I appreciate Paretsky’s depiction of the Southside of Chicago. We spoke in class about Sinclair’s depiction of the working poor in the Jungle, based on his brief stint working among them. We discussed how it felt a bit melodramatic, like a story parents tell their children to make them stay in school. All they do is work and despair their slow and unavoidable demise.
I feel like Paretsky is more aware and more respectful than that. I appreciate that the girls’ dialogue seems plausible and their speech isn’t overly regionalized. By identifying her title character as both a local and an outsider – she grew up on the Southside but moved away long ago – she is stating her (the author’s) awareness of her partial knowledge and experience in a community that she is familiar with but not a member of. When the Southside characters admonish Warshawski for not knowing the neighborhood anymore and for being snooty, I assume that is a bit of self-consciousness on Paretsky’s part. Her self-awareness makes her a better writer. I think it is really challenging for a writer to depict people from a group they are not a part of convincingly and humanely. I suppose that is why the old edict is to write what you know.
As for detective novels in general I’m not a big consumer. I have a hard time keeping all the characters and plots straight, though I did have phases as a kid when I read a couple detective serials, one about a middle aged woman detective and another about a male detective and his two Siamese cats. I liked that you could grow familiar with the characters over the space of several books and that the disappointment of a good story ending was softened by the knowledge that another book in the series was waiting for you.