Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets

How do you like your mysteries? Hardboiled, with a blood chaser? Warm and cozy? Or funny and traditional, with all the clues, and some good laughs? My four mystery series have something for every reader.

I started dark with the Francesca Vierling mysteries, set at a newspaper. My Dead-End Job mysteries are funny and traditional. The Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries are sweetly cozy.

Now I'm going back to the dark side, with a new series featuring Death Investigator Angela Richman. Death investigators work for the medical examiner. They take charge of the body, photographing it, documenting the wounds, and more. The police investigate the rest of the crime scene. Angela lives in mythical Chouteau County, just west of St. Louis. The rich live in the town of Chouteau Forest, a bastion of old money. The workers live in Toonerville. But death doesn‛t discriminate between the rich and the poor. Angela works cases for the super-wealthy as well as the poor. She believes the dead can talk, and it‛s her job to examine, photograph and document their bodies, so they can tell her when and how they died. The Angela Richman series is dark, but it's not as gruesome as Patricia Cornwell‛s novels. It's closer to Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan mysteries.

Why return to this gritty world?

Because I like variety, and know you do, too. My first mystery series featured Francesca Vierling, a six-foot-tall St. Louis newspaper columnist. I wrote four hardboiled Francesca mysteries.

Tough, glamorous Francesca drives an '86 Jaguar. She investigates the murder of a transvestite in "Backstab" and the death of a RUB, a rich urban biker, in "Rubout." In "The Pink Flamingo Murders," Francesca looks into a murder that would horrify anyone fighting to improve a rundown city neighborhood: a ruthless gentrifier is stabbed with a pink plastic flamingo. Got her right in the heart with the bird's metal legs. In "Doc in the Box," bad doctors get the deaths they deserve.

The Francesca series ended after four books, but readers still enjoy it. This May, a New Yorker with lymphoma told me she gave Doc in the Box to her oncologist as a gift - or a warning.
After the hardboiled Francesca series, I worked dead-end jobs until my agent sold "Shop Till You Drop," my first Dead-End Job mystery. This series features Helen Hawthorne, a St. Louis woman on the run in South Florida. Now I was back writing traditional mysteries, cheerfully slaughtering bad bosses and annoying customers.

Helen works a different low-paying job each novel, and I've worked most of them. In "Shop Till You Drop," Helen sells bustiers to bimbos. "Murder Between the Covers," set at a bookstore, is one of my favorite jobs. Helen and I worked as telemarketers for "Dying to Call You." That was my worst job ever - I sold septic tank cleaner. In "Just Murdered," Helen and I work in the bridal department of a posh store and survive attacks by crazed bridezillas. I loved working at an upscale dog boutique for "Murder Unleashed." Helen and I were hotel housekeepers for "Murder with Reservations." We learned hotel secrets, including never use a hotel coffee pot. Spend twenty bucks for room service coffee. You‛ll thank me.

For "Clubbed to Death," Helen and I were in "customer care" at a snooty country club whose motto was "Do you know who I am?" "Killer Cuts" takes place at a hair salon where a color and cut are $300. "Half-Price Homicide" is set at a consignment shop where trophy wives sell their designer duds. It‛s the only way they can get cash from their controlling husbands.

In "Pumped for Murder," Helen's tenth adventure, she opens a private eye agency, Coronado Investigations. That opens new possibilities to keep the series fresh. Helen still works those low-paying jobs, only now she goes undercover as a PI.

"Final Sail," set aboard a 143-foot yacht, gives a crew's eye view of floating luxury. "Board Stiff" is the ultimate beach book set in the cutthroat world of beach concessions, including paddleboarding.

"Catnapped!" was fun to write, but poor Helen goes undercover in the world of cat shows and learns how to wash a long-haired cat. (You start with Goop. Seriously.) "Checked Out" is a library lover‛s dream. Helen and I volunteered at our local library.

Once the Dead-End Job series was launched, Penguin asked me to write a cozy series featuring a mystery shopper, Josie Marcus. My mother was a mystery shopper, so I was born to write this series. Besides, it would only be for three books.

Josie happily mystery-shops everything from handbags ("Dying in Style") to lingerie ("An Uplifting Murder"). Then I turned in A "Dog Gone Murder," where Josie mystery-shops dog day care. Think your pup is romping on the grassy green lawns you see on the Website? Josie says you should tour the day care center in person. With "A Dog Gone Murder," I realized my three-book series was now ten books.

I enjoyed writing all those mysteries, but I missed the dark side. Even cozies aren‛t all kittens and cupcakes. Miss Marple, the fluffy knitter who declared "I am Nemesis," relentlessly brought killers to justice.

But I was thirsting for blood. And hardheaded forensics. To return to the dark side, I took the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals, given by St. Louis University's School of Medicine.

The intense training gave me the latest forensic information. Look at the agenda for one morning, taught by medical examiners and pathologists:

Gunshot wound fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities and drowning. At lunch we watched a teen driving and alcohol video

After lunch was alcohol-related deaths, suicide, blunt-trauma fatalities and more.

I didn‛t want to write a dark series with the same old protagonists: the retired cop learning to live with his heart-wrenching divorce or the private eye who drinks to kill "the big hurt." Other writers have done those novels, and done them well.

Angela Richman is one of a kind. Janet Rudolph, head of Mystery Readers International, says she believes there are no other series featuring death investigators.

"Brain Storm," the first Angela Richman mystery, is just out from Thomas & Mercer, and getting terrific reviews. "Fire and Ashes," the second Angela mystery, will be out in 2017.

My 15th Dead-End Job mystery, "The Art of Murder," set at a quirky South Florida museum, is now in hardcover and an e-book.

I like writing about Helen Hawthorne's lighthearted adventures in South Florida, as well as Angela Richman‛s visits to the dark side.

I enjoy the best of both worlds: Light and dark. I hope you will, too.

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