The world is full of mysteries. Most of them continue to be mysteries
to me, but some of them are between the covers of books. Those I like
because they have answers, and are entertaining while they are doing it.
Sara Paretsky has created one of my favorite private eyes, V. I. (Vic)
Warshawski. Don't ever ask her what the I stands for. V. I. lives
in Chicago and shares two dogs with her landlord, a delightful retired
machinist who keeps a fatherly eye on her and calls her Cookie. But
'twas not ever thus. I happened onto a paperback copy of her first
Warshawski novel, "Indemnity Only," c1979, and was fascinated at seeing
the way an author and her character developed over the years.
In an introductory note she writes, "On New Year's Eve I made a secret
resolution to write a novel in 1979 or send that fantasy packing along
with my daydreams of singing at La Scala . . . The next day I began . .
. 'Indemnity Only' came to life so precariously that it remains very
precious to me." And it should. It is an excellent first novel. We
meet V. I and her friend Lotty Herschel and several of her cop friends.
In the intervening years her writing has grown in sophistication, her
character has been developed into a person we really know. She has
matured, acquired new friends and we have learned a little more about
her background. But it's still the same V.I. solving mysteries.
Darn, wish I could write a mystery and create a character.
Another prolific mystery writer is Margaret Truman. Her latest novel,
her eighteenth, is "Murder in Havana" and moves from Washington to
Havana. If any novelist knows about the ins and outs of Washington, it
would be Truman, but she is less familiar with Cuba and this one
doesn't have quite the zip her Washington novels have. Max Pauling, ex
C.I.A and ex State Department got fed up and retired to New Mexico to
become a flight instructor. He accepted a job to ferry some medicine to
Cuba, and then got involved in a spy story where you don't know the good
guys from the bad guys.
I found a new mystery writer from Canada. Gail Bowen is an Assistant
Professor at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, University of
Regina. She has won several writing awards in Canada for her series of
mysteries featuring Joanne Kilbourn, a middle aged widow who, like her
creator, is a University professor in Regina. In "The Wandering Soul
Murders" Joanne's daughter finds a body behind her catering business and
then her son's girlfriend apparently commits suicide. Once again
Joanne finds herself reluctantly involved in a mystery threatening her
own family. I was glad to meet such a nice woman from Saskatchewan.
Best selling author Iris Johansen has a new mystery out, "Final
Target." I thought it was going to be a political one, because the
first character we meet is the daughter of the President. But the
President's role is a minor one that involves a father trying to protect
his child. Dr. Jessica Riley is a psychiatrist whose experience with
catatonic trauma is personal as well as professional. She brought her
sister back from total mental withdrawal, and is trying to do the same
for the daughter of the President who retreated into blankness when she
saw her nanny and Secret Service protector murdered. The plot ranges
from Washington to Amsterdam to Paris and mixes psychiatry with
If you have been as cold as I have this gloomy January, let's move to
southern Arizona. J. A. Jance has a new one out, "Paradise Lost."
Joanna Brady, Sheriff of Cochise County, is one of my favorite mystery
characters, perhaps because her people are as important as her job. In
this one Joanna has to balance a difficult relationship with her own
mother, her efforts to protect her 12 year old daughter and her
relationship with her new husband, along with a couple of murders.
There is a good mix of old and modern police work and lots of character
development. And it's warm in Arizona!
Brady and Warshawski are about as far apart as two law officers can be,
in personality and technique. Take your pick. I like 'em both.