Fiction: “Indemnity Only” by Sara Paretsky

I returned from a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. early this morning. (The Rally to Restore Sanity was beyond freaking amazing. I have a feeling it will be my generation’s Woodstock [or, rather, the part of my generation that is as media-savvy as myself].) As is usual for me, I brought a couple of books with me, intending to finish Indemnity Only on the leg from Boston to LaGuardia, and to both start and finish A Stillness in Bethlehem (the next Gregor Demarkian novel) on the rest of the flight(s).

What I did not intend was to spend the forty minutes from Boston to LaGuardia sleeping — although I don’t know why I’m surprised, it’s not like I had a lot of sleep the night before — and the flight from LaGuardia to Baltimore was spent on the second-tiniest plane in the entire US Airways flotilla (it had exposed propellers, you guys! Exposed! propellers!). I spent the entire forty minutes of that flight breathing deeply through my nose, trying to keep down the only and worst case of airsickness I’ve ever had.

So. I didn’t read a lot. I did manage to finish Indemnity Only on the flight from Baltimore to Charlotte, NC (don’t ask — did you see the people on the Mall? It took us an hour to walk a block! It’s no wonder we missed our flight and had to take a slight detour through North Carolina).

But you don’t want to hear about my experiences over the past weekend (or, as my roommate and I have taken to calling it, Harold and Kumar: Escape from the Sanity Rally). You probably want to know if you should read this book.

Uh, yeah. Sure, I guess. If you like mysteries and hard-boiled female detectives, then this should be right up your alley. Frankly, your alley looks a little scary, but hey, if you’ve got a broad like V.I. Warshawski on your side, you’ll be fine getting through it.

V.I. Warshawksi is a private detective operating out of Chicago. Her father was a member of the Chicago Police Department; her mother was an Italian singer with aspirations of the opera for her daughter. V.I. (the V is for Victoria; her friends call her Vic) followed her father’s footsteps instead. Indemnity Only is the first in the V.I. series.

This story begins when Vic (what? I’m a friend) is visited by someone claiming to be John Thayer, president of the Fort Dearborn Bank & Trust. His son, Peter, is missing, as well as Peter’s girlfriend, Anita Hill. Turns out that the man who visited her wasn’t John Thayer, it’s Andrew McGraw, leader of the local Knifegrinder’s Union. And the missing girlfriend isn’t Anita Hill, it’s Anita McGraw, Andrew’s daughter. Oh, and Peter’s not missing; he’s dead. The case turns out to be more than simply murder (and aren’t all mysteries?): in this case, it’s about indemnity payments and insurance fraud.

At almost every turn, Vic gets told by various people to drop the case: from Bobby Mallory, a Sergeant on the force who was a good friend of her dad and who doesn’t like seeing Vicki in trouble; from Earl Smiessen, a mob boss who roughs her up but good; and from McGraw himself. But through it all, Vic is tenacious, tough, and resilient, and she doesn’t let a little thing like negativity or an entire force of people telling her to quit to make her quit.

While Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone predates Ms. Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski by a couple of years, I almost think Vic is a bit tougher. I can’t explain why, but she seems harder. Whether it’s her need to go by her initials so she’s seen as more masculine by potential clients, or the fact that she drinks Scotch instead of wine, or … I don’t know. Both women are tough, but it seems Vic has just a bit of an edge. Not that Kinsey can’t hold her own …

Oh, never mind. Both women are equally tough and resilient. Both women are awesome.

Grade for Indemnity Only: 2.5 stars

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