All 70+ Sara Paretsky Books in Order [Ultimate Guide]

In the 21st century, the prevalence of strong female detectives can be taken for granted with icons like Bones and Olivia Benson. The characters are allowed to have faults and quirks, brilliance and wit, while not being confined to the archetypes of femme fatale or girl-next-door. That path was in part paved by the Sara Paretsky books in order with her creation of V.I. Warshawski.

When Paretsky published her debut novel in the 1980s about a private investigator from Chicago’s South Side, female characters — especially in the mystery genre — were greatly restricted by those two boxes. Paretsky was inspired to create a character that defied those expectations and broke the mold.

The result was Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski. A well-rounded character with wit and ingenuity that she uses to get out of tricky situations and close calls time and time again. She is a character who is also able to engage in romantic pursuits that do not define her morality.

About Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky was born and grew up in the Midwest, but spent a summer in Chicago when she was 19 that would greatly impact the trajectory of her life.

She worked within the Civil Rights movement that summer, and a lot of Warshawski came from that experience. Paretsky worked in Chicago’s south side, which is where her character Warshawski grew up. That summer also gave Paretsky the experience to write passionately about white-collar crime and the grand scale destruction that it causes.

The family she worked for then invited her to stay with them after Paretsky completed her undergraduate degree and was looking for work. Later, Paretsky would return to school to do a Ph.D. in U.S. history at the University of Chicago. She lives in Chicago still.

Paretsky grew up reading and writing. She says she was writing stories by the time that she was six and shortly after she read Little Women for the first time and fell in love with both the family dynamic and period setting.

Despite writing from a young age, Paretsky never imagined a future for herself as a published author. However, when she was in her 20s she became frustrated by the lack of female characters and the stereotypes in the mystery genre.

That is when she created Warshawski to fulfill the role of a female detective who uses her ingenuity to investigate and can have romantic relations that do not determine her morality.

Paretsky also never intended to write social commentary, but her literary heroes are Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Both were able to weave rhetoric about poverty, class disparity, homelessness, and more into their stories. For that reason, Paretsky asks why should she avoid similar social commentary.

Sara Paretsky Books in Order

V.I. Warshawski Books

Our list of the Sara Paretsky books in order begins with her debut novel and what she has become most well-known for, which is her V.I. Warshawski series. While it is not necessary, it is recommended to read these books in order of publication. This will provide you with the best reading experience.

That’s because this is the best way to get to know Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, the private investigator in Chicago that Paretsky created to challenge the stereotypes within the mystery genre. Each book will contain a standalone mystery and investigation, but the books do build upon each other.

As well, since the series has been around for more than 40 years, there has been a lot that has taken place both in the series and in the world. For that reason, the best way to read these books is by following the publication order.

  1. Indemnity Only (1982)
  2. Deadlock (1984)
  3. Killing Orders (1985)
  4. Bitter Medicine (1987)
  5. Blood Shot / Toxic Shock (1988)
  6. Burn Marks (1990)
  7. Guardian Angel (1992)
  8. Tunnel Vision (1994)
  9. Hard Time (1999)
  10. Total Recall (2001)
  11. Blacklist (2003)
  12. Fire Sale (2005)
  13. Hardball (2009)
  14. Body Work (2010)
  15. Breakdown (2012)
  16. Critical Mass (2013)
  17. Brush Back (2015)
  18. Fallout (2017)
  19. Shell Game (2018)
  20. Dead Land (2020)
  21. Overboard (2022)
  22. Pay Dirt (Expected: April 16, 2024)

V.I. Warshawski Collection

There is one collection of stories within Paretsky’s popular series. If you are unsure when to read the stories within this book, it is best to still follow the publication order, which would place it within the gap between Tunnel Vision and Hard Time.

  1. Windy City Blues (1995)

V.I. Warshawski Short Stories

More than a decade after the publication of the V.I. Warshawski short story collection, Paretsky wrote another short story about the beloved character and has followed it up with two more.

  1. Photo Finish (2011) (Out of Print)
  2. Wildcat (2017)
  3. Death on the Edge (2018)

Standalone Books

Sara Paretsky has also only written two standalone books throughout the course of her career. Both still fall within the mystery genre and follow multiple characters. However, while the first book takes place in Chicago like her popular series, the second book takes place in Kansas.

  1. Ghost Country (1988)
  2. Bleeding Kansas (2007)

Short Story

Next in our list of the Sara Paretsky books in order is a short story about love, revenge, and appetite.

  1. Taste of Life (2017)

Short Story Collections

If you enjoy shorter reads, Paretsky has also published two short story collections separate from her popular Warshawski series.

  1. A Taste of Life and Other Stories (1995) (Out of Print)
  2. Love & Other Crimes: Stories (2020)

Nonfiction Books

Sara Paretsky has also written two nonfiction books. The first is a memoir while the second is actually Paretsky’s dissertation for her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. It is about moral philosophy and religion in New England in the early and mid-nineteenth century.

  1. Writing In An Age of Silence (2007)
  2. Words, Works, and Ways of Knowing (2016)

Anthologies

Finally, Paretsky has both contributed to and edited several anthologies throughout the course of her career. The below anthologies are still in print and readily accessible.

  1. A Woman’s Eye (1991)
  2. Women on the Case (1996)
  3. Murder For Love (1996)
  4. The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century (2000)
  5. Writers on Writing (2001)
  6. A Century of Great Suspense Stories (2001)
  7. Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe (2011)
  8. Suspense Magazine December 2013 (2013)
  9. Mystery Writers of America Presents Ice Cold (2014)
  10. Chicago Blues (2014)
  11. Gary Phillips’ Hollis for Hire (2018)
  12. Bullets and Other Hurting Things: A Tribute to Bill Crider (2021)
  13. Crime Hits Home (2022)
  14. The Mysterious Bookshop Presents the Best Mystery Stories of the Years 2022 (2022)

Out of Print Anthologies

However, there are even more anthologies that Paretsky has contributed to that have since gone out of print. Those titles are listed below, but links to second hand copies have been included.

  1. The Eyes Have It (1984)
  2. Mean Streets (1986)
  3. Beastly Tales (1989)
  4. City Sleuths and Tough Guys (1989)
  5. Sisters in Crime 3 (1990)
  6. 1st Culprit (1992)
  7. Women of Mystery (1992)
  8. Deadly Allies (1992)
  9. The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories 1991 (1992)
  10. Female Sleuths (1993)
  11. The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories 1992 (1993)
  12. Great Mystery Series: Top Female Sleuths (1993)
  13. The New Mystery (1993)
  14. 3rd Culprit (1994)
  15. The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Seventh Annual Collection (1994)
  16. The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories 1993 (1994)
  17. Bad Behavior (1995)
  18. First Cases, Volume 1 (1996)
  19. The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories 1995 (1996)
  20. Win, Lose or Die (1996)
  21. Mystery’s Most Wanted (1997)
  22. Women of Mystery III (1998)
  23. Crime After Crime (1999)
  24. The Oxford Book of Detective Stories (2000)
  25. Crime Story Collection (2000)
  26. The Longman Anthology of Detective Fiction (2004)
  27. Sisters on the Case (2007)

A Summary of Sara Paretsky Books in Order

Below you will find the summaries to the first ten V.I. Warshawski books in order by Sara Paretsky. Again, while it is not necessary, it is recommended to read these books in publication order. That’s because this will provide the best reading experience.


Indemnity Only Sara Paretsky Books in Order

1. Indemnity Only

V.I. Warshawski knows it’s not a good idea to meet an anonymous client late at night. But the Chicago private eye has never shied away from trouble.

The man says he is John Thayer, a prominent banker, and that his son’s girlfriend Anita Hill is missing. But it turns out that none of that is true. What V.I.’s search turns up, however, is the real John Thayer’s son, except he’s dead.

By the time V.I. figures out who her client is and what they’re up to, things are hotter and deadlier than Chicago in July. Now she’s in a desperate race against time and a young woman’s life is at stake.


Deadlock VI Warshawski

2. Deadlock

Chicago Blackhawks hockey legend Boom Boom Warshawski slips off a wharf and drowns in Lake Michigan, which prompts an official death report of an accident but there are rumors of suicide. His cousin, V.I., doesn’t believe it.

With a bottle of Black Label and a Smith & Weston, she follows a trail of violence and corruption to the center of Chicago’s powerful shipping industry. V.I. dodges elaborate attempts on her life with characteristic grit and humor.

She navigates a maze of grain elevators and thousand-ton freighters to find Boom Boom’s killers before they remove her from the picture permanently.


Killing Orders Sara Paretsky

3. Killing Orders

V.I.’s battleaxe Aunt Rosa is under investigation by the FBI and SEC because counterfeit stock was found at St. Albert’s Priory, where she is the treasurer. Even though her aunt is malicious, V.I. knows she’s not dishonest, so she vows to prove her innocence.

But V.I. begins to question the strength of her family ties when she starts getting menacing threats to drop her investigation. The stakes are high as she begins to realize that there is a connection between Chicago’s most powerful institutions: The Church and the Mob.


Bitter Medicine VI Warshawski

4. Bitter Medicine

Consuelo Alvarado is young, diabetic, and pregnant. She is lucky to have a mentor in V.I., but even V.I. can’t help when Consuelo goes into premature labor in a remote suburb. Both Consuelo and her baby die at the hospital.

A young resident begins asking questions about Consuelo’s treatment and what seemed to be a tragic accident begins to look far more disturbing. What connection could the hospital have with Chicago’s street gangs? What heavy secret is the hospital’s neonatologist carrying?

The questions that V.I. is asking cut to the heart of everything that is troubling the practice of medicine in America. Can V.I. sort out the answers before she ends up in the hospital morgue too?


Blood Shot Sara Paretsky Books in Order

5. Blood Shot / Toxic Shock

V.I. doesn’t want to go back to her old neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, but she made a promise. The mother of her childhood friend, Caroline, is dying and Caroline wants V.I.’s help to find the father she never knew.

But when V.I. starts looking into the past, she comes across a very new body. Now she’s in the middle of a deadly mix of big business and chemical corruption that may become a toxic shock to anyone who knows too much.


Burn Marks Sara Paretsky

6. Burn Marks

It’s never good news when someone is knocking on your day at 3 a.m. For V.I. Warshawski, the bad news arrives in the form of her Aunt Elena. That’s because a fire just burned down a sleazy hotel and brought Elena to her doorstep.

Uncovering an arsonist, and the secrets hidden behind Elena’s boozy smile, will send V.I. into the seedy underbelly of Chicago. New schemers and old cronies will team up to get V.I. off their tail, by hook, crook, or homicide.


Guardian Angel VI Warshawski

7. Guardian Angel

Racine Avenue is undergoing gentrification and the newcomers are pressuring the old inhabitants to keep up with the pace or move. By far they’re exerting the most pressure on old Hattie Frizell, who has a special relationship with V.I. So, when Hattie slips in the bath, V.I. feels the need to help.

But neighboring lawyer Todd Pichea and his wife Chrissie are quick to get the courts to appoint them as Hattie’s legal guardians. When V.I. gets home from a business trip, she learns they put Hattie’s dogs to sleep and she furiously begins looking into their affairs.

Then the best friend of V.I.’s downstairs neighbor disappears and Mr. Contreras persuades V.I. to investigate. She is struggling alone with the most serious case of her career when V.I. uncovers a scandal linking one of Chicago’s oldest industrial families to union fraud and a politically connected bank.


Tunnel Vision Sara Paretsky

8. Tunnel Vision

V.I.’s office is scheduled to be torn down, but she refuses to leave the property. It’s there that she then finds a homeless woman and three children in the basement, who disappear. Worse, however, is when a prominent lawyer’s wife, Deirdre Messenger, turns up dead on her desk and V.I. is the prime suspect.

They volunteered together at a women’s shelter, and V.I. suspects that Deirdre’s death is linked to a case of upper-class domestic abuse that is so slickly concealed that the police refuse to believe it. V.I. is increasingly at odds with the cops, so she perseveres after truth and justice by herself.


Hard Time Sara Paretsky Books in Order

9. Hard Time

V.I. was driving too fast in her Trans Am and almost runs over a woman lying in the road. But when she gets out of her car to help, she finds the woman is already dying and that she has just gotten involved with a world of shadowy secrets and tangled lives.

She moves through the circles of the rich and the troubled, into the bitter home of a powerful Chicago family, into the pampered world of a TV star, and behind the razor wire of a women’s prison. She finds a conspiracy and explosive secrets hidden in the darkest places of all.


Total Recall VI Warshawski

10. Total Recall

At a national conference in Chicago, a man tells a story that has devastating consequences for V.I.’s cherished friend and mentor, Lotty Herschel. Lotty was nine when she emigrated from Austria to England and escaped the Nazis just before the war broke out. But the story Paul Radbuka tells threatens to unravel Lotty.

V.I. helps the only way she knows how, which is by investigating Radbuka’s past. She is already investigating a life insurance case for a poor family, but she tries to balance Lotty’s needs with her client’s. Except she finds that both are spiraling into a whirlpool of international crime that stretches from Switzerland to Germany to Chicago’s South Side.


Final thoughts

When Paretsky wrote her debut novel more than 40 years ago, there were certain expectations for female characters within the mystery genre. Paretsky defied those expectations and broke the mold.

The Sara Paretsky books in order are examples of that defiance. Her female detective Warshawski created the path for iconic 21st century female investigators who are well-rounded characters with quirks and flaws as well as brilliant deductive reasoning.

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