Thursday, June 03, 2010

VI Warshawski in Indemnity Only

Sometimes, the 100-Page Rule lets me down. Just goes to show that hard and fast rules are never a good idea. Except when they are.

Anyway, I got to page 150 of Indemnity Only before I gave up. The first book in Sara Paretsky’s popular and award-winning VI Warshawski series begins interestingly enough with Warshawski’s being hired by a man who claims to be an prominent Chicago businessman. He says he wants her to locate his missing son, but she soon figures out that her client isn’t who he said he was at all. And then she finds the boy’s murdered body. Nice hook.

The problem is with Warshawski herself. I don’t like her. I can see how she’s revolutionary and important as a strong, female detective when that wasn’t cool (Indemnity Only was originally published in the early ‘80s), but Paretsky tries hard to imitate the sarcastic, wise-cracking attitude of Philip Marlowe and unfortunately, she’s no Raymond Chandler. Or at least she wasn’t when she wrote this book. I imagine that she’s improved, but I doubt I'll keep reading to find out.

Take for instance this exchange between a police officer and Warshawski about the apartment where Warshawski found the dead boy:
“It looks like he was sharing a room with a girl, but the whole setup is so unisex you can’t tell who was with who.”

“Whom,” I said absently. McGonnigal looked blank. “You can’t tell who was with whom, Seargant,” I explained.
That’s not witty. That’s annoying. And the rest of Warshawski’s dialogue isn’t much better. Add to that a lot of useless details about driving routes through Chicago and how the Cubs are doing on the radio and the mystery quickly becomes cluttered with “color.”

Still, I picked this up because I was curious about Paretsky’s character. I cut Ian Rankin some slack with his first Inspector Rebus novel, so I wanted to do the same here. But while I'll be reading the second Rebus book, I can't make myself go on with Warshawski.

The difference is that – while flawed – Rankin’s first book was never boring. Paretsky’s frequently is. And peeking ahead at the plots to future volumes, I don’t see a lot of reward for sticking with the series. According to, Paretsky’s known for “adapting her detective as a vehicle of social and political comment.” I’ve already had a taste of her preaching about grammar; I don’t know if I can handle her preaching about the homeless and free clinics too. Like proper grammar, I suspect that I’d agree with her on these issues, which is exactly why I don’t think I need or care to hear the sermon. Not when I’m just looking for an engaging mystery.


snell said...

I bailed on the Warshawski books after 5 or 6, mainly because the mysteries weren't terribly good, and the lead character never gets one damn bit less self-righteous and annoying. She's the same prickly, unlikeable person from start to finish, and I could never figure out how, if I couldn't stand to even read about the person, her friends would all still keep hanging around her. But they do (must be the masochistic stoic streak of midwesterners).

However, please feel free to continue posting pictures of Kathleen Turner.

Michael May said...

I just re-watched Romancing the Stone recently and was reminded how much I like her. :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails