As a young girl, Elaine Viets was taught the
virtues of South St. Louis: the importance of hard work, housecleaning,
and paying cash. She managed to forget almost everything she
learned, which is why she turned to mystery writing.
Living in South Florida has not improved her
character. But it has given her the bestselling Dead-End Job
series. Like her amateur detective, Helen Hawthorne, Elaine
actually works those rotten jobs. Perhaps her early training
has given her a lifelong fascination with jobs. She and Helen
both know working for a living can be murder.
To research her novels, Elaine has been everything
from a salesclerk to a survey taker. Her first book in the
series is SHOP
TILL YOU DROP, a novel of sex, murder and plastic surgery.
It's set at a fashionable dress shop that caters to kept women.
Book two, MURDER
BETWEEN THE COVERS, takes place at a bookstore. Elaine
worked at a Barnes & Noble in Hollywood, Florida, for
For the third, DYING
TO CALL YOU, Helen works as a telemarketer. Elaine sold
septic tank cleaner and did telephone surveys. She actually
asked women if they shaved their armpits. In the fourth Dead-End
Job mystery, JUST
MURDERED, Elaine and Helen explore big-money matrimony
for better or worse. Elaine did her research in Zola Keller’s
posh bridal salon in Fort Lauderdale.
The fifth Dead-End Job mystery, Murder Unleashed, is set at an expensive dog boutique in Fort Lauderdale.
For the fifth novel, Elaine and Helen go to
the dogs. MURDER
UNLEASHED is set at a high-end dog boutique, where people
spend two hundred dollars for canine cuisine, women sneak
illegal pets into condos using high-priced designer purses,
and the dogs at the store have bigger wardrobes than the salesclerks.
MURDER UNLEASHED is Elaine's first hardcover mystery. Publishers
Weekly calls it “wry social commentary.”
Although Elaine lives in Fort Lauderdale, her
heart – and her viewpoint – remain in the Midwest.
Like Helen Hawthorne, another transplanted St. Louisan, she
observes the outrageously rich Florida culture (and lack thereof)
with wide-eyed fascination.
Elaine’s second series takes her back
to work in St. Louis. It features Josie Marcus, a mystery
shopper and single mom. The debut novel, DYING
IN STYLE, tied with Stephen King on the bestseller list
for the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association.
Elaine won both the Agatha and the Anthony
Awards for her short story, "Wedding Knife," in
Some honors don’t come with plaques and
award banquets. Elaine was thrilled when her short story,
"After the Fall," was featured on the same cover
of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as the master, Ed
Her short story, "Red Meat," is in
BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS, the Mystery Writers of America anthology
edited by Lawrence Block. "Blonde Moment" is in
the MWA anthology, SHOW BUSINESS IS MURDER, edited by Stuart
Kaminsky. "Sex and Bingo" is featured in the HIGH
STAKES gambling anthology. And if you've ever wondered about
the early life of purple-loving landlady Margery Flax, read
"Killer Blonde" in DROP-DEAD BLONDE.
Elaine has served on the national boards of
the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She lives
in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with her husband, actor Don Crinklaw,
where they collect speeding tickets.
Please buy her novels so she can pay her MasterCard.
FAQs for the
Dead-End Job Series
(1) Why did you set your Dead-End Job
series in South Florida?
My first mystery series was set in St. Louis.
But readers expect the Midwest to have standards, morals,
and taste. South Florida has none of these handicaps. That's
why my Dead-End Job series hit the national bestseller lists
– no standards, no morals and especially no taste. I
have actually seen a 70-year-old man on a Florida beach wearing
nothing but a leopard thong and gold chains.
(2) Tell us about your heroine, Helen
Helen used to make six figures at her job in
St. Louis, until she came home from work early one day. Her
husband, Rob, was supposed to be working on the back deck.
Instead, he was nailing their neighbor, Sandy. Helen picked
up a crowbar and, well –
Now Helen is on the run in South Florida, working
dead-end jobs to stay out of the computers and away from her
ex-husband and the court. Both want her, but not for anything
(3) Helen and her landlady, Margery
Flax, drink a lot of box wine by the pool. Does that really
It’s nice to know some readers have such
good taste they’ve never guzzled box wine. Wine does
come in cardboard boxes with plastic spigots. Instead of a
vintage year, box wine has an expiration date. It also has
no pretensions to grapeness. The box says "Red"
One of my tasteful editors didn’t believe
box wine existed. I sent a box to her in New York. The shipping
cost more than the wine. A staffer who tried it said, "Who’s
your vintner, Jim Jones?"
(4) Do you really work those Dead-End
Yes. I work the same jobs as Helen Hawthorne.
I once got a twenty-five-cent raise for being a "team
(5) I love the wacky characters in
your book, including Margery, Helen's purple-loving landlady,
Peggy the parrot lady, and Phil the invisible pothead. Are
they peculiar to Florida?
How many women walk around with parrots on
their shoulder in Omaha?
Florida has hundreds of little apartment complexes
like the Coronado Tropic Apartments, where Helen lives. You'll
find many variations on Margery Flax, Helen's seventy-six-year-old
landlady. Margery's name belongs to a real Manhattan mystery
lover, who is about twenty years younger than the landlady
in my series. The real Margery Flax insisted that my character
wear purple, which I thought was a nice touch. Margery likes
most things about her character except the car. She wants
my Margery to drive a red Ferrari. I explained that it's a
Florida state law – if you're over seventy, you have
to drive a big white car.
(6) In MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS, Helen
works as a bookseller. Do you really think bookselling is
a Dead-End Job?
Only the way I did it. I kept jamming the cash
register. I worked at Barnes & Noble in Hollywood, Florida,
for more than a year. I now have the greatest respect for
booksellers. They have to be smart and tough. Most people
don't realize bookselling is hard physical labor. I have the
sore back and varicose veins to prove it. Most books weigh
about a pound. Try hauling a stack of those around the store
and see how you feel.
(7) After working in a bookstore, do
you think people still read?
I'm amazed how many readers are out there.
I put my favorite bookstore story in MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS.
Two boys came up to my cash register. One was
about eight. He was buying "The Adventures of Captain
Underpants." The older boy was about twelve. I said to
him, "Are you a Captain Underpants fan, too?"
“That's kid stuff," he said. "Every
hear of Steinbeck?"
"Ever read THE GRAPES OF WRATH?"
Steinbeck rules. I think about that on bad
(8) Did you really work as a telemarketer
for DYING TO CALL YOU?
Yes, I was cursed from coast to coast.
(9) What should I do if a telemarketer
calls me at dinnertime?
Never, ever, be rude. A telemarketer can stick
you on a call-back list and you will be pursued by phone calls
to your grave.
Politely but firmly say these magic words:
"Take me off this list." They work. Telemarketers
are required by law to remove you from that list. Better yet,
they are terrified that you taped the conversation and will
sue them. "Take me off this list" is the key to
world phone peace.
Don’t forget to put your cell and home
phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry. Sign on
(10) Why did you kill the mother of
the bride in JUST MURDERED?
Doesn’t everyone want to do that?
(11) Except mothers of the bride.
Oh, no. They want to kill their mothers.
(12) Where can I get your Dead-End
At fine stores everywhere. If they don't carry
them, make a scene. Or you can order them directly from this
Website by following the bookcover links on the Novels
(13) What’s your next Dead-End
Hotel maid. Promise me two things:
You will never, ever sleep on a hotel bedspread.
You will always tip the maid. Give her at
least two dollars a day. This is hard labor. It’s not
like cleaning house. It’s like cleaning fifteen houses
in one day.
(14) In what order should I read your
Dead-End Job books?
You can read one book without the rest of the
series. If you want to read them in order, start with:
(1) SHOP TILL YOU DROP (Helen sells bustiers
(2) MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS (Helen works
at a bookstore.)
(3) DYING TO CALL YOU (Helen works as a
telemarketer and survey taker.)
(4) JUST MURDERED (Helen works at an expensive
(5) MURDER UNLEASHED (Helen works at a posh
(15) Tell us about your Josie Marcus
Josie Marcus is a St. Louis single mom and
a mystery shopper. Mystery shoppers, or secret shoppers, evaluate
store service, cleanliness, etc. Josie considers herself a
one-woman consumer protection agency, making sure the consumer
she calls Mrs. Minivan is treated properly. She lives in suburban
Maplewood with her shopaholic mother and her nine-year-old
Many women would kill for her job. It doesn’t
pay much, but it gives Josie what she really wants –
(16) Did you work as a mystery shopper?
No, but my mother did. She shopped the stores
with her best friend, sort of like Josie and her friend, Alyce.
This was back in the 1960s. It’s amazing how little
the mystery-shopper questionnaires have changed in forty years.
(17) You don’t have kids, so
how can you write about a nine-year-old for the Josie books?
I borrowed one from a friend. Her parents offered
her on a long-term loan, until she turned twenty-one.
Seriously, Emma is now ten years old. She’s
my advisor. She’s enormously helpful and absolutely
charming. She tells me what kids listen to on the radio and
watch on TV, where they shop, how they throw a birthday party,
what they do to irritate their parents. I wish I could show
you her photo and use her real name, but the world and the
Web are dangerous places these days.
(18) Why did you set your new series
in St. Louis?
I’m a St. Louis native. I left the city
more than ten years ago, but part of me is still there. I
set my new series in Maplewood, an older suburb on the edge
of the city. Maplewood is a cool place. It’s like a
small town in the big city. St. Louisans love our beer, so
it’s no surprise Maplewood has its own brewery, the
Schlafly Bottleworks. We also eat for recreation, so there
are plenty of good restaurants, along with intriguing little
Josie and I were proud to receive the key to
the city of Maplewood for our series. I have it framed in
my office. Maplewood Mayor Mark Langston declared October
24 Elaine Viets Day, and stood in line and personally bought
a book. That really impressed me.
October 24, 2005, was the day Hurricane Wilma
ripped through Fort Lauderdale, wrecked the ceilings in our
condo and destroyed our air-conditioning system. I can’t
wait to celebrate next year.
(19) Do you read mysteries?
I'm an addict. I have to have a mystery to
read at all times. I get twitchy if I can't find a good one.
It's not easy feeding my habit. I read between four and five
books a week.
I like mysteries with strong, smart women.
I hate bimbos who wander half-clad into the house where the
serial killer is hiding. ("Hmmm. There may be a dangerous
killer who strangled sixteen women hiding in the attic. Think
I'll take a look.")
I also like a little humor. Murder is a serious
business, but a laugh can get you through the grim times.
I write the kind of mysteries I like to read.
I hope you’ll like them, too.
Got a question? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.