by Cynthia Chow
& Elaine Viets
This week we are reviewing a new book by Elaine Viets, something a bit different from her usual mysteries, and then after the review is a fun guest post by Elaine about some of the research she did for the book. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Brains Storm, and a link to purchase it from Amazon, along with a link to purchase it from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Brain Storm: Angela Richman, Death Investigator Book 1 By Elaine Viets
Review by Cynthia Chow
As the death investigator for Chouteau County, Missouri, Angela Marie is the advocate for those who no longer have a voice. This is never more crucial than in a car crash involving Jillian and Jordan Hobart, nearly identical cousins and part of the illustrious Du Pres family. It is up to Angela to determine which beautiful young girl lies in the hospital, and which is in the morgue.
Before Angela can truly delve into the case with political implications, she herself is stricken with the beginnings of her own dire medical issues. The misdiagnosis of a headache and disregard of her medication result in multiple strokes and coma. Beloved Dr. Porter Gravois nearly succeeds in negligently killing her, but it is Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt who brilliantly saves her life. So when the personality-deficient, disliked doctor is blamed by the rest of the staff for Dr. Gravois’s murder, Angela will do whatever she can for the man who saved both her mental facilities and her life.
Angela’s lengthy struggle to return to her former mental and physical state is as fascinating and compelling as the murder investigation itself. Her complete underestimation of her recovery time, and her unrealistic belief in her abilities are heartbreaking. The cost of open-brain surgery is so starkly depicted that readers can’t help but sympathize. Angela’s placement within the hospital allows her inside access to the many secrets and relationships within, even as it also forced her to listen to Dr. Tritt’s nightly diatribe about those he believes are beneath him.
Elaine Viets brings her real-life experience to the page in this first of an astounding new series. I remember the shock that spread through the publishing and mystery fan world when we learned that one of our favorite mystery writers had suffered from a life-threatening stroke. To our joy and relief, after years of rehabilitation she once again continued writing her best-selling Dead-End Job and Mystery Shopper mystery series. The former St. Louis journalist began writing darker-toned Francesa Vierling mysteries, and her black humor returns in this extraordinary start to a new series. Viets gets the opportunity to take a little fictional revenge on the doctor who also misdiagnosed her.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
By Elaine Viets
Hatred, fear, loathing, shock, disgust: These are some of the emotions that cloud a murder investigation. Facts shine through the murky, swirling depths. Keep sight of the facts and the crime can be solved.
I’m fascinated by death investigators. My new, darker mystery series features Death Investigator Angela Richman. Brain Storm, the first book in the series, debuted August 2. The series is set in mythical Chouteau County, a “ten-square-mile pocket of white privilege” near St. Louis, Mo. Angela works for the Chouteau County medical examiner. She investigates all unexpected and unexplained deaths: accidents, murders, suicides. The DI is responsible for the dead person. The police handle the scene – everything but the body.
To make sure Angela had the most accurate forensics, I took the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course, given by St. Louis University’s School of Medicine. Death investigators started in my hometown of St. Louis in 1978 because there was a shortage of forensic pathologists. DIs are sort of like forensic paralegals. They are trained, but don’t have medical degrees.
My two-credit college course was five days, from eight in the morning to five at night. Students came from as far away as Australia. I sat between an Illinois police chief and a working DI from Austin, Texas.
Here’s one day’s agenda for the death investigator course:
In the morning, we learned about gunshot wound fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities, and drowning. At lunch we watched a video about teen drunken driving that made me want to trade my car for an armored personnel carrier.
Then it was alcohol-related deaths, suicide, blunt-trauma fatalities, and more. I was grateful that the airplane crash investigations weren’t on the same day I flew home to Florida. Seeing photos of a field of tiny flags marking bits of passengers did not make me eager to board the plane.
For more than eight hours, we studied photos and videos from crime scenes and autopsies. I’m sure if I saw – and smelled – real autopsies, I’d be pea green and upchucking. The photos gave enough distance that I could tolerate the gruesome illustrations. By the end of the course, I even watched an autopsy video during lunch.
Angela Richman, my death investigator, believes that the dead talk. They are trying to tell us how they died, if we can get past our own emotions to study their bodies. The DI photographs the body, documents all the wounds, starting at the head and working toward the feet. She protects the victim’s hands with paper bags to preserve evidence that might be on them, and notes anything that may be lost when the body is transported: Stray hairs and fibers on the victim’s chest will be photographed, then removed with tweezers and bagged.
One other thing I learned: Avoid a “Born to Lose” tattoo. It’s prophetic. I can’t tell you how many times I saw that tattoo in autopsy photos. The most dramatic was a man with “Born to Lose” in black Gothic letters on his forehead.
Right under the bullet hole.
To enter to win a copy of Brain Storm, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “brain,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 13, 2016. 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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