Sara Paretsky named 4th annual Paul Engle Prize winner

Paretsky holds an MBA and a PhD in history from the University of Chicago --photo via City of Literature USA
Paretsky holds an MBA and a PhD in history from the University of Chicago —photo via City of Literature USA

Sara Paretsky, feminist author of the acclaimed bestselling V.I. Warshawski mystery series, has been named the the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature’s fourth Paul Engle Prize winner.

Following the announcement, Paretsky, who was born in Ames, Iowa, said, “We all have one or two fundamental questions about life—about our own lives—that we keep returning to, and trying to sort out. Mine have to do with speech and silence: who gets to speak, who has to listen. When you’re powerless, it can be hard to speak, easy to remain silent.”

When her acclaimed series debuted in 1982 with Indemnity Only, it rocked the mystery world’s stereotypical standards for female characters, who were portrayed as one-dimensional vamps, vixens, or more often, victims more often even than contemporary publishing’s depressing trends. Over the course of the 16 subsequent Warshawski novels, Paretsky developed a whip-smart and unapologetically, aggressively feminine heroine — Victoria Iphigenia “V. I.” Warshawski — through whom her creator challenged claustrophobic gender roles typical to the genre.

Using her success in a male-dominated industry to support other women writers, Paretsky started Sisters in Crime, a now worldwide organization that supports women crime writers in 1986. She currently serves as the president of the Mystery Writers of America, a post from which she frequently condemns the lack of gender diversity in publishing.

Paretsky will receive the Paul Engle Prize, which includes a $10,000 honorarium, during a special ceremony as part of the Iowa City Book Festival at the Coralville Public Library on October 2 at 7 p.m. The event will be free and open to the public.

In anticipation of the October award ceremony, here’s a breakdown of the first three books in the Warshawski series. All 17 volumes are available in print and as audio books.

1. Indemnity Only

The landmark first installment of the V.I. Warshawski mystery series --image via Goodreads
The landmark first installment of the V.I. Warshawski mystery series — image via Goodreads

“V.I. Warshawski, America’s top private eye is tossed into a dangerous adventure when a seemingly straightforward assignment becomes complicated and deadly.Hired by a man who calls himself John Thayer, V.I.’s assignment is to find Thayer’s son Peter’s missing girlfriend. But when V.I. finds young Peter’s dead body instead, her client disappears. Her efforts to track down her client and learn his true identity take her deep into a labyrinth of fraud and violence. By the time V.I. figures out the answers she is in a race to find the missing young woman – before the murderers do.” —

2. Deadlock

"Vic" Warshawski's saga continues in the series' second installment --image via Goodreads
“Vic” Warshawski’s saga continues in the series’ second installment — image via Goodreads

“When Chicago Black Hawks hockey legend Boom Boom Warshawski slips off a wharf and drowns in Lake Michigan, cousin V.I. questions the report of accidental death and rumors of suicide. V.I. searches for leads and finds a trail of violence and corruption. It takes her to the center of Chicago’s powerful shipping industry. There she ferrets out her cousin’s killer — but nearly gets painted out of the picture — permanently.” —

3. Killing Orders

The Warshawski Series' third installment was a 1986 Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel --image via Goodreads
The Warshawski Series’ third installment was a 1986 Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel — image via Goodreads

“V.I.’s battleaxe Aunt Rosa is under investigation by the FBI and SEC after counterfeit stock certificates were found at St. Albert’s Priory, where she serves as treasurer. As malicious as her aunt is, V.I. knows she’s not dishonest, so V.I. vows to protect her from taking the fall. But V.I. starts questioning the strength of her family ties when a menacing voice on the phone threatens to throw acid into her eyes if she doesn’t butt out. The stakes are high as she begins to sniff out a connection between Chicago’s most powerful institutions: the Church and the Mob.” —


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