Thursday, July 28, 2016

Going Back to the Dark Side: Guest Post by Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 29 books three series: the dark Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries, the traditional, humorous Dead-End Job mysteries, and the cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries. She returns to the dark side with Brain Storm, the first mystery in her Angela Richman, death investigator series, and her 30th novel. Pre-order the Brain Storm e-book for $1.99 through August 1.

Elaine Viets:
Going Back to the Dark Side

I'm going home – and my home is dark, violent and bloody. After twenty-four cozy and traditional mysteries, I'm writing dark mysteries again: the Angela Richman, Death Investigator series.

My first series, the Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries, was hardboiled. When Random House bought Bantam Dell and wiped out that division, I switched to the funny, traditional Dead-End Job mysteries, featuring Helen Hawthorne. The Art of Murder, the 15th Dead-End Job novel, is just out in hardcover. I also wrote ten cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries.

I love both series, but I never abandoned the dark side. I wrote dark short stories for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block. I wanted to spend more time on the dark side, but I didn’t want to do another police procedural or a private eye with a dead wife or a drinking problem. Other writers had done those and done them well.

Angela Richman, my new protagonist, is a death investigator in mythical Chouteau Country, Missouri, stronghold of the over-privileged and the people who serve them. Brain Storm, the first mystery in the new death investigator series, debuts August 2.

My death investigator mysteries aren't too gory – not like Patricia Cornwell's "I boiled my dead boyfriend's head." This series is closer to Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan series.

Many readers aren't familiar with death investigators, but the profession practices nationwide. At a murder the death investigator is in charge of the body, and the police handle the rest of the crime scene. The DI photographs the body, documents its wounds, and records the body core temperature, clothing and more. Death investigators work for the medical examiner. They are trained professionals, but do not have medical degrees. I wanted the training – and the contacts – to make the new series accurate. Last January, I passed the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals at St. Louis University, a two-credit college course.

Now that I'm writing dark again, my writing has changed. Here's what happens when I jumped from cozies to hard-boiled:

My characters can cuss. Angela Richman's best friend and colleague is Katie, Chouteau County assistant medical examiner Dr. Katherine Kelly Stern. Pathologists tend to be eccentric, and Katie is based on a real pathologist who’d perfected the art of swearing. Her profanity was a mood indicator. I could tell how angry she was by whether she used "fricking," "freaking," or the ultimate F-bomb and how often she employed these and other cuss words. Oddly enough, when she swore, the words didn't sound offensive.

Katie cusses with style and grace in Brain Storm.

Body counts. In cozy and traditional mysteries, the murders take place offstage. In the new death investigator series, readers aren't forced to take a blood bath, but they will see crime scenes and forensic procedures. They'll get a firsthand look at the sights, sounds, even the smells of death.

Real weapons. In cozy mysteries, when Josie Marcus battles killers, she resorts to “domestic violence," using kitchen tools, gardening equipment, and whatever she can grab for weapons.

Helen Hawthorne in the Dead-End Job mysteries is a little bolder. She's armed with pepper spray to take down killers, though in Checked Out she did get sprayed with her own weapon.

In Brain Storm, when Angela confronted the killer, she was in an office, surrounded by the standard supplies: waste baskets, chairs, coffee mugs, letter openers. I was prepared to have Angela grab one, when it dawned on me: Wait! This isn't a cozy.

You can use firepower.

So Angela shot the killer in the head. It felt so good.


Kaye George said...

Love it! Wishing you much success with Angela!

Elaine Viets said...

Thanks, Kaye. It's a departure from my usual mysteries, but I hope you'll enjoy it.

Marja said...

I sincerely appreciate the fact that you take on jobs so your stories will be authentic, even though fictional. I hope that makes sense. Looking forward to your new series.
Marja McGraw

David Madara said...

Can't wait to read my copy...

Msmstry said...

Such a great book--on several levels--and it's totally compelling! Elaine, all good luck.

Janet, thanks for bringing this to the forefront!

Elaine Viets said...

Thank you, Molly Weston. So glad you read -- and liked -- BRAIN STORM.

Elaine Viets said...

I can't wait till you read BRAIN STORM, David. Let me know what you think.

Elaine Viets said...

Your comment definitely makes sense, Marja. As a reader, if facts are correct, they pull me out of the story. I know it's not possible to get everything perfect, but I try to get it right.

Teresa Inge said...

Can't wait to read this!!

Carol N Wong said...

I have always loved your cozy books and I also read on the dark side to a certain degree. Now I want to read your new book.

Elaine Viets said...

I think you'll like BRAIN STORM, Teresa Inge. And if you don't, you let me know.

Elaine Viets said...

BRAIN STORM is darker than my cozies, but not too dark, Carol. No sex, some cussing, and lots of forensics, but not the gory kind.

Dianne Casey said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Looking forward to reading.