A former Lawrence resident finds success in the detective series genre.
Sara Paretsky gets to live an alternate life through the eyes of her most famous fictional character.
As the originator of the tough-as-nails female private investigator V.I. Warshawski, Paretsky takes her literary character through dangerous plots and situations into which she would never venture.
"She gets into things that I'd never do because I'd never be stupid enough to do them," Paretsky said with a laugh. "I'm cautious, while she's a real risk-taker."
Paretsky and Warshawski are both back in action after a five-year hiatus from the series. In her ninth Warshawski novel, "Hard Time," Paretsky, a 52-year-old grandmother, puts the P.I. into her most dangerous adventure yet.
Paretsky, who is known for her social activism, teaches when she can and provides financial support to various programs, including a creative scholarship for any third-year student at Kansas University. It's her way of giving something back to the system.
"I feel I've been fortunate to have had so many opportunities, so I want to give something back to the community. Sometimes it's harder for the individual to get a boost," she said.
Like Paretsky, the Warshawski character is always tackling various issues. In "Hard Time" Warshawski goes behind bars to investigate a case. While undercover, she discovers women at the mercy of the prison, sexually and physically abused and powerless to rehabilitate themselves.
The novel not only provides mystery lovers with a good deal of sleuthing, but it also exposes some of the harsh truths about U.S. penal institutions, the growing prison populations and the burgeoning growth industry of privately run prisons.
For her latest book, Paretsky interviewed lawyers who represented women prisoners who were abused by guards. She also interviewed one prisoner about the day-to-day grind of prison life so she could accurately create the atmosphere that Warshawski encounters.
What Paretsky found is that abuse is rampant in women's prisons, that privately run prisons are a booming business with an annual gross of more than $9 billion dollars, and that states are focusing less on rehabilitation and more on incarceration.
"I tried to capture the day-to-day living experiences, how prisoners talk to each other," Paretsky said. "People are locked up in pretty close quarters and tempers are thin. It can get pretty emotional in there."
She also was horrified to learn that more and more states are using funding that could go for education, drug rehabilitation and job training of prisoners to build more prisons.
"They're painting themselves into a nasty corner," she said.
Paretsky pulls no punches in her novel, but admits that it wasn't easy to place her beloved Warshawski character into such an abusive environment.
"It's hard to have her be so vulnerable. Since she's an alter-ego I want her to be heroic," Paretsky said. "She kind of follows the literary tradition of going to the underworld for the rest of us. It's her job in this book to prove that you can go into the heart of darkness and can return and be whole."
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ONE TOUGH INVESTIGATOR
What: Reading and book signing by Sara Paretsky, Lawrence native and creator of the V.I. Warshawski novels.
When: From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: The Raven Bookstore, 6 E. Seventh.
For more information: Call 749-3300.