Using Your Disadvantages

Bullitt_posterBy Elaine Viets

I love movie car chases. Nothing beats “Bullitt,” with Steve McQueen’s Mustang hurtling down the San Francisco hills. Michael Caine’s crafty Mini Cooper mixup in “The Italian Job” is another classic.

italian-jobBut traditional mysteries can have car chases, too. I wanted a car chase in The Art of Murder, my new Dead-End Job mystery. My private eye, Helen Hawthorne, doesn’t drive a muscle car. Good detectives have to blend in. In South Florida, that often means a white car. Helen has a white four-cylinder PT Cruiser.

iglooSteve McQueen would weep.
But I got my car chase, thanks to an equalizer – speed bumps. The extra-wide ones, a.k.a. traffic calmers or “speed humps.” (Cue the risque jokes.)These speed bumps are in a lush Fort Lauderdale neighborhood known as The Landings, where residents dock their yachts out their back doors.

I can’t reveal the killer’s name, gender, or vehicle model, but here’s The Art of Murder car chase in The Landings. Watch that yacht. It will be in the car chase, too.


The Art of Murder Car Chase
The killer roared out of the driveway toward The Landings, blasting across Commercial Boulevard as the light turned yellow. Helen followed, accompanied by a chorus of car horns and upraised middle digits.

This wasn’t a fair race. Helen knew her trusty Igloo was seriously underpowered. The killer’s car had twice as many horses as the PT Cruiser. The killer floored the car and it flew over the north bridge into The Landings. Helen’s Igloo tried its best to keep up, but its workhorse engine was no match for the powerful car. Still, Helen floored her Cruiser.
And saw the speeding car slam on its brakes.

The speed bumps! Suddenly this pursuit was almost fair. The sports car raced forward again, then slammed on its brakes for a bump. Race and brake. Race and brake.
The odd stop and sprint chase continued for four speed bumps, with Helen’s intrepid Igloo managing to keep pace.

Helen struggled to push her car on the straightaway and spot the speed bumps in time to brake. The two cars lurched through The Landings.

After the fourth speed bump, the killer powered through a four-way stop to the angry blare of honking horns. Helen made a full stop.

She waited her turn for two cars, then crossed the intersection and floored the Igloo again. Her finger pressed SEND for 911. I should have called the police sooner, she thought. I can’t let the killer escape.

The killer was turning left at the next block. There were no speed bumps on that street. It bordered a canal. Helen was going to lose the killer.

She could hear the 911 operator saying, “Nine one one, what’s your emergency. Nine one one . . . ”

“Help!” Helen shouted into her. “I’m pursuing a killer in The Landings. I’m almost at Fifty-sixth. Get the police here. I can’t talk.”

Helen slammed the brakes again, and the Igloo jounced over the speed bump. Her cell phone clattered to the floor. Helen could hear the 911 operator and hoped the woman believed her plea for help.

Up ahead, she saw the killer make a screeching turn on two wheels, heading straight for a yellow moving van with its ramp down, parked in the street. The killer swerved to avoid it, and nearly hit a pony-tailed woman walking her fluffy white shih-tzu.

The killer swerved again, narrowly missing the woman and her little dog.

And the accident seemed to happen in slow motion.

The killer lost control of the car on the small humped canal bridge. It sailed over the bridge railing and crashed into the white yacht tied up at a backyard dock. The front end of the car smashed through the yacht’s pristine white hull. The car’s back end was on the dock, sliding toward the water.

A screeching, cracking sound split the air as several million dollars collided.


The Art of Murder is my fifteenth Dead-End Job mystery. Helen Hawthorne and her landlady, Margery Flax, tour Bonnet House, the whimsical mansion-turned-museum in Fort Lauderdale and admire an up-and-coming artist at a museum painting class. When the talented artist is murdered, Helen is hired to find her killer. She discovers the artist’s sketchy past. Was the promising painter killed by her jealous husband? A rival using her artful wiles? All that and a car chase-boat crash, too.

Pre-order The Art of Murder


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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.

14 thoughts on “Using Your Disadvantages

  1. Enjoyed the excerpt, Elaine. Thank you. I giggled at your landlady character’s name. Isn’t that the name of the woman who sends out the emails for MWA? LOL I’m sure she’d be flattered; it’s a great name!

    • More than 15 years ago, the real Margery Flax bought an auction name at a charity benefit. I gave her a choice of characters: a 20-something blond, a police officer, or a 76-year-old landlady. “Make me the landlady, ” Margery said. “I like purple and I want to smoke.” Margery has been in 15 books, three short stories and a novella. Sometimes, she takes over the story.

  2. Haha, a car chase isn’t much of a chase with speed bumps involved! Ever driven down a road with “traffic calming”? It means they put oddly-shaped street dividers at random places, and you have to slow down to avoid them. Trying to speed down one of those roads would be suicide.

  3. I’d like to note this contrast: Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s undependable, immature, and nearly-nomadic bounty-huntin’ resident of the Burg, a part of tumble-down Trenton, New Jersey, doesn’t have a car at all.

    Every one she’s ever owned has been demolished, by mysterious explosions, attacks by rocket-propelled grenades, fire, and other means of loud exit.

    Any car chases are in her parents’ decades-old Buick, a borrowed spiffy, black SUV or black hot car owned by a sometimes-suitor who dresses in black, or the also-borrowed car of her off-and-on cop boyfriend.

    In each Stephanie Plum novel, people I’ve observed reading them, or I when I’m reading them myself, chuckle throughout the book. Her friends, her kookie, pathetic lifestyle, and the silly events in her life provide the merriment.

    But, also, in the novel series, there are laugh-out loud, chuckles-turned-to hysterical, outrageous moments that cause some readers to have to put the book down until the guffaws stop.

    One is the way Stephanie arrests the current bad guy or girl. Another is when Ms Plum’s current rattle-trap is destroyed.

    I think it would be a crying shame for Stephanie Plum to own a hot, car-chase-quality auto.

    • Years ago, I had to invoke the “No Reading Stephanie Plum Books in Bed” rule, because Hubster is a guffawer (and hand clapper) and if he’d read after I’d shut down for the night — well, you get the picture. He used to read journals and I thought the loud page-turnings of those magazines was an annoyance, but nothing like being jerked awake by booming laughter.

  4. Elaine,
    Chapter 18 of my first book (The Conrad Kidnapping—available on Amazon) has a car chase that I’m pretty proud of. I feel that it’s much easier to show a car chase in a movie than it is to describe one in the pages of a book. Trying to keep the tension and excitement high is a daunting task. I hope that it’s appropriate, I’ve posted most of the car chase chapter below for you and other readers enjoyment. The story takes place in Boston circa 1953.
    ~ ~ ~
    They had gone over the Longfellow Bridge and had turned onto Memorial drive when Alton said, “Miss, I believe we’re being followed.”
    “Alton, are you sure?” Steele said as he sat up in the seat and looked out the rear window.
    “I believe so, Mr. Steele. A tan Chevrolet, parked across the street from the police station, made a U-turn when we pulled out. He’s been behind us ever since—he’s two cars back now.”
    “Alton,” Steele said, “make a right turn at the next intersection and see if the car stays with us.”
    “Yes, sir,” he answered and immediately changed lanes and turned right at the next street. The side street had been plowed earlier, but was still slippery with packed snow and ice. Rounding the corner a little too fast the big Lincoln fishtailed, seemingly out of control, but Alton was able to get it straightened out.
    “Don’t speed up yet, Alton. Just see if they follow us.”
    “Yes, sir,” he answered and the car slowed.
    Steele was now looking out the back window and said, “You’re absolutely right, Alton. I can see a tan car and it just made the same turn we made. He wasn’t so lucky. He hit a patch of ice and rammed a car parked at the curb. But it didn’t slow him down much. He’s still coming on strong. Make another right at the next intersection.”
    Alton didn’t answer this time but the car made a right turn at the next street. It swerved and fishtailed again down the side street, barely missing two cars. The Lincoln had gotten about half way down the block when the tan Chevrolet came around the same corner, fishtailing violently. The driver wasn’t as good as Alton. He sideswiped one of the cars that Alton had missed. The Chevrolet accelerated quickly.
    “Okay, Alton. You can punch it now. They’re definitely after us. They’ve hit two cars and are still coming,” Steele said as the big Lincoln began to accelerate.
    “Alton, do whatever you can to lose them,” Poppy shouted.
    The Lincoln immediately jumped forward, thrusting Steele and Poppy back into their seats. Two blocks later, Alton made a left and then a quick right. Again on Memorial Drive, a much wider primary street, which allowed Alton more room to maneuver. Because of its heavier traffic it had no ice and snow and gave the tires better traction.
    The Chevrolet came around the last corner, its tires screeching loudly as they met the dry pavement. The scream of its tires could be heard even inside the Lincoln. Looking back, Steele could see billows of smoke coming from the rear tires of the Chevrolet as it accelerated. Within a block the tan Chevrolet had caught up to them. A man wearing a black Halloween mask leaned out the passenger door with a revolver in his hand. He began shooting at them. Two bullets shattered the rear window of the Lincoln. Luckily Alton had his window down which created enough pressure inside the car to blow the rear window out sending fragments of glass flying back over the Chevrolet.
    Steele shouted, “Get down!” and at the same time pushed Poppy down to the floorboards.
    Steele yanked his gun from its holster and stuck his head up over the rear seat far enough to see where the Chevrolet was. Its front bumper was nearly touching the Lincoln’s rear bumper. Steele got off two shots through the gaping hole where the rear window had once been, before ducking down again.
    The man in the Chevrolet had traded his revolver for a Thompson machine gun. The rat-tat-tat chatter of the machine gun started. Bullets ripped through the Lincoln’s trunk and rear fenders. The Chevrolet pulled out and into the oncoming lane and along-side the Lincoln. Slugs peppered the side of the car, raking it first from the front to back and then from back to front. Glass from the side windows flew in all directions and the Lincoln began to slow down. It swerved sharply to the right. The car bounced over the curb, flying three feet in the air. It came to an abrupt, bone-shattering stop. Steele got bounced around violently by the impact. He landed on top of Poppy, who was still face down on the floorboard.
    The big Lincoln had jumped the curb and collided with a telephone pole.
    Steele raised his head in time to see the tan Chevrolet as it zoomed off down the street. He got off two more shots at the car, but wasn’t able to read the plate number. He did see that it was the distinctive green and white color of a New Hampshire license plate.
    Steele bent down to check Poppy. She was moaning but appeared unhurt. He looked forward over the front seat to Alton. He could not see him. He tried to open the door but it was stuck. He lay back on the seat and kicked the door as hard as he could with both feet. The door sprang open on his second attempt.
    The car was a mess. Two rows of bullet-holes ran down its entire length. The rear, and all the side windows had shattered and a dozen holes pierced the windshield safety-glass.
    A geyser of steam spewed from under the hood with a loud hissing sound. The hood, buckled in the middle like a kid’s pup tent, sitting up on the fenders of the car. The force of the collision had pushed the front of the hood back nearly two-feet.
    The front bumper now hugged the telephone pole like a long-lost lover. The force of the impact had bent the pole over at a thirty-degree angle. If the car hadn’t held it in its grip it would have fallen over. Several wires hung down from the transformer. None of the wires came in contact with the car. Two wires bounced across snowdrifts thirty feet down the street spewing a shower of sparks in all directions as they jumped about—like a living entity. Steele could see no wires near the car.
    He looked into the driver’s window at Alton. He found him slumped over on his right side, laying across the center of the seat. It didn’t look as if he was bleeding, but Steele couldn’t see him clearly enough to tell for sure. He went to the back door and looked in at Poppy who was still down on the floorboard but sitting up. She looked dazed.
    “Are you hurt?” he yelled at her.
    “No, I don’t think so,” she replied with a quivering voice.
    “You have blood on your forehead and your arm, which looks like it may be broken.”
    She felt her forehead and then looked at her arm. She held her arm with her hand. “No, it’s just a scratch.”

  5. You know, I hadn’t realized until now but writing a car chase isn’t easy. I mean, it’s easy ON FILM, but getting the sense of speed and danger on paper is hard.

    I can remember writing only one car chase…in A KILLING RAIN, we had Louis and Joe chasing a guy through a preserve in the Everglades but it wasn’t a fair fight because the bad guy was on a souped-up swamp buggy.

    As for the movies, my favorite chase is Gene Hackman following the subway in The French Connection.

  6. Since I’m writing a historical mystery, I wonder if horse and buggy races would have the same effect? No built in speed bumps, but rocks and sagebrush on unpaved gravel roads could create their own set of problems. Haha..that could be quite funny.

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