A bit of a swoon about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski

In the 1980s I was a bit of a stalker.

Fortunately, the object of my affections was not a person but a thing: it was West Bridgford Library in the suburb of Nottingham where we lived.

I can’t really remember how I started ‘working’ there – something to do with the Girl Guides, I think – but between the ages of about thirteen and sixteen, I became something of a regular librarian.  The main difference was that I didn’t get paid.  I did it because I just loved checking the books out, making sure returns hadn’t been reserved before putting them back on the shelves, and then – when the librarians really couldn’t find me anything else to do – cleaning the children’s picture books with a big bottle of detergent.

After a couple of years of Saturdays and evenings after-schools, I actually got a letter from the head of the library, thanking me (in what was probably a state of some bemusement) for all the unpaid hours I’d donated.  I was very pleased about this.

The advantages of being a child librarian were not immediately obvious to the head of the library, but they included feeling important, making people pay fines, and – importantly – getting unsupervised access to all the books in the adult library, and indeed to the books in the reserve store in the basement.  During this time much of my informal education took place, including lasting misapprehensions such as my understanding that an ‘au pair’ and a ‘concubine’ were the same thing.  (In the inappropriately adult books I read, the terms seemed interchangeable).

Among the astringent pleasures of my unauthorised reading in the adult section was an author called Sara Paretsky, and her female detective character, V.I. Warshawski, a private eye in Chicago.

Upstairs in the children’s library, I legitimately devoured Nancy Drew mysteries. (I remember my brother’s astonishment on learning that Nancy had a boyfriend called ‘Ned’.  Our mother’s name is also Ned, short for Enid, so he had total gender meltdown.)

Downstairs, in my illicit adult reading, I munched up V.I. Warshawskis.  I didn’t really understand much of what was going on.  V.I. would often say things to herself like ‘play this fish right, Vic’, and drink strange and possibly horrible drinks like coffee and Johnnie Walker Black.  But I recognized – although I didn’t know the word for it then – her total sassiness, and the job of ‘private investigator’ featured for a long time on my list of dream careers (alongside ‘witch’, ‘nun’ and ‘spy’).

Imagine then, my complete and utter delight when I got word earlier this week that no other than V.I. Warshawki’s creator, the great SARA PARETSKY herself, had reviewed, for the New York Times, my own new book about murder.

For a few moments, confused, I felt like V.I. herself had picked up my book in some dirty store on Wabash and sent me a letter about it.

And she liked it, too.  Cheers, Vic.  You played this fish right.


21 thoughts on “A bit of a swoon about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski

  1. Amanda (@lambsearshoney)

    Love the library story, and am just a little envious. Our local library was guarded by ancient gorgons who never let me anywhere near the adult books, even though they knew full well I had devoured all of the age -appropriate books.
    Also loved A Very British Murder. What a thrill for you that Ms. Paretsky is such a fan.

  2. JerryW

    Lucy, there is a rather strategic “not” missing from the first sentence. Feel free to correct & delete this x

    1. Lucy Post author


  3. Lucy Janes

    Teenage librarian? I am beyond jealous!

  4. Adi



    I assume you wriggled with pleasure like a worm on a hook!

    Hope your book sells well with the positive endorsements.

  5. andrew west

    As one who has spent most of my working life in bookselling, and much of my childhood haunting the local library, this piece really chimed! I remember getting into the adult library for the first time (as I’d read all the Rider Haggard’s in the kid’s section! It was quite gloomy and very quiet in those days. Lovely!
    Not quite sure how it happened, but at 13 I found myself perusing the psychology shelves.You think the bodice-rippers were a revalation! One book on childhood phantasy (sic) was not at all what I expected!
    As for Paretsky, she’s very good isn’t she? I seem to remember there was a film of one of her books which worked very well.

    1. Paula

      Great film – Kathleen Turner in the lead if memory serves!

  6. Jed Sutherland

    Wonderful story. Everyone should be given unsupervised access to books.

  7. john harding

    Lucy, love this: you are and obviously always have been a gem. Delighted the USA likes your book – so they should it’s superb: fascinating, packed with information and, as always with your work, fun.

  8. Heidi

    Awww, what a heart warming story 🙂 I became one of a handful of student librarians in my department and probably resembled one of the earlier mentioned gargoyles. I guarded my library fiercly! So pleased for you that your heroine is appreciating your work. Now off to get your book….

  9. Alan Green

    I enjoyed the series and your talk on the subject at Cheltenham Lit Festival last year. At the speed I read books it could be another 20 years before I read the book (have read your first though). It did make me smile when the review mentioned your lack of footnotes, when you criticised Dorothy Hartley for the same thing…lol!
    PS. Although its doubtful I will ever write a book, so I can poke fun at others.

  10. Marion Hayward

    I was fortunate to have a paid after-school library job at my own Toronto high school — unfortunately no restricted books, but the fiction section and the Canadian history were a joy. It was so long ago, I am probably the only living person who has a nodding acquaintance with the Dewey Decimal System, which is how my own books are filed.

    Just getting started on “A Very British Murder” — I foolishly lent it to my mother to read before I could get into it, but she has said good things!

  11. Jan L-W

    Oo, how wonderful! I did two weeks of school work experience in a library many moons ago. Loved it! Sadly I never achieved my goal of being a librarian, but I’m still a bookworm.

  12. Bad Girl Bex

    As an unabashed bibliophile, who would take great solace in the library in the small fishing town I grew up in, this piece really struck a chord with me. I was never allowed to do much more than help return books to the shelves, but the I adored the librarian who worked there. Even more so, because at the age of 11, I found myself being guided around the ‘adult’ books area, to find something new to read (having like yourself exhausted the supply of literature in the children’s section).

    I really appreciated the fact that she wasn’t afraid to let me loose about the more mature reading material, as she rarely chose not to allow me to check something out – usually on the grounds that it was patently unsuitable for anyone other than a sexually frustrated 40+ year old housewife! Those of us with fond memories of libraries and librarians are the ones who are lamenting the closure of so many of these beloved sanctuaries. I loved Neil Gaiman’s essay of last year on the subjec – he too having spent countless, endless summers, secreted away in the aisles of his own local library.

    That your love of books – and of Sara Paretsky especially – has come full circle, with her now having given your own book a stamp of approval, is so perfect! I both admire and envy you this blessing in equal proportion. I have yet to read the book myself – although I loved the television series (I love EVERY programme you’re involved in!) – but have got it on my TBR list with Goodreads.

    Looking forward to watching/reading absolutely anything and everything you do in future.

    Apologies for sounding like a simpering schoolgirl!


  13. Diane

    I loved libraries as a kid, Fridays after school were spent riding my bike to the local library. I was so proud when my mother gave permission for me to cross over to the adult side!

    I now volunteer in our local hospital medical library. They don’t have Sara Paretsky, but she is on my Kindle!

  14. Nick van V.

    You would have made a good P.I., I expect. Or a spy. Or a witch (possibly). But not a nun, unless it was in disguise while being one of the other three.

  15. Chris Hough

    Congratulations on the positive review Iread it and enjoyed it immensely.
    Sara Paretsky is yet another crime fiction author who gives the lie to the idea that thrillers cannot be classed as literature Her economy of style and laconic wit stand comparison with other more “literary authors” who atre praised far more highly

  16. Ed P

    Libraries were enchanted places, the junior library of 1960`s concrete could not cut it compared to the 30`s built main library which had a presence. ( and a smell that that the old british library on a patent search pre internet had too)

    I was lucky enough to have an enlightened mum who when I was 7 (with a reading age nearly twice that according to her and my school reports but I didn`t care then) arranged for me to join the senior library.
    There I encountered Raymond Chandler, Dasheil Hammet, and so many more, with various upness and stodginess of prose but finally Elmore Leonard via first his western stories.. I understand getting comfortable with an author. Had a revisit/reread 30 years on and it still works with many added things from experience.
    I recognise the ” what does this mean?” and only very occasionally did my mum go into blush or laughter.
    I am surprised at you, that you did not take advantage of the full Oxford that your Library must have had to resolve your au pair/ concubine confusion.

    Besties E

  17. Chris Hough

    My wife despairs of me and libraries I must visit our local everytime we go to the shops and I always find something that takes my fancy.either factual or fictional
    My addiction to libraries and books in general has lasted since the age of 5 and shows no sign of diminishing
    My love of history was fostered by reading Rosemary Sutcliffe and Cynthia Harnett which led me in turn to non fiction history while Shelock Holmes turned me onto dective fiction which is still a passion

  18. Susan Muise

    Loved the Library tale. I loved our Library in Hamilton Ontario – Great big building with marble stairs …. it had a certain smell! I loved to watch the librarian place the pencil on a line on the library card …. so that a stamp – attached to the pencil put the date in just the right place. Also loved Nancy Drew! But what really brought forth memories was your having wanted to be a NUN. I watched the Sound of Music when I was little and didn’t that life just seem so ……… holy? special?….. An old friend of my mothers used to say “you can kiss a nun but don’t get in the habit”…..

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