a dark book. Even Covid, which features naturally, is nowhere near as dark as the situations caused by certain human beings. If one can call them that.

Chicago continues to be an interesting backdrop to V I Warshawski’s detecting, but what was once ‘merely’ a city with much crime in it, we now see what it has become through the behaviour of so many ruthless and powerful men. In that it mirrors what goes on in many other places, but it does mean that when reading Overboard you don’t feel that everything will be all right in the end, because it just seems impossible that so much bad can be turned into good, even by someone like V I.

We meet two separate teenagers with problems, and the positive thing about their age is that we see what they are capable of achieving, and you hope Sara won’t kill her young characters. We also reconnect with others from V I’s past; both crooks and decent people, which adds depth to the story. She knows things about these people, making their relationships different from a detective simply hunting bad men. Because they are mostly men.

It’s the weaving together of strands about money and greed, immigrants fearing for their very existence, old people who are mistreated, the persecution of Jews, the criminal intent of the police, the homeless, torturers, the press, and V I’s own fears and hopes that makes Sara’s story so great.

Because even if it can’t end with everyone living happily ever after, you do get a sense of satisfaction when good and ordinary people get together to put wrongs right. Please let there be many more books like this!


Down #6 Memory Lane

I was going to go with a male author this time, having gone down Memory Lane with mostly girls so far. But as it said in the Guardian at the weekend, men don’t read books by women to the same extent women do books by male authors. Although, as you will see below, there is a male reader involved here.

Having met Sara Paretsky quite a few times by now, I was recently reminded of the second time, and how surprised I was by the attitude of the bookshop owners, who provided the venue for our meeting, and subsequent interview.

Offspring and I talked to Sara in Gothenburg in 2006, when Son was able to ask his standing question (which we seem to have lost by now), which was her opinion of Philip Pullman. We took for granted that she’d be a fan, and Sara did not disappoint. She was very graceful, saying good things about another author, in what was her own signing queue.

And then came the second time. I’d seen she was coming to Manchester, so spruced up my interview hat and asked for an interview. All properly done through her publicist. I suggested we meet in the local bookshop, believing it’d be great for all of us, including the bookshop who’d get a major crime writer come to them.

I was so naïve.

They didn’t say no, but neither did they in any noticeable way advertise her coming. I don’t think it was that they disliked her. I reckon they just had no idea what a big name Sara was. And, yes, I had invited her. So clearly she was no one special.

The day arrived. Sara arrived, chauffeur-driven, in the company of her publicist Kerry. I was beginning to worry that no one would turn up. Luckily, some people did, and it being a small shop, the small crowd looked bigger than it was. What pleased me the most, apart from getting my interview, was that the bookshop’s customers knew what a great deal it was, even if the owners didn’t. And one man, whose favourite author Sara was, had just come for his Saturday coffee, not knowing she was there, right then. This lovely surprise for one fan, outweighed the rest, as far as I was concerned.

From then on we have met in more sympathetic bookshops and at book festivals. Always with the assistance of Kerry. Some publicists are very special. Our next meeting in Nottingham, on a snowy Sunday is one of my best memories, complete with my half-eaten sandwich and discovering how ‘all’ involved were fans of NCIS.

Love & Other Crimes

I’ve learned I am the same age as VI Warshawski. Or I was, until VI slowed down her ageing, and she’s now probably ten or fifteen years younger. But let’s say I know where she came from. I always feel very safe with Sara Paretsky and her detective, and look on both of them as my sisters. One older, one [now] younger.

Love & Other Crimes is Sara’s short story collection from last year. It’s got older stories and newer ones, plus a brand new story. Many of them feature VI, including the one set in 1966, when she was ten, but there are also other sleuths; some of whom are older women, and some set well in the past. I like that.

Short stories can be ‘easier’ to solve, with fewer characters and less background. But the plots are complex and it’s exciting to see how who did what and why.

At her launch last year Sara read the first half of Miss Bianca, about a young child and some laboratory mice, and most of that had some connection to Sara’s own family and her childhood. There is also a story set in the future, in a dystopian, but oh-so-plausible, America, showing both Lotty and VI in a completely new light.

You won’t be disappointed.

Dog days

Cartoon borrowed from Sara Paretsky’s blog, quite a few years ago now…

Ghost Country

This 1998 Sara Paretsky novel is slightly odd. It took me a while to work out where it might be going. Ghost Country is neither a V I Warshawski nor even crime. One cover quote calls it ‘magic realism’ which I suppose means that Sara engaged in some fantasy writing, but only insofar as some readers might have a problem recognising the possibility that a goddess is at work from the pipework outside a Chicago hotel car park.

Me, I am open to suggestion. I don’t see why there can’t be magic.

Setting aside the religious uncertainties, this is pretty much standard Sara Paretsky; looking at the inequalities in life and wanting to do something about it. If you are a woman, even a well-off lawyer, you are somehow more invisible than if you’d been a man. If you are black, then no one sees you. Add poverty and lack of education and sleeping rough, and you practically do not exist, and as such can have no rights.

Is it the blood of the Virgin Mary coming out of the cracks in that wall? Or it could be rust in the water. But it wouldn’t explain the woman calling herself Starr, who has such an effect on so many, but mostly women, and mostly the poor.

Two half-sisters, Harriet and Mara are struggling with life, each in their own way. There is a crazed opera singer who’s drinking too much, but who also sees more truths and offers them by way of belting out arias at all times. Her young niece still believes in her as a person. Finally there is a young, male, doctor, trying to do too much for too many people, while also being in thrall of Starr.

There are many very likeable characters here, but it took a long time to see that there could be a better future for them. The church, the police, the hotel, the sisters’ grandfather and his housekeeper, not to mention the press and television crews liking nothing better than some juicy scandal, make for an almost impossible problem.

With no V I to come to their rescue by solving a crime, the characters have to work on helping themselves. But you can, even if you’re a homeless black female. At least you could back then. Reading this novel with hindsight, knowing what we know today, we know what wrong politics and religion can do.

An evening with Sara Paretsky

An event! At last, an event! A real one, even if not in ‘real life’ or even in the right time zone. Sara Paretsky launched her new anthology Love & Other Crimes on Wednesday night, for fans in the US. For me it was the middle of the night, so I tuned in on Facebook on Thursday, once sleeping was over.

Sara was at home, sitting in her late husband Courtenay’s study with her dog Chiara by her side. There was whisky – I ate a boiled egg – and Sara panned the webcam so we could see more of the room. Lovely dark green walls. And we could hear her; always a worry in case you sit there talking away to the world in complete silence. She kindly gave us permission to leave if we got bored, because she’d not be able to see us go.

But who’d want to do that? We were comfortable, and we were being enter-tained. Sara promised to sign our books, if we bought them from Women & Children First; the bookshop she was doing the launch event with. That rules me out, but at least I have my copy.

She read from Miss Bianca, a story partially inspired by her father, and when Sara stopped halfway through, she was urged to go on a bit longer.

Questions ‘from the audience’ had been emailed in in advance and she picked some  of them. Someone asked about V I’s first time as an investigator, and Sara mused about why V I had ever married her ex-husband. She also wishes V I would be able to hack into anything she needs to know online, but she can’t. (This isn’t NCIS.) As to what V I looks like, she doesn’t see her.

Right now writing is hard and Sara has written the same 60 pages six times, as a way to seem busy while not getting anywhere. She’s hoping to travel to Poland some time, to discover more about V I’s roots. And she tried revisiting the family in Bleeding Kansas, as well as making up a new character for a new series, but she didn’t get far with her.

Sara reminisced about Richard Feynman and his reputed juggling of the dinner plates to help him see things and work things out. (Sounds like a great idea…)

Wanting us to stay safe and sane, and to stay in touch, Sara said goodbye after an hour. When ‘all this’ is finally over, she’d like to travel for six months, seeing and hugging all her friends. And there might be drinks.

Culture keeps us going

I don’t know about you, but writing is harder now. And it’s not as if I live off writing, or anything. But I know people who write, and they find they can’t, or at least not their usual stuff.

Sara Paretsky was bemoaning how she couldn’t get stuck in with writing, when she came across something Toni Morrison had said:

“I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine — and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!'”

Morrison adds, “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”

I’m hoping now that Sara will be able to get started. Because we need her words, we need V I.

Within minutes of reading the above, I found myself watching a flash mob thing on YouTube that someone had linked to. It was a group of opera singers belting out Funiculì, funiculà in a Waitrose food hall. It was wonderful! I listened twice, and felt very cheered. I could tell it wasn’t recent, because people were standing too close, but it didn’t matter. I’ve since discovered it was from 2013, and had something to do with pasta sauce, but it was still joyous and fun.

I came to the conclusion that we perhaps appreciate these things more for being short and near and unexpected. Something to brighten up everyday life.

That bit of deep thinking reminded me of something the volunteer organist in church once said. Jan Wallin played double bass for the Liverpool Philharmonic for a living. It seems he, too, doubted whether what he was doing was of any use, when a doctor friend pointed out that it was hearing music like that, which made life bearable for people like him.

In short, we need ‘fripperies’ like culture to survive. Or, to feel better while surviving. Jan didn’t only play for the philharmonic and in church; he also wore the exact same shoes as Father Christmas.

Dead Land

Sara Paretsky’s latest crime novel, Dead Land, is another triumph for V I Warshawski. This time V I gets drawn into a dangerous crime through her goddaughter Bernie. And there is a third dog. Not for keeps, but Bear does help solve the crime.

As always – and I hate how this sounds normal – it’s greed that is at the bottom of what happens. This time, greed in Chicago, but there is also a tie to Chile, with some of the action harking back to the coup against Allende. To my mind there’s not been enough written about this and it’s high time more people learn about what the US was up to back then.

Not only is V I’s current love interest brand new (from the last book), but we have a new police detective for V I to pit her investigation against. I do hope we’ll see more of Sergeant Pizzello.

Kansas isn’t always as flat as it’s made out to be, and it offers plenty of action, even for a Chicago PI. And one of these days V I will have to learn – and remember – that she’s not as young as she was, and take things more easy. But I doubt she will.

I, on the other hand, will always feel safe in her company. And Sara’s.

In the post

Isn’t this wonderful? Two special books arriving on the same day, and so much looked forward to. I like my postman!

I also ‘quite like’ Meg Rosoff and Sara Paretsky. Meg’s new book is YA, and out this summer. Sara’s is the latest V I Warshawski, out in late April. Here’s to The Great Godden, and Dead Land!

Now, which to read first?

No granite for me

All I needed to do was keep that one day in February clear. Not too hard a task, you’d think. But as with the unavoidable snow two years ago, I had this lurgy, and I could see it’d last too long. I didn’t want my event with Sara Paretsky to have a The Mirror Crack’d kind of scenario. If the woman was willing to travel all this way from Chicago, I didn’t have to go to Aberdeen to infect her and her fans with anything.

But you’d think a cold could be satisfied with a week of me.

Anyway, what I’m doing instead of seeing Sara with Denise Mina in Aberdeen, is trying not to pass the cold on to a whole different host of people, travelling, when I perhaps shouldn’t. I hope they have fun without me.

I will think back on my snowy journey to Nottingham all those years ago, and my subsequent trip to Glasgow to see Sara talk to Denise, also ‘some’ years ago. One can learn to be satisfied with what one has already had.

Besides, Sara recently admitted to having killed Mr Contreras. I mean, she didn’t, because her heroic husband threw himself in front of the bullet, and Mr Contreras lives. But still…