V. I. Warshawski

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V. I. Warshawski
V.I. For Short (UK Cover).jpg
Warshawski, as depicted by illustrator for the cover of short-story collection V.I For Short
First appearanceIndemnity Only (1982)
Created bySara Paretsky
Portrayed byKathleen Turner (Film, BBC Radio)
Sharon Gless (BBC Radio)
AliasVictoria Iphigenia Warshawski
OccupationPrivate investigator
FamilyAnton "Tony" Warshawski (father)
Gabriella Sestrieri (mother)
SpouseDick Yarborough (ex-husband)

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

With the exception of "The Pietro Andromache", Warshawski's adventures are written in the first person.[2]


Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, called "Vic" by her friends, is the daughter of Italian-born Gabriella Sestrieri, who was half-Jewish and fled the Mussolini regime in 1941.[3] Trained as an opera singer, she was destitute when she arrived as a refugee immigrant. She met and married Anton "Tony" Warshawski, a Polish American police officer in Chicago.[4] Gabriella spoke Italian and English with her daughter, (according to Vic, the latter was heavily accented) who became fluent in Italian. On the other hand, the American-born Tony spoke only English with her, and she picked up only a few words of Polish from her paternal grandmother.

Gabriella died of cancer when Vic was in high school; Tony died ten years later in 1976, suggesting that Vic was born about 1950. Blood Shot (published as "Toxic Shock" in the UK) refers to Vic having last been to her high school some 20 years previously, making the setting of this story 1988, the year of the book’s publication. In an interview, Sara Paretsky noted that she has portrayed Warshawski ageing in real time.[5] 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. She learned techniques of street-fighting that were useful in her later career. She was involved in the girls' basketball team in her school, called "The Lady Tigers", and entered 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, another major character, who becomes an important lifelong contact. However, as 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 working a short stint as a public defender, she became a private detective specializing in white-collar crime. She married fellow law student Dick Yarborough, but they divorced after two years. He became a corporate lawyer and their outlooks strongly differed. 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 whom she feels are being bullied by the wealthier and more powerful of Chicago. She repeatedly uncovers and confronts major combinations of crooked business people and corrupt politicians, much more powerful than she, emerges with at least a partial victory. Often the identified murderer remains too powerful for the law to touch.

Vic is described as a lean, athletic brunette who runs to keep in shape, and does not fear physical confrontations; relying on karate or her Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol with its nine-round magazine.[6]

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.[7] 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. Throughout her adventures she recounts meals -what she had eaten, where, and whether or not it was tasty. She often indulges in big, greasy breakfasts and kielbasa sandwiches.[6] She likes to soak for half an hour or more in her tub – a luxury that was not available in her childhood home.

She shares two golden retrievers, Peppy and Mitch, with her downstairs neighbor, Salvatore "Sal" Contreras. 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 English insurance executive Roger Ferrant, Conrad Rawlings, a black Chicago police detective ; and war correspondent and human rights activist C.L. Morrell. Some of these characters appear in more than one book, even after the formal relationship has ended. Warshawski can be a passionate and caring lover, and feels deeply hurt when a relationship is ended. She is fiercely independent even towards men she loves, would not consider living with one, and deeply resents their feeling protective towards her. Men who love her want to do so 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 and good friend of Vic. She makes numerous appearances in the series, most notably in Bitter Medicine
  • Paul Alvarado, Carol's brother and an architectural student. He thinks highly of Vic and considers her extended family
  • 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, Vic's downstairs widower neighbor and self-appointed father figure
  • 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 of Vic's
  • 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 late father Tony
  • John McGonnigal, police sergeant 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]


Deadlock was adapted as 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 intended as a franchise for Turner. But it was not a commercial success, grossing $11.1 million[8] domestically.

BBC Radio 4 has produced four radio dramas based on novels in the series, starting in 1991. The first two, Killing Orders and Deadlock, feature Kathleen Turner reprising her movie role, with Eleanor Bron as Dr. Charlotte “Lotty” Herschel. The third, Bitter Medicine, stars Sharon Gless as Warshawski.[9] 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. V. I. Warshawski is one the sources of the name of the character Ai Haibara.
  • 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. ^ Rozan, S.J. (October 25, 1999). "Sara Paretsky: A Gun of One's Own". Publishers Weekly.
  3. ^ 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 at the time when Italy was already under direct German occupation, and Jews were being hunted and sent to extermination camps, in 1942 or 1943.
  4. ^ 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. He is presented as non-religious, unlike his devoutly Catholic relatives.
  5. ^ "Author Sara Paretsky". Saraparetsky.com. 2010-08-31. Retrieved 2010-10-05.
  6. ^ a b Grahnke, Lon (July 28, 1991). "V.I. Warshawski: A Surveillance Report". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on March 28, 2015.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ "V. I. Warshawski". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  9. ^ "BBC". Genome.ch.bbc.co.uk.