After 15 years of writing cozy and traditional mysteries, I‛m back writing hard-boiled, forensic novels. I‛ve signed a two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer for the new, darker Angela Richman mysteries.
Angela is a death investigator in mythical Chouteau Country, Missouri, stronghold of the overprivileged and the people who serve them. Brain Storm, the first mystery in the new death investigator series, will debut at Thriller Fest this July.
The death investigator mysteries aren‛t too gory – not like Patricia Cornwell‛s “I boiled my dead boyfriend‛s head.” This series is more like the TV show Forensic Files, without the commercials.
I‛ve come home.
My first series, the Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries, was hardboiled. When Random House bought Dell and wiped out that division, I switched to the traditional Dead-End Job mysteries, featuring Helen Hawthorne. The Art of Murder, the 15th novel in the series, will be published this May.
I also wrote ten cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper mysteries.
I love both series, but wanted to write dark mysteries again. But I didn‛t want to do another police procedural or a private eye with a dead wife or a drinking problem.
Other writers had done those and done them well.
But death investigators were a profession many readers didn‛t know about. Janet Rudolph, founder of Mystery Readers International, agreed. She believes Angela Richman is the only death investigator series.
Last January, I passed the MedicoLegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals at St. Louis University. I wanted the training – and the contacts – to make the new series accurate.
Now that I‛m writing dark again, my writing has changed. Here‛s what happens when I jumped from cozies to hard-boiled:
My characters can cuss. Angela Richman‛s best friend and colleague is Katie, Chouteau County assistant medical examiner Dr. Katherine Kelly Stern. Pathologists tend to be eccentric, and Katie is based on a real pathologist who‛d perfected the art of swearing. Her profanity was a mood indicator. I could tell how angry she was by whether she used “fricking,” “freaking,” or the ultimate F-bomb and how often she employed these and other cuss words. Oddly enough, when she swore, the words didn‛t sound offensive.
Katie cusses with style and grace in Brain Storm.
Body counts. In cozy and traditional mysteries, the murders take place offstage. In the new death investigator series, readers aren‛t forced to take a blood bath, but they will see crime scenes and forensic procedures. They‛ll get a firsthand look at the sights, sounds, even the smells of death.
Real weapons. In cozy mysteries, when Josie Marcus battles killers, she resorts to “domestic violence,” using kitchen tools, gardening equipment, and whatever she can grab for weapons.
Helen Hawthorne in the Dead-End Job mysteries is a little bolder. She‛s armed with pepper spray to take down killers, though in Checked Out she did get sprayed with her own weapon.
In Brain Storm, when Angela confronted the killer, she was in an office, surrounded by the standard supplies: waste baskets, chairs, coffee mugs, letter openers.