Author: Sara Paretsky
Publisher: Dell (1982)
First Lines: "The night air was thick and damp. As I drove south along Lake Michigan, I could smell rotting alewives like faint perfume on the heavy air."
Summary: Our heroine is V. I. Warshawski, Vic to her friends. She is currently a private detective, but was previously a lawyer working for the Public Defender's office. She is divorced and lives in the Chicago area.
When the story opens, she has received an appointment from an anonymous caller looking to hire her. She is on the way to her office, when the electricity in the building goes out. She is still able to keep the appointment, however the caller's identity is somewhat hidden. The caller would like to hire her to find his son's girlfriend. He doesn't approve of her or the influence she is having on his son and he went to visit her and try to talk sense into her. Right after that, she disappeared. He does finally identify himself so that she can reach him with what she finds.
She begins the investigation by visiting the apartment where the son and girlfriend were living. She finds the apartment empty, except for the dead body of the man's son. Before contacting the police, she snoops around in the apartment to see if she can find anything interesting. When she goes to visit Mr. Thayer, she realizes that this is not the man who visited her office. Who was the man claiming to be Mr. Thayer? Did he hire her so she could find the body of Peter Thayer?
My thoughts: From the beginning I loved the feel of this book. It felt like an old school detective novel. The book was written before the time of cell phones and computers, so everything is analog. V.I. has an answering service that answers her calls when she is not in her office, which is most of the time. She talks about hiring a Kelly Girl to do her filing. It takes place in Chicago and you really get a feel for the city.
"Little fires shone here and there from late-night barbecues in the park. On the water a host of green and red running lights showed people seeking relief from the sultry air. On shore traffic was heavy, the city moving restlessly, trying to breathe. It was July in Chicago. I got off Lake Shore Drive at Randolph Street and swung down Wabash under the iron arches of the elevated tracks."
V.I. Warshawski is tough and has a chip on her shoulder. Her father was a cop and she was raised to be able to take care of herself. Her first name is Victoria, but she started going by her initials because it wasn't so obvious to others that she was a female. She was married for a short time, but it didn't work out because she was so independent. She never had any children, but occasionally feels a longing to be a mother. Even though she has a tough exterior, there is a softness underneath. She is very caring toward those who are vulnerable.
"Suppose your father did something criminal and we find that out? It's going to be rough, but it only has to be a scandal and make your life miserable if you let it. Lots of things in this life happen to you no matter what you do, or through no fault of your own - like your father and brother getting killed."
My favorite character was Lotty. Lotty is an old friend of Vic's and runs an inexpensive medical clinic. After getting beat up and having her apartment ransacked, Vic stays with Lotty for a few days.
"She was a doctor, about fifty, I thought, but with her vivid, clever face and trim, energetic body it was hard to tell. Sometime in her Viennese youth she discovered the secret of perpetual motion. She held fierce opinions on a number of things, and put them to practice in medicine, often to the dismay of her colleagues."
"All of Lotty's instincts are directed at helping people. She's just not sentimental about it."
The mystery was good with lots of suspects. The murderer was discovered before the crime was solved. V. I. had to figure out how and why it was done and try to find evidence to prove it before the murderer could be arrested. I did think she was too free with the information she shared with others.
There is quite a bit of language in this book from V. I. Warshawski, the criminals and the police. There is also sex, but it is not graphic. It is of the they enter the bedroom and then it is the next morning and they are having breakfast type. Also, lots of drinking, often excessive.
All in all, I found myself liking the story and the characters. I'm not sure if I will continue with the series, but am glad I read Indemnity Only.