Sunday, June 5, 2011

High Five by Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets writes two mystery series, the Dead-End Job mysteries and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries. Read the first chapter and check out the book trailer for “Pumped for Murder” at  

High Five
By Elaine Viets

Which book marks the turning point in a mystery series?

I’ve heard experts argue that book 2, book 3, or even 5 is the crucial novel.

I’m book 10 in my Dead-End Job mystery series, and I want Helen Hawthorne to keep working those lousy jobs.

Helen is running from the court and her ex-husband, Rob. The divorce judge gave Helen’s unfaithful husband half her future income. Helen, an executive who once made six figures, ran to South Florida and worked dead-end jobs to avoid paying Rob.

“Shop till You Drop,” my first Dead-End Job mystery, had a lucky start in 2003.

It was nominated for an Agatha Award.

Book 2 can be hurt by a sophomore slump. “Murder Between the Covers,” my second DEJ mystery, survived that test. Helen and I worked at a bookstore and loved that job.

The third mystery can be a series killer, said Molly Weston, reviewer and author escort. “Authors have time to write, rewrite and polish book 1 before sending it out. While they wait for it to sell, authors write book 2. Again, plenty of time to refine. Then book 1 sells and the authors have to market it and write book 3. Often there’s no time to refine.”

“Dying to Call You,” my third Dead-End Job mystery, made it over that hurdle.

Helen and I sold septic tank cleaner in a telephone boiler room. That got us cursed from Maine to California.

“Dying to Call You” is both darker and more hopeful than my first two DEJ novels. That’s where Helen met Phil Sagemont while tending bar undercover. Er, uncovered. She was a topless bartender trying to find a killer. A mortified Helen covered herself with soda bottles.

(No, I didn’t work that dead-end job.)

Book 5 is the true turning point, says mystery reviewer Oline Cogdill. That’s when series either grow stronger or falter. “Murder Unleashed” was my fifth DEJ mystery. Helen and I worked in a dog boutique.

That novel was definitely a turning point. My paperback series was first published in hardback.

Did I write a “better” book?

No. I expected “Murder Unleashed” would be a paperback. My publisher made it hardcover.

For “Murder with Reservations,” Helen and I cleaned 38 hotel rooms and scrubbed 17 toilets a day – and learned that hotel maids barely earn minimum wage. “If everyone tipped me a dollar a room, it would make a big difference,” one said.

“I’m trying to stay off welfare. I want my daughter to be proud of me.”

We did no heavy lifting at the snobbish country club for “Clubbed to Death,” but the club members were a burden. One doctor flew into a rage when he heard his wife might see their  monthly bill. He’d spent $3,000 to help his office manager “perform better.”

At what? I wondered.

For “Killer Cuts,” Helen and I were gofers at a Miami hair salon where color and a cut were $300. The super rich could be amazingly cheap. One woman tipped her stylist six Burger King coupons when he should have had $60.

“Why do you put up with her?” I asked him.

“She amuses me,” he said. “And when she doesn’t, I’ll dye her hair orange.”

“Half-Price Homicide,” book 9, was a milestone. Helen overcame her bitterness and married Phil in a dramatic wedding. Helen and I worked at a designer consignment shop where women worshiped labels like True Religion.

Book 10, “Pumped for Murder,” brings me to a double crossroads. Helen Hawthorne is no longer on the run from her awful ex. She is a Floridian now. She and Phil have started Coronado Investigations. Phil already has his private eye license.

Helen is a trainee. She still works dead-end jobs – as a private investigator.

Their first client is a wife whose husband has an intense interest in working out – and no interest in her. Helen works as a receptionist at his gym and explores the world of extreme bodybuilding. Coronado Investigations also struggles with a 1986 cold case, a suicide that might be murder.

Their landlady, Margery Flax, 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,” Margery said.



Bobbi Mumm said...

Elaine, lovely to read your post here on Kaye's site. Coincidentally, I read one of your books this week. My first! Killer Cuts. You made King so horrid I was really glad to say goodbye to that fellow. I look forward to reading more.

Elaine Viets said...

Hi, Bobbi,
I enjoyed killing King. I have a great deal of job satisfaction. Thanks for stopping by.

Msmstry said...

What a good recap of your series, Elaine! Not only has each book passed its milestone with flying colors, each has a different plot, interesting new characters—both villains and angels—and endearing continuing folks.

And, Kaye, you are great at bringing a great mix of wonderful folks to your blog posts.

Thanks to both of you for many happy hours of reading

Elaine Viets said...

Thanks, Molly. Glad you still enjoy my books -- you read so many mysteries.
Kaye has a real knack for throwing a cyber-party, doesn't she?

jenny milchman said...

Anything Oline Cogdill says I tend to trust. I must admit, I hadn't thought about many of the issues you raise. I'm thinking how they apply to my two favorite series, Lee Child's and Louise Penny's...Thanks for the post, Elaine, and Kaye, for hosting the greatest lineup ever, as always!

Coco Ihle said...

Elaine, I love your books and can't wait to read, Pumped for Murder! Keep 'em coming!!!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Elaine - Welcome! Always fun to have you here, and I always enjoy reading whatever you write - books AND blogs.

Molly - thank you, cutie! If I could only spend all the "real" time with these guys like you do, instead of just virtual time, I would be one happy gal.

Bobbi & Jenny & Co - always happy to see your smiling faces here!