Another book review?
After reading Pop. 1280 I was curious about more crime fiction. So down the internet rabbit hole I journeyed and wound up with Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky. This was the author’s debut and the first in a series of detective (not crime) stories starring the character V. I. Warshawksi.
Like many of the titles I read, I knew nothing about it. Sidenote: I’m beginning to think I am psychologically compelled to do this to avoid disappointment from titles I have high expectations to enjoy.
Indemnity Only is an enjoyable read. While there were a lot of positives there were a handful of and downers with this book. Lets start with the downers:
- This book was written for people who reside in Chicago. Specifically, if you lived in Chicago in the early 1980’s. There are parts where the setting is described only by giving the names of the cross streets. That’s it. That’s all the reader has to go on. This is particularly concentrated in the first part of the book and I almost put it down for good because of it.
- I recently read that naming minor characters is something that is entertaining only for the author. There’s a lot of that going on. I’m looking at you Tim the waiter.
- Along with the initial mystery there is a larger conspiracy. It goes until the very last page! But it was on the last page that the foundation of the conspiracy fell apart. One of the characters says that he didn’t know this other character until that other character approached him out of the blue with the idea for a conspiracy. Granted, the character providing the explanation is widely known to be corrupt. But I’m guessing that just doesn’t happen in the real world.
And now for the good.
- The lead character has attitude
- We learn early on that she is tough, but not invulnerable. She gets beat up really bad and the author integrates this really well with the story. We learn how she minimizes the initial pain, as well as the steps she takes to reduce the pain that will come in the following days. Characters routinely react to her black eye from all the characters. This whole concept is what made me look past the author’s reliance on Chicago geography.
- Linear time. There aren’t any flashback’s that come to mind. For the benefit of those who are new to this site I’ll summarize: It’s not that I don’t like flashbacks, I just like them done well and most writers don’t deliver them to my standards (which I honestly don’t think are too lofty, but apparently surpass most editors).
- Condensed time: Not only is time linear, but the story is condensed into a matter of days. We’re with Vic from the moment she’s drawn into the case all the way until the end. We wake up with her, eat with her, exercise with her and crash with her after the end of each suspenseful day.
- One of my favorite moments is when a romantic interest puts the moves on her with some absurdly cheesy line. She thinks 2 seconds about it and halfheartedly says something like, “Sure, why not.” Delivering a large dose of reality (which the character ignores): essentially saying I’m not as into you as you are into me. Which I’m guessing for the mystery/suspense genres of the time was certainly uncommon.
- Another favorite moment is when, as the narrator, attempts to say something profound she criticizes herself.
- Insightful commentary on the culture and operations of large insurance companies that still holds true today. (sans criminal conspiracies).
- Surprisingly, I did not see “Best Seller” printed on the book, nor in any of the reviews or articles I read on the book.
- Precedes Janet Evonovich’s Sara Plumb novels by about 10 years.
In short Indemnity Only introduces an exceptional female protagonist as the lead character, which overcomes a minor flaw in the plot on the last page and the author’s focus on Chicago geography.