Author of the Month

Name: Sara Paretsky

First Novel: Indemnity Only

Most Recent Book: Body Work

'A new Paretsky novel is a wonderful treat and this one does not disappoint.'

This story starts with a bang as V.I. Warshawski cradles a dying woman in her arms. The murder has taken place outside a night club with a very bizarre act - a young woman invites the audience to use her naked body as a canvas. Responses vary from the embarrassed, to the crude, to the deeply significant. The victim had been a regular contributor to the show, painting complex and beautiful designs on the bare flesh. These designs seem to have upset one of the Iraq veterans who is already suffering from the trauma of his war service. He becomes the immediate suspect and is arrested and confined in a prison hospital.

Warshawski was present, as her wayward young cousin has a part time job in the club. V.I. is engaged by the veteran’s family to clear his name. As a first move she has him transferred to the Beth Israel hospital where long term friend and mentor, Lotty, can supervise his care. As Warshawski investigates deeply into the workings of the club and the motivations of the audience, she uncovers many unsavoury and disturbing truths involving big business and the criminal world.

A new Paretsky novel is a wonderful treat and this one does not disappoint. VI Warshawski still has scant respect for authority and a burning desire to see justice done. Her passion for the underdog means that she fights the odds to discover what really happened and why. As always, she is tough and takes some physical manhandling in her stride but she is at least acknowledging that she is getting older and does enlist some young strong men to help her face up to the villains.

Warshawski pays little heed to the danger and physical assaults she puts her body through. Tough, straight talking and fiercely loyal to family and friends, she is a role model for those who would like to make a difference but just don’t have the nerve or the physique.

Chicago’s seamier side is lovingly portrayed as are the great mixture of characters Warshawski comes across - at least the sympathetic ones. The villains are truly horrific. A point has been made in the past that some of the characters, including Warshawski herself, do not seem to suffer the ravages of time as other mere mortals. Lotty and Max, Mr Contreras and the dogs all go on avoiding many of the effects of aging. This time there has been an understanding that time is marching on. Warshawski is thinking more realistically and finds support when absolutely necessary. Personally I don’t mind that time is elastic - the characters are timeless and I wouldn’t like to lose any of the old favourites.

‘Body Work’ is yet another Paretsky winner!

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
You have to have believable characters with good dialogue, otherwise you'll lose the reader.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
Crime fiction reflects our fantasies and fears about the dangers in the world, so it would be more surprising if there weren't a great diversity. Crime readers probably have preferences for one or two sub genres - some will read it all; most turn to one or two of these sub-parts.
3) You have been writing about Warshawski for some years now. Do you still get excited when you start a new book involving your main character?
I love thinking of new stories for her - each time, before I begin, thinking ‘This time, I am really going to write the perfect book!’
4) Comments have been made in the past that all the characters seem to be immune to the passing years. In “Body Work” Warshawski seems to be admitting that she is not as young as she was and recruits some young fit men to help out. Will they be a feature of future books? I just hope that Mr Contreras, Mitch and Peppy, Lotty and Max continue to survive and flourish.
That question always surprises me somehow! VI has aged abut 20 years over the course of the series. But because I share your wish that Lotty, Mr Contreras and the dogs stay with us, I have finally decided that the aging process with stop now! The young marines will not show up again.
5) V.I. Warshawski has sympathy for the underdog and obviously cares deeply about her city and its people. Have you ever been involved in politics or stood for office in any way, local or national?
I’ve helped run campaigns for both local and national candidates … but not run for office myself. You have to spend so much time raising money in the US, it would be impossible – and it would mean getting into bed with slimeballs, which I couldn’t endure!
6) V.I. is very much a strong physical character with impressive defensive moves. Do you admire her independence and strength and how important do you think it is for women to be able to defend themselves?
I do think it is important for women to be able to defend themselves. I, alas, cannot. VI’s physical prowess is an extension of her risk-taking persona, and that is what I admire most – her willingness to take risks.
7) How much do V.I.’s experiences reflect your own? I’m thinking in particular of her volunteering with her old high school and the sympathy for the race demonstrations in Chicago?
A lot of what happens in the books comes directly from my own experience – although there is equally a lot that I have made up!
8) Do you ever foresee a time when you will not want to write? Is writing still a pleasure for you?
I am terrified that there will be a time when I no longer want to write. There are times when stories don’t come now, and it panics me. Then the relief when one pops into the head is overwhelming. I’m driving by stories, not the need to write .. a desire to reshape the world through stories, perhaps. Maybe I’m not a writer, but a storyteller?
9) In recent years, more writers tend to have dynamic strong women as their main protagonists. Do you believe Warshawski led the way for women to take centre stage in crime fiction?
I believe she was one of the pioneers – there were several of us including Marsha Muller, Sue Grafton and Liza Cody. We opened eyes and doors, I think.
10) You have been named ‘2011 Grand Master’ by the Mystery Writers of America. How did it feel to gain this honour?
Well, it’s always wonderful to get recognition, especially from one’s peers. But there’s also a way in which it forces me to realise how much time has passed in my writing career. It does make me feel that I have done something special in creating VI.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
The Drowning Pool with Paul Newman. It is a wonderful adaptation of Ross Macdonald’s book. The city and the plot were changed, but they captured the essence of Macdonal’s character and outlook on life. They also understood what lay at the heart of the novel and interpreted it for a different medium.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
The Hound of the Baskervilles … ‘If you value your life, stay away from the moors at night …’ Everything dark and scary comes out of that, doesn’t it?!