Mystery author Elaine Viets is our Book Club Friday guest author today. Elaine writes two national bestselling mystery series. Her Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her character, Helen Hawthorne, works a different low-paying job each book, from telemarketer to hotel maid. Publishers Weekly called the Dead-End Job mysteries “wry social commentary.”
Elaine’s second series features St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus. The debut book, Dying in Style, tied with Stephen King on the Independent Mystery Booksellers bestseller list. Elaine is also the recipient of Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Awards. To learn more about Elaine, visit her at her website -- AP
Helen’s Career Crossroads
“Pumped for Murder” is my tenth Dead-End Job mystery. I’d come to a career crossroads.
What was next for Helen Hawthorne?
She was no longer on the run from her awful ex-husband, but she could not go back to her corporate life in St. Louis. She was a Floridian now, living at the Coronado Tropic Apartments and joining her friends after work for a sunset salute by the pool. She’d married Phil, the love of her life, in “Half-Price Homicide.”
After a romantic honeymoon in Key Largo, Helen and Phil were back home. I faced a terrible temptation: Should I kill Phil?
His murder would give me at least three books: Helen would have to solve her husband’s murder. Then she’d learn to cope as a widow. And maybe she’d meet another man.
But I couldn’t do it. Too many readers wanted Helen happily married. One woman threatened to kill me if anything happened to Phil. I wasn’t sure how serious she was, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
I could also kill off one of Helen’s friends. Maybe her Marlboro-smoking landlady, Margery. After all, she’s seventy-six. But Margery is many readers’ fantasy mother, the wise woman who loves life.
I could bump off Margery’s sweet, ditzy friend, Elsie, who was fond of outrageous outfits. Or Helen’s red-headed friend, who had a habit of dating the wrong men. She’d be a perfect victim.
But I couldn’t. To me, Helen’s friends are real. Losing one would be painful and I write these mysteries for my entertainment as well as yours.
What was I going to do with Helen and Phil? The answer was right next door to me.
Don and I lived in a condo on the beach at Hollywood, Florida. Our next-door neighbor was a Canadian pilot. Every winter, he arrived with his Harley and his Porsche and stayed until Easter, when all the snowbirds went home. Our neighbor was quiet and considerate. He washed his sports car with a bucket of soapy water every week. “You’ve got to remove the salt,” he told me. “It will rust out your car.”
One winter, our Canadian snowbird didn’t arrive. Instead, a dark-haired woman moved into his condo. Our neighbor had been arrested for flying drugs into the US.
We were stunned. We’d never suspected he was anything but a guy with a clean car.
But now I understood why Florida has more private eyes than any state except California. We’re a rootless place. We never know if our neighbors are drug dealers or sun-loving snowbirds.
Also, the warm winters attract many retired police officers who open their own Florida detective agencies. They live on their pensions until their new business succeeds.
My neighbor with the clean car and the bad habit sent my series in a new direction.
Helen and Phil could open their own private eye agency. Phil was a licensed private eye who’d been fired from a big agency when he refused to kidnap the twenty-something daughter of a corporate executive and bring her home. The woman was not in danger. She was dating someone her father didn’t like.
Phil and Helen started Coronado Investigations. Helen was his trainee. She still works those dead-end jobs, but now she’s undercover as a private investigator. In “Pumped for Murder” she works as a receptionist at a gym and investigates the world of extreme bodybuilding. She and Phil also work a cold case from 1986, a suicide that might be murder.
During a sunset salute, Margery says, “I love it that Florida private investigators are licensed by the Department of Agriculture. They regulate vegetables, fruit, milk, pawnbrokers, dance studios, shellfish and pest control.”
“I assume we come under pest control,” Phil said.
“Should be food service, as often as your wife is in the soup,” the landlady said.
Thanks for stopping by today, Elaine. Makes you wonder about our neighbors, doesn't it? -- AP