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Welcome!

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 a year.

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 CHESAPEAKE CRIMES.

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 Hoch.

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 Hawthorne.

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 good.

(3) Helen and her landlady, Margery Flax, drink a lot of box wine by the pool. Does that really exist?

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" or "White."

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 Jobs?

Yes. I work the same jobs as Helen Hawthorne. I once got a twenty-five-cent raise for being a "team player."

(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?"

"Yes."

"Ever read THE GRAPES OF WRATH?"

"Yes."

"Steinbeck rules."

Steinbeck rules. I think about that on bad days.

(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 at www.donotcall.gov.

(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 Job books?

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 page.

(13) What’s your next Dead-End Job?

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 to bimbos.)

(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 wedding salon.)

(5) MURDER UNLEASHED (Helen works at a posh dog boutique.)

(15) Tell us about your Josie Marcus series.

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 daughter, Amelia.

Many women would kill for her job. It doesn’t pay much, but it gives Josie what she really wants – freedom.

(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 shops.

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 eviets@aol.com.

 

 

Is there really a six-toed cat named Thumbs?

Yes, indeed. The cat in the Dead-End Job series is based on a St. Louis cat. He's a handsome dog, too. In these photos, you can see his famous polydactyl paws. Thumbs is also a very literate cat. His persons, Anne and Sarah Watts-Casinger, are both librarians, and he loves to curl up with a good book.

 
 

Elaine & Harry: Partners in Crime

 
 

Harry is my writing partner. He curls up by my computer and sleeps while I work. Maybe "sleeps" isn't the right word. He mumbles, grunts, smacks his chops, yawns, rolls over and knocks things to the floor. This helps remind me that my writing needs to be action-packed and filled with dialogue, instead of one long snore.


 

 
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