Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

darknessBy Elaine Viets

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.ArtofMurder_revised(2)

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. 51aGmux%2BaXL._SY355_

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.81AGOsdOSnL._SX425_
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.gardening
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.Pepperspray
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.

startup-photos-large I was prepared to have Angela grab one, when it dawned on me: Wait! This isn‛t a cozy.
You can use firepower.
So Angela shot the killer in the head. It felt so good.

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

14 thoughts on “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

  1. That is indeed a great line.
    What about the slug? Did she use a .22 or .25? That caliber bullet might not have left the bad guy’s head. A larger caliber, say a .9mm from a semi-automatic, would have blasted through the cranium and gone on to do more damage to walls, office equipment, other people.
    That’s why, in firearms training courses, we’re told never to shoot at anything we’re not willing to destroy, and never, ever, shoot unless we know where the bullet will go after hitting the target. Or if we miss.
    I’m sure a novelist who would take an entire training course so you know what your protagonist knows is certain of this, but maybe some other readers aren’t.

  2. What a fun and informative explanation of the differences. I write dark mysteries, too, and I’m always temped to throw in an iron or an ironing board. Now I know why I should resist that urge.

  3. As a cozy writer, Nancy, I can tell you that an ironing board will stop a charging attacker if you hit the person full on in the chest. Irons produce one heck of a head injury.

  4. Congrats on your deal and welcome to the dark side. Just don’t forget there can be humor in darkness, too.

  5. Looking forward to the new series. I will, however, miss searching out the hidden kitty on the cover of your books. It was like trying to find the NINA in a Hirschfeld.

  6. Much as I love cats, Kris, they will stay safe in my traditional mysteries. This series is pet free for now. Too difficult for Angela to work long hours and then feed the cat.

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