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. http://amzn.to/29KudfA
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.
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