V. I. Warshawski

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V. I. Warshawski
V.I. For Short (UK Cover).jpg
Warshawski, as depicted on the cover of short story collection V.I For Short
First appearance Indemnity Only (1982)
Created by Sara Paretsky
Portrayed by Kathleen Turner (Film, BBC Radio)
Sharon Gless (BBC Radio)
Aliases Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski
Gender Female
Occupation Private Investigator
Family Anton "Tony" Warshawski (father)
Gabriella Sestrieri (mother)
Spouse(s) Dick Yarborough (ex-husband)
Nationality American

Victoria Iphigenia "Vic" "V. I." Warshawski is a fictional private investigator from Chicago appearing in a series of detective novels and short stories written by Sara Paretsky.[1]

With the exception of "The Pietro Andromache", all of Warshawski's adventures are written in the first person.[citation needed]


Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, called "Vic" by her friends, is the daughter of Italian-born Gabriella Sestrieri, who, being half-Jewish, had to flee the Mussolini regime in 1941 [2] and as a destitute immigrant met and married Anton "Tony" Warshawski, a Polish American Chicago police officer.[3] Gabriella spoke Italian and English with her daughter, (according to Vic, it was heavily accented) who became fluent in that language. On the other hand, the American-born Tony spoke only English with her, and she only picked up a few words of Polish from her father's mother.

Gabriella died of cancer when Vic was in high school; Tony died ten years later in 1976, implying that Vic was born about 1950. We also learn from Blood Shot (published as "Toxic Shock" in the UK) that Vic was last at her high school some 20 years previously, making the setting of this story in 1988, the year of the book’s publication. In an interview, Sara Paretsky pointed out that Warshawski aged in real time.[4] However, in the 2010 "Hardball", Paretsky moved Warshawski's birth upwards to 1957, presumably since a 1950 birth would make her sixty years old in 2010, a bit too old for intensive physical activity. The change involved a considerable detailed retconing and re-writing many events of Warshawski's childhood, to fit with the new chronology.

Vic grew up on the southeast side of Chicago, in the shadow of shuttered steel mills and factories. Together with her cousin Boom-Boom she had many wild and dangerous adventures - becoming especially wild and reckless in the period of deep grief after her mother's death - and learning the techniques of street-fighting which would prove highly useful in her later career. She was involved in the girls' basketball team in her school, called "The Lady Tigers", and managed to enter the University of Chicago on a sports scholarship. During her university years, she became deeply involved in the counter-culture of the 1960s, taking part in freedom rides to rural Louisiana, traveling hundreds of miles to attend rallies addressed by Martin Luther King, demonstrating against the Vietnam War, and taking part in an underground abortion service. In the latter context, she first met with Dr. Lotty Herschel, who would become an important lifelong contact. However, being the daughter of a police officer whom she greatly loved and respected, Vic strongly objects to radicals calling the police "pigs".

After earning a law degree and a short stint as a public defender, she became a private detective specializing in white-collar crime. She had married fellow law student Dick Yarborough, but divorced him after two years when he became a corporate lawyer and developed a yuppie lifestyle and outlook. She has no children, but in many cases acts in a maternal manner towards teenagers neglected or abused by their parents.

In most novels, Vic is drawn into murder cases connected to white-collar crime. She often ends up pursuing cases that affect her friends, estranged family, or those she feels are being bullied by the upper crust of Chicago. Again and again, she uncovers and confronts major combinations of crooked business people and corrupt politicians, incomparably more powerful than herself, and emerges with at least a partial victory; though often the murderer, identified by the end of the book to Warshawski's (and the reader's) satisfaction, remains too powerful for the law to touch.

A lean, athletic brunette who runs to keep in shape, Vic is not afraid of physical confrontations; relying on karate or her Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol with its nine-round magazine.[5]

Hot-tempered, sarcastic, and fiercely self-reliant, Vic prefers T-shirts and jeans and sleeps in the nude, but she can dress stylishly if necessary. She hates to admit being scared or vulnerable. Her capable and willful personality has led fans and literary critics to consider her one of the few feminist detectives.[6] She loves opera and classical music, often singing arias and playing her piano in times of stress. She stays trim despite a ravenous appetite and favors multi-course ethnic meals with good wine, and throughout all her adventures takes care to provide the reader with precise information on what she had eaten, where, and whether or not it was tasty. She often indulges in big, greasy breakfasts and kielbasa sandwiches.[5] She likes to soak for half an hour or more in her tub - a luxury which was not available in her childhood home.

She shares two dogs, Peppy and Mitch, shared with her neighbor. She is an ardent fan of the Chicago Cubs in baseball and the Chicago Bears in football, closely following the ups and downs of their respective careers. Her favorite brand of whisky is the Johnnie Walker Black Label, though she takes care not to drink it on the job.

In addition to one failed marriage, Vic has had several lovers over the years, such as the English insurance executive Roger Ferrant, the Black Chicago police detective Conrad Rawlings, and the war correspondent and human rights activist C.L. Morrell. Some of them appear in more than one book, even after the relationship has ended. Warshawski can be a passionate and caring lover, and feels deeply hurt when a relationship is ended. Nevertheless, she is fiercely independent even towards men she loves, would not consider living together, and deeply resents their feeling protective towards her, which men who love her are all too apt to do when she repeatedly risks her life in pursuing a hot case.

Her closest friend is Viennese physician Dr. Charlotte "Lotty" Herschel, who treats her various illnesses and combat-related injuries, and is in effect her surrogate mother.

Recurring characters[edit]

  • Carol Alvarado, a nurse at Dr. Herschel's clinic
  • Sal Barthele, statuesque owner of the Golden Glow bar and a good friend of Vic, who often refers to Sal as a "magnificent black woman"
  • Freeman Carter, Vic's legal counsel on retainer
  • Salvatore Contreras, downstairs widower neighbor and slightly overbearing friend
  • Roger Ferrant, a British businessman and one of Vic's earlier romantic interests
  • Terry Finchley, a police detective whom Vic interacts with regularly; he became openly hostile to Vic while she was dating Conrad
  • Darraugh Graham, an extremely important and long-standing client
  • Dr. Charlotte "Lotty" Herschel, close friend and perinatologist at Beth Israel Hospital; formerly had her own clinic as a general practitioner
  • Max Loewenthal, Lotty’s significant other; executive director of Beth Israel Hospital and an art and music aficionado
  • Bobby Mallory, police officer and friend of Vic's father Tony
  • John McGonnigal, police Sargeant who regularly interacts with Vic
  • Mary Louise Neely, an officer in the Chicago P.D., later Vic's partner, who provides a significant amount of assistance to Vic over time
  • Conrad Rawlings, a detective in the Chicago P.D. Conrad and Vic were romantically involved for a while. He often calls her by the nickname "Ms. W"
  • Tessa Reynolds, a popular local sculptor and good friend of Vic
  • Murray Ryerson, reporter at the Herald-Star newspaper; Vic's longtime friend and sometime rival; he usually refers to Vic as "O-She-who-must-be-obeyed" whenever she asks him for a favor



With year of first publication:

Short story collections[edit]


Only Deadlock has been turned into a film, V. I. Warshawski, with Kathleen Turner in the title role.[1] The film, which took many creative liberties with Paretsky's character, was meant as a franchise for Turner,[citation needed] but those plans were scrapped when it was not a commercial success, grossing only $11.1 million[7] domestically.

Radio adaptations[edit]

BBC Radio 4 has produced four radio dramas based on the series, starting in 1992. The first two, Deadlock and Killing Orders, feature Kathleen Turner reprising her movie role, with Eleanor Bron as Dr. Charlotte “Lotty” Herschel. The third, Bitter Medicine, stars Sharon Gless as Warshawski. A fourth production, Publicity Stunts, is a dramatic reading performed by Buffy Davis.

Popular culture[edit]

  • Warshawski was highlighted in volume 12 of the Detective Conan manga's edition of "Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library", a section of the graphic novels where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from mystery literature, television, or other media.
  • In the Flash animated Internet cartoon, Homestar Runner, V. I. Warshawski is mentioned on Version 10.2 and Version 16.2 of Marzipan's Answering Machine.


  1. ^ a b c Maslin, Janet (26 July 1991). "V.I. Warshawski". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  2. ^ There is some inconsistency between different books regarding the time when Gabriella fled Italy. In some books it is placed as early as 1938 or 1939, immediately after Mussolini enacted his anti-Jewish legislation. In other books it is placed already at the time when Italy was under direct German occupation and Jews were being hunted and sent to extermination camps, which would place it in 1942 or 1943.
  3. ^ Remarks by some of V.I.'s Polish relatives in Deadlock suggest that her father might also have had some Jewish ancestry, but this is never taken up again. It is clearly reiterated, however, that he was non-religious, unlike his devoutly Catholic relatives.
  4. ^ "Author Sara Paretsky". Saraparetsky.com. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-10-05. 
  5. ^ a b Grahnke, Lon (July 28, 1991). "V.I. Warshawski: A Surveillance Report". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  6. ^ Martin, Nora. (1996). "In the business of believing women's stories": Feminism through detective fiction (Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton) (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  7. ^ "V. I. Warshawski". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-12-30.