My entry this week in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is Sara Paretsky’s Deadlock. The second in what has recently become a 13-book series, Deadlock was published in 1984 and features one of the earliest hard-edged female private eyes in crime fiction: VI Warshawski. The plot displays many of the features the series is known for including the involvement of VI’s friends or family and lots of under cover work as VI investigates the murder of her cousin Boom Boom, an ex hockey player. Boom Boom is assumed to have drowned by accident in Lake Michigan but VI thinks differently and investigates his new employer, a large grain company, only to discover corruption on a grand scale. The book features blackmail, sabotage and men doing nasty things and there’s no one but VI to stop them. In this interview Paretsky says the novel was written for her husband Courtenay Wright who is an ex naval officer, which possibly explains how all the shipping details were so spot on.
The plotting is complex but tight which makes the book a genuine page turner. It is also one of those books where when you work out the clever double meaning of the title you smack your head Homer Simpson style.
This series was one of the first I started reading as a late teenager when I deliberately sought out books in which the women did more than either wait patiently for their men to come home or hop into bed with any bloke that asked. For that reason I really enjoyed VI who was starting out in her own business after a short-lived career in the public defender’s office and, although she had a healthy sex-life, didn’t behave as if a man was the answer to all her prayers. Other traits I enjoyed were that VI never responded appropriately to ‘authority’ (yes mum I particularly identified with that one) and drank Johnnie Walker black label scotch at the same time as being an opera buff and staunchly loyal to her friends. These contradictions in her personality made her seem very realistic to me and also led to unpredictable twists and turns in the books as she didn’t always behave as you might expect.
The other standout feature of Paretsky’s novels, including this one, is the depiction of Chicago. One Christmas I visited my brother and sister-in-law who’d been living in that city for a year and they were both astonished at how much of the city I could recognise or quickly get the hang of and I owe it all to my many re-readings of these books. Despite a windy, wintry cold the depth of which I’d never experienced before, I loved doing my very own VI tour and it’s still one of my favourite places to visit.
I used to wait with breathless anticipation for each new book in this series but I’ve become a bit disillusioned of late. Although it’s been four years since the last book in the series was published I haven’t rushed to get my hands on this year’s release: Hardball. The last several books have, for me, seen too much of Paretsky’s own politics bleed into the narrative and I got tired of being lectured at about the evils of big business, racism and whatever other rant Paretsky felt like making. VI had always had a social conscience but in the later books the social themes seem to have taken over the stories and, as always, this makes me cranky. I’ve no quibble with authors wearing their political hearts on their sleeves but only if they do it naturally, through their characters’ actions. Still, for old time’s sake I will be reading Hardball eventually.
My crime fiction alphabet so far