by Sandra Murphy
This week we are reviewing Elaine Viets new book, Checked Out, along with a previous book that was just released in paperback, Catnapped. We also have a fun and very interesting interview with Elaine between the 2 reviews.Details at the end of this post on how to win copies of both, along with links to purchase the books from Mysterious Galaxy where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Checked Out by Elaine Viets
Review by Sandra Murphy
After Davis Kingsley’s death (natural causes), his daughter-in-law donates his books to the Flora Park Library. She and her husband had inherited the house and its contents so that was a generous thing to do, plus it got a lot of trashy novels out of the house so she could redecorate.
Elizabeth, Davis’ daughter, inherited a John Singer Sargent painting. It was from his post-portrait series and featured alligators on the river bank. Worth quite a bit as is, it was more valuable because Davis won the painting in a poker game–from Clark Gable! It’s signed to that effect on the back.
Now Elizabeth thinks Davis put the painting in a book so she hires P.I. Helen Hawthorne to find it. After all, there are only 1,000 books in 300 boxes. Helen signs on as a volunteer at the library to keep the investigation quiet, but too bad Elizabeth has a big mouth and is telling people the painting is in the library. To make matters worse, there’s a ghost there too. Helen has her doubts because food is missing and a small television isn’t to be found. No one can find a live person so the ghost story flourishes.
The library is in need of help itself. Some of the board members want to refurbish and some are holding out for a new library building. To help sway the vote, Lisa asks for a séance. She thinks the ghost is Flora herself, back to save the library. Who would have thought there were so many politics in the library? The rich are truly different and often rude.
Meanwhile, Phil’s (Phil is Helen’s husband and they are a PI team) been hired to find an expensive necklace made with diamonds and rubies. It was a twenty-first birthday gift for Bree Coakley. Bree is less than grateful for her gift. After all, Paris Hilton had five birthday parties with A-list guests, held in five different cities. Bree got a measly one party even though her cake had twenty-one tiers just like Paris’. The necklace goes missing after the party and the suspects are plentiful, if not A-list. There were drugs by the handful and drinks by the gallon so anybody could have walked off with the jewels.
Back at the Coronado, Margery has rented out the last unit. Marcos is a handsome dude and into food, which sounds good until Phil finds kale chips and hummus on the snack menu. Buttered popcorn is more his style.
Of course, there has to be a murder. This one involves a hit and run with the “ghost” from the library as the victim. She’s found the painting but dies before she can tell Helen where she hid it. Now Helen has to find the murderer and the painting.
Phil is getting busier too. There are thefts, both large and small, the sale of beer to underage drinkers, and everybody has a motive for everything. What looks to be a nice, quiet library job and a search for a missing necklace, turns into a whole lot more!
This is book fourteen in the series. Helen and Phil are a delight. Marcos is a great addition to the tenants at the Coronado, in spite of the health food thing he has going on. Margery is, as always, a force to be reckoned with and totally unique. Just when you think Helen’s worked every dead end job possible, she comes up with another and an equally intriguing murder to go with it!
Use this link to purchase this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & you are supporting an indie bookstore:
Interview With Elaine Viets
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Elaine: I’ve been writing novels since 1997. Before that I was a newspaper reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for co-authoring a five-part series about the Church of Scientology. I became a humor columnist and then a syndicated columnist for United Media in New York.
KRL: Wow you have quite the past! When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Elaine: My first novel, Backstab, was set in my hometown of St. Louis. It was a Dell paperback original featuring a six-foot-tall newspaper columnist named Francesca Vierling – a real creative stretch since I was a six-foot tall newspaper columnist. My four Francesca novels are darker than my Dead-End Job series. Rubout is set at the St. Louis Leather and Lace Bikers’ Ball. Yes, that’s a real event and I’ve attended it. In The Pink Flamingo Murders, a woman gentrifying a neighborhood is stabbed with a pink plastic lawn flamingo. (It’s possible. The little metal legs can slide right through the ribs into the heart.) In Doc in the Box I killed bad doctors. I was working on my fifth Francesca mystery when Random House wiped out the entire division. The Francesca books are still in print.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not, what else have you written?
Elaine: No, I did several nonfiction books, including two collections of my newspaper columns: Urban Affairs, where I was photographed at the local hot sheet motel, and The Viets Guide to Sex, Travel, and Anything Else That Will Sell This Book. That last title caused me problems when creepy old men would overlook the comma and tell me, “I want the book on sex travel.” Boy, were they disappointed!
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Elaine: When my Francesca Vierling series was cancelled after four books in 1999, I was devastated. I went to work at a bookstore selling other authors’ novels, and discovered “clerk abuse.” If customers had a bad day at home or at work, they’d take it out on the bookstore clerk. Working at that bookstore was the inspiration for my long-running Dead-End Job mysteries, set in South Florida.
My character, Helen Hawthorne, is a forty-one-year-old St. Louis woman, and we have other things in common besides our hometown. I’ve worked most of those dead-end jobs with Helen. Helen and I aren’t exactly alike. I’m happily married. When the series starts, Helen is on the run from a bad divorce. She caught her unfaithful husband, Rob, who was supposed to be working on the back deck, nailing their next-door neighbor Sandy. Helen hurt him in the worst possible way for a man: She picked up a crowbar and destroyed his SUV. When she divorced Rob, the judge, who’d been dropped on his head at birth, gave Rob half of Helen’s future income.
Helen was determined that her cheating ex would not see a nickel. She wound up in South Florida at the Coronado Tropic Apartments, where she worked dead-end jobs for cash under the table.
When the series starts Helen is a bitter divorcee, but eventually she finds love and marries private eye Phil Sagemont. She becomes a private detective, too, and they start their own company, Coronado Investigations. Helen still works dead-end jobs, but now she goes undercover as a detective.
KRL: Please share with us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Elaine: Checked Out is my labor of love. My 14th Dead-End Job mystery is set at a library in South Florida. I’ve loved libraries since I walked into the St. Ann branch of the St. Louis County Library. I was six years old and couldn’t believe all those books were mine to read. I’ve been going to libraries ever since. I still read four or five books a week.
In Checked Out, private eye Helen Hawthorne is hired to look for a John Singer Sargent watercolor, “Muddy Alligators,” worth a million dollars. When Sargent was in his mid-forties, he switched from painting beautiful society women to landscapes and ugly alligators. “Muddy Alligators” is hidden in a book that was donated to the Flora Park Library, along with hundreds of others.
Helen goes undercover as a volunteer at the library, the former home of Gilded Age society beauty Flora Portland. The library is supposed to be haunted by Flora’s ghost. The library has an “organic mouse catcher” – that’s a cat. One person finds the painting before Helen does and is murdered. Helen now has to find a killer and the valuable painting. Helen’s husband and PI partner, Phil Sagemont, works another case with a stolen ruby necklace. Phil has to cope with two rich, spoiled young women.
To research Checked Out, I volunteered at my local library, the Galt Ocean Mile Reading Center. I was a shelver and highly prized for my skills: I could reach the top shelf.
I gained a real appreciation for librarians’ dedication. They enjoy finding the right books for readers and go to great lengths to protect patrons’ privacy. If you want to know what I’ve checked out, the librarians won’t tell you. If the police want to know, they have to get a warrant. That’s a good thing, since I check out lots of books about how to kill people.
KRL: LOL. Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Elaine: I write to entertain, but I also want to give readers an understanding of the minimum-wage world. Publishers Weekly calls my books “wry social commentary.”
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Elaine: I get up about eight, have breakfast and start work about ten a.m. After an hour of getting sucked into Facebook and cat videos, I write until one o’clock, when I stop for tea. Then I go back to work until three o’clock when I break for lunch. I write from four to seven p.m., then go for a walk along the water or work out at the gym. I write seven or eight hours a day, seven days a week.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Elaine: I outline, but that outline is a road map, and if I don’t like where it’s going, I turn off that road and go in a different direction. I write traditional mysteries that have all the clues to the murder, with enough red herrings to lead readers to the wrong conclusion. I love it when readers say, “I couldn’t guess the ending.”
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Elaine: I like writing midmorning, between ten and noon. Second best time is late at night. I live in Florida in a condo on the Intracoastal Waterway, and the black water looks sinister, especially when I see go-fast boats with no running lights on moonless nights.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Elaine: It was nerve-wracking. My agent, David Hendin, shopped Backstab, my first mystery, to six major publishers. One by one, the major publishers turned it down. I’d wait to hear about each rejection, hoping the next one would buy it. There were six major publishers in New York then. Five turned down my novel and David said if the last publisher didn’t buy it, I’d have to rewrite it. The sixth, Dell, bought it and I’ve been writing mysteries ever since.
KRL: Most interesting book signing story in a bookstore or other venue?
Elaine: I saw a drug bust during a signing in Fort Lauderdale. I was at Well-Read Books, near Port Everglades. It was a sunny summer evening and the signing was outside. The police stopped a car and forced it into the parking lot by the bookstore. The police patted down the driver, who wore cargo pants and pulled a large whitish burrito-like roll out of one pocket. Next, the cops patted down the woman. The couple was arrested and the car was towed.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Elaine: I’m going back to the dark side. My agent is shopping a new dark series featuring Death Investigator Angela Richman. Death investigators work out of the medical examiner’s office. At a death scene, the DI takes charge of the body, documenting the wounds, photographing it, etc. The police investigate the rest of the scene. To research this series, I took the MedicoLegal Death Investigator Training Course for forensic professionals, given by St. Louis University’s School of Medicine. I’m also starting my next Dead-End Job mystery, The Art of Murder. The fifteenth Dead-End Job mystery takes place at an offbeat museum with a romantic history.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Elaine: Charlaine Harris, who had a successful career as a mystery writer, but wanted to write vampire novels. It took her two years to get her first Sookie Stackhouse novel published, but her persistence paid off. One reason I admire Charlaine, besides her persistence, is that success didn’t change her. Charlaine said, “The best thing about success is now I can buy all the hardcovers I want.”
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Elaine: I’m a former reporter, and my novels are entertaining reporting. I try to give readers insights into the lives of the invisible but important people who work low-paying jobs. My Dead-End Job series has fourteen novels, all in print and e-books.
For Shop till You Drop, the first book in the series, I sold bustiers to bimbos. I was thrilled when Shop made the Palm Beach Post’s list of 16 Florida Must Read Books, along with John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard.
Murder Between the Covers is about my bookstore experience, when I worked at Barnes & Noble. For Dying to Call You, Helen and I sold septic tank cleaner. Just Murdered is set at a wedding dress shop. These first four books were paperbacks.
Reviewer Oline Cogdill believes that the fifth book is crucial in a series, and it was for me. My Dead-End Job mysteries went from paperback to hardcover with Murder Unleashed, set at a fancy dog boutique. For Murder with Reservations, Helen and I worked as hotel maids, and let me tell you, everything you’ve heard about hotel bedspreads is true. I’d rather sleep in a dumpster than under one of those. Also, promise me you’ll never, ever use a hotel coffee pot.
Wanna know why? Sure you do. You’re dying of curiosity. I worked with an absent-minded maid who’d clean the toilet and then use the same rag to clean the coffee pot. Walk a block and buy the six-dollar coffee at Starbucks. You’ll thank me.
Clubbed to Death is set at a snotty South Florida county club where I solved the problems of people who had no problems.
Killer Cuts is at an upscale hair salon where a color and cut are $300. I was an assistant to a delightfully crazy Cuban hairstylist. My dead-end job was fetching heavy issues of Vogue and glasses of water for the customers. Grueling.
Half-Price Homicide is set at a designer consignment shop. That’s the novel where Helen and Phil finally marry. Pumped for Murder is Coronado Investigations’ first case, in the world of women’s competition bodybuilding.
Fort Lauderdale calls itself the Venice of America, and Final Sail takes place aboard a 123-foot yacht. A friend is a yacht chef and her husband is a captain and they gave me a look into the world of the super-rich. Every time a guest uses a restroom on the yacht, the staff radios a stewardess, who cleans the commode, the sink, changes the towels, empties the wastebasket and if the guest uses the soap, replaces it with another $15 bar. You’d be surprised how many guests don’t wash their hands.
Board Stiff is the ultimate beach book: It’s about the cutthroat business of beach concessions. I read in the paper that a parasail operator sabotaged a competitor’s parasailing equipment right before spring break. I figured it was only a short step from sabotage to murder. Helen and I took stand-up paddleboard lessons for Board Stiff and I stayed up for 45 minutes – the greatest athletic feat of my life.
For Catnapped!, I wrote about cat shows. My husband and I have a copper-eyed Chartreux named Mystery. She was bred to be a show cat, but bit a judge at her first show and was thrown out of the ring. We were allowed to adopt her. That’s her picture on the cover of Catnapped!
KRL: How fun! What do you read?
Elaine: Mostly mysteries. My favorite authors include Agatha Christie, Ann Cleeves, who has two series currently on PBS, Vera and Shetland, Frances Brody and her Kate Shakleton series, Michael Connelly, David Ellis’s legal thrillers and Charlaine Harris.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Elaine: House of Cards, Murdoch Mysteries, Downton Abbey, and True Blood are a few favorite TV shows. For movies, I like Burn! with Marlon Brando, anything with Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, and Helen Mirren with a machine gun in Red. Helen is my role model.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Elaine: If you’re serious about writing, you’ll make time to write instead of excuses. Write every day and it will become a habit, then keep working to perfect your craft.
KRL: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Elaine: As long as people read my books, I’m happy, whether they read paperbacks, hardcovers or e-books.
KRL: Do you read e-books yourself?
Elaine: No, I love the feel of a real book. I want the full book experience. I like to hold a new book in my hands and snort it. The smell of ink is intoxicating.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Elaine: Check out the free “Libraries Are Like Vegas” poster on my Website at www.elaineviets.com.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Elaine: I rode with a thousand bikers from Wilmington, Delaware, to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Elaine:I try to write the best written, funniest mysteries I can and hope you’ll like them.
Catnapped! by Elaine Viets
Review by Sandra Murphy
Justine is a Chartreux cat, cuter than can be. She’s also the middle of a custody battle and ugly divorce between Trish and Mort. The judge awarded joint ownership. It’s insulting to think that the courts view Justine as property, not progeny. Nancy is Trish’s attorney and what a shark she is! Now Mort’s in trouble because he’s late returning Justine from her weekend visit.
Nancy hires Helen and Phil, PI duo, to convince Mort to return the cat. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that. Mort is dead, conked with a cat tree and Justine is missing–a case of catnapping!
Helen and Phil now have a double assignment–find out who killed Mort and get Justine back from the kitty-nappers. Helen goes undercover to work as cat bather for Dee, who shows Persian cats. The show circuit has more cattiness than Hollywood. It’s a good thing the cats were trained from birth how to behave during a bath, blow drying and comb out. Still, Helen looks like a furball herself every night on the way home.
Mort was a good guy, who mostly made money for his clients. Of course, no one is perfect. Trish is a likely suspect because she’s over the top in regards to Justine (the police didn’t look kindly on her request/demand for an Amber Alert for a cat) and because Mort had many other interests (women) in his spare time. One is a pole dancer, one works with Dee, hence Helen’s undercover assignment and then there are shady dealings with a cat show judge and more. Helen and Phil have their work cut out for them.
If that isn’t enough, Margery, landlady of the Coronado, has a past. It seems she married Zach and then divorced him for fooling around with Daisy, but that was thirty years ago. Zach and Daisy moved in together but he never married her. It was a shock to Margery when he showed up and wanted to make amends, as in get back together. She threw his bouquet of flowers in his face and ran him off the property in front of witnesses.
The Coronado is facing problems of its own. It seems the rebar has rusted inside the walls and now the building is unsafe. It will cost about $100,000 to repair. Since the building is home to Helen and Phil plus their private investigation offices, it would be a blow if Margery decides not to renovate.
Elsie, BFF to Margery, arranges a nice dinner out for the group of friends. It’s a surprise that she also invited
Zach so Margery would realize she still loves him. When Zach turns up dead, poisoned, Margery is the police detective’s only suspect. Getting Margery sprung and finding the real killer now gives Helen and Phil three cases to work on at once.
It’s a nail-biter for sure. Will Helen and Phil find Justine? Will they solve Mort’s murder? Will Margery have to leave her purple ways and settle for an orange jumpsuit? And what about the Coronado? If Margery’s not there to renovate, will it fall flat or will she sell?
This is number thirteen in the series, the paperback version of last year’s hard cover. Helen and Phil are now properly married although still honeymooning every chance they get, even a year later. Peggy and Pete, her African gray parrot, have Daniel in their lives now so there’s another romance to watch. The Coronado is the perfect background for murder investigations and it’s nice to see the place get some attention of its own.
To enter to win a copy of both books by Elaine Viets, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Viets,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 6, 2015. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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You can use this link to purchase a copy of the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy: