With more than 25 humorous mysteries under her belt, mystery novelist Elaine Viets crosses over to the dark side with her new Death Investigator series to debut in August.
Rumor has it that you have a new mystery series debuting in August. What can you tell your readers about the main character, Angela Richman, the premise, the setting?
It’s true. Brain Storm, the first mystery in the Angela Richman Death Investigator series, will be published August 2. A death investigator is sort of a like a medical examiner’s paralegal. While the police have charge of the crime scene, the death investigator has charge of the body – documenting any wounds, photographing it, describing its condition, etc. Death investigators work with the police, but are employees of the medical examiner. They are trained, but they are not doctors.
Angela is a 41-year-old death investigator in mythical Chouteau County, Missouri, a ten-acre pocket of white privilege near St. Louis. Chouteau Forest is its main town. Angela is enough of an insider to work in the Forest, but she doesn’t belong to it. Janet Rudolph with Mystery Readers International believes this is the only series featuring a death investigator. It’s darker than my Dead-End Job mysteries, but not gory.
What will happen with the Dead-End Job series? The Mystery Shopper Series? Will we ever hear from Helen Hawthorne or Josie Marcus again?
The Art of Murder, my 15th Dead-End Job mystery, is now out in hardcover, and was on the Pub Alley Mystery Bestseller list for four weeks. To research The Art of Murder, I volunteered at the whimsical Bonnet House museum in Fort Lauderdale. Helen and her landlady Margery also star in a short story called “Good and Dead,” set in New Orleans, for the Blood on the Bayou anthology, which debuts at Bouchercon in September. The proceeds will go to the New Orleans public library.
I ended the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series after ten books. It was supposed to be a three-book series. There was still another book on the contract, but I felt I’d done everything I could with Josie by book ten, A Dog Gone Murder: Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper. In that novel, Josie is mystery shopping and living happily with her new husband, Ted. Amelia is a teenager and Josie’s mother is engaged to a good man who she loves.
I like to revisit my characters. Francesca Vierling, the protagonist of my first, darker newspaper series, will appear this September in a short story called “His Funkalicious Majesty,” in the .44 Caliber Funk anthology, set in the 1970s. It’s edited by Gary Phillips and Robert Randisi.
How does your new protagonist, Angela Richman, differ from either Helen and/or Josie?
Angela is a professional, trained investigator. Josie is an amateur sleuth, who has a knack for encountering murder. Helen started as an amateur sleuth and then became a private eye. Helen and Josie are more light-hearted than Angela. Like all my female characters, Angela has a gift for friendship. Her best friend is her colleague, Dr. Katie Kelly Stern, the assistant Chouteau County pathologist.
Last year you passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals. What did you learn during this training and how will you apply its principles to the upcoming series?
This is an intense two-credit college course given by St. Louis University’s School of Pathology. Professionals from as far away as Australia were in my class, and I met members of law enforcement, death investigators, and other forensic professionals. The one-week course went from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon, and we learned about gunshot wounds, blood spatter, suicide, auto accident fatalities, body identification and much more. I passed the course but I’m not certified to be a death investigator. I hope that my series will be an accurate account of this fascinating profession. A Texas death investigator helps me with the facts in this series.
How many books have you committed to in the Death Investigators series? How do you deal with the constant demand to produce one book after another?
So far I have a two-book contract for the Death Investigator series. The pressure is self-imposed. I like writing, which makes a difference. I’m going to try to write one book a year instead of two.
This May you were the featured guest at the fundraising Tea for TEAM event in Florissant, MO. What was that like?
I really enjoyed meeting the John Knox Presbyterian Women. They were so much fun. They worked hard to make the tea a success. They baked such beautiful cakes and pastries and made cucumber sandwiches for the tea. They gave me a warm welcome: My name was in lights on the church sign, which doesn’t happen often, and after my talk the attendees bought lots of copies of my new Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder.
In April 2017, you will be the guest of honor at the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD. Do you have any additional details at this time regarding this event?
I was stunned when I was asked to be Guest of Honor at my favorite traditional mystery conference. The other honorees are amazing: Charlaine “True Blood” Harris will get the Lifetime Achievement Award. Marcia Talley, who writes the Hannah Ives series, is Toastmaster. Luci Zahray, a poison expert who’s helped mystery writers kill thousands of people, is Fan Guest of Honor. The award-winning Martin Edwards will receive the Poirot Award. A lineup like that is a guaranteed good time.
You have transitioned from a newspaper writer and columnist to nonfiction and then onto fiction. Can you briefly describe that process? What advice could you give any wannabe authors with a half-finished manuscript in their closet?
The best advice I got was from St. Louis mystery writer John Lutz, who said, “You have to keep reinventing yourself.” I enjoyed being a newspaper columnist, but then the business began to fall apart. I was able to use my writing background to write nonfiction, and then I switched to my real love, mystery writing. My first series, featuring newspaper columnist Francesca Vierling, was a darker series. Then I wrote the humorous Dead-End Job mysteries. Penguin, my publisher, wanted me to write the cozy Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries. I enjoyed those, but I wanted to return to the dark side, and took the death investigator course as background for the Angela Richman Death Investigator series. It’s important not to get too comfortable in my career. New directions and challenges help keep my writing fresh. My advice for writers with a half-finished manuscript? Finish it! Sit down and write.
How do you spend your free time? What type of books do you turn to for pleasure reading?
Anything else you would like your readers to know? Where can you be found online?