Cover image of "Body Work," a novel about an aging detective

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Have you ever wondered why the heroes in detective stories never seem to get any older? You might know perfectly well that the author is, say, 87 and going strong, but his alter ego hasn’t aged a day since he first saw the light of day in print half a century ago. Aging detectives? With the exception of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, few come to mind.

But V. I. Warshawski does. In years past, V.I., or Vic to her friends, was a rough and ready 30, diving into danger with fists extended. She’s now a more cautious and slightly slower 50. Truth to tell, Ms. Paretsky is, well, let’s just say, at least ten years older, but to her credit she’s let her alter ego age. For this she deserves some sort of prize. The aging detective is in no way less able than she was decades earlier.

Corruption, Chicago-style

At whatever age, Vic finds herself caught up in complex and intertwined cases that always force her to burrow down into the depths of Chicago’s corruption. Not the old-fashioned kind, usually—payoffs for sewer contracts and jobs for the precinct captain’s nephews and such—but real, honest-to-goodness corruption of the mature, contemporary, corporate variety. The sort that warps public policy and causes wealth to gravitate from down to up.

Body Work (V. I. Warshawski #14) by Sara Paretsky (2010) 443 pages ★★★★☆

If you live in Chicago, you might wonder who paid off whom to get these downtown towers built. Justified or not, the city has a reputation for an inordinate level of official corruption. And that’s the subject matter of many of Sara Paretsky’s novels. Image:

The 14th chapter in the life of an aging detective

So it goes in Body Work, Paretsky’s 14th chapter in the life and times of V. I. Warshawski. This time around, Vic finds herself cradling a dying woman in her arms and becomes embroiled in an effort to establish the innocence of the Iraq War vet the police have arrested for her murder. But the circumstances in which this comes to pass are bizarre.

V. I has attended a stage show at an avant-garde club where audience members draw on the naked body of a young woman named The Body Artist. An Iraq war veteran goes berserk. And when the woman turns up dead in an alley, he’s the #1 suspect. So, this is not the usual sort of murder mystery. As the publisher notes in its promotional copy, the case “will lead V.I. to a truth as explosive as the IEDs that lurk on the roadsides of Iraq.”

Body Work features all the puzzling twists and turns you might expect from Sara Paretsky, all the tension and suspense, and all the colorful characters that accompany Vic from one novel to the next. Her current lover. Her wacky young cousin. The aging neighbor and would-be protector. The always exasperated and less than brilliant Chicago police officers. And, of course, her dogs, Peppy and Mitch. (But wait? How old are those dogs?)

About the author

Photo of Sara Paretsky, author of this novel about an aging detective
Sara Paretsky. Image: Chicago Public Library

Sara Paretsky opens her biography on her author website by bragging, “Sara Paretsky revolutionized the mystery world in 1982 when she introduced V.I. Warshawski in Indemnity Only. By creating a detective with the grit and smarts to take on the mean streets, Paretsky challenged a genre in which women historically were vamps or victims.”

Wikipedia notes that Paretsky was born in Iowa in 1947 and received her BA in political science from the University of Kansas. She also holds both an MA and a PhD in history from the University of Chicago. Her author website is a little out of date. she has written 23 novels in the V. I. Warshawski series as of 2022. She has also written three works of nonfiction and three short story collections. Paretsky was married for 42 years to a physics professor at the University of Chicago until his death in 2018. They had three children.

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