posted on May 23, 2013 by Elaine Viets

The Mystery in the Mystery Novel

BoardStiffI know the killer when I plan a new Dead-End Job mystery. Always.

But in BOARD STIFF, my latest Dead-End Job mystery, I had to solve a mystery I’d started some time ago and didn’t know how to finish.

Helen Hawthorne and her new husband, Phil, have opened their own private eye agency, Coronado Investigations. In BOARD STIFF, Helen and Phil are hired to find out who’s sabotaging a paddleboard rental company. The private eyes see a woman drown – along with hundreds of other witnesses – and don’t realize they’ve witnessed a murder.

BOARD STIFF is a vicarious Florida vacation,” reviewer Oline Cogdill wrote for the Miami Herald.

But writing that book was no day at the beach for me.

Four books ago, I’d started something I didn’t know how to finish. I kept that plotline going in book after book, because I really didn’t know who did it.

Finally, I wrapped up this mystery in BOARD STIFF. But even then, I didn’t solve it.

Here’s what happened:

Helen Hawthorne, the private eye who works those Dead-End Jobs, was blackmailed in HALF-PRICE HOMICIDE, my ninth Dead-End Job mystery. That’s when Helen went back to St. Louis for her mother’s funeral. She was visiting her sister, Kathy, when Helen’s awful ex-husband, Rob, showed up.

Helen had divorced Rob in the first book, SHOP TILL YOU DROP. The judge, who’d been dropped on his head at birth, awarded Rob half of Helen’s future income. Helen swore the unfaithful rat would never see a nickel of her money.

She went on the run and wound up in South Florida, working a different low-paying job each book.

Rob finally caught up with Helen in St. Louis.  He staggered into Kathy’s backyard, grabbed Helen by the arm and forced her to her knees. Rob demanded fifteen thousand dollars. Helen’s nephew, Tommy Junior, whacked Rob with his bat to save Aunt Helen.

The ten-year-old slugger knocked Rob cold. Kathy marched her son upstairs to his room. By the time Kathy returned, Rob was dead. Kathy begged Helen not to call the police or Phil. She said it would ruin Tommy’s life. Helen gave in, and the two women buried Rob in the foundation for the church hall basement.

But someone saw them. The blackmailer called Kathy, using a voice changer, and demanded $5,000. Helen FedExed the money to her sister.

Who was the blackmailer? I didn’t have a clue.

I had plenty of suspects ranging from Helen’s stepfather, Lawn Boy Larry, to Kathy’s neighbors. All had something to hide and were desperate for money.

The blackmailer made a second heart-stopping call in PUMPED FOR MURDER, the next book. The same creepy caller demanded more money in FINAL SAIL. Helen was in the Bahamas, working as a stewardess on a 143-foot yacht. She made sure poor Kathy had the blackmail money, but once again her little sister had to drop the cash on a Dumpster in a deserted strip mall.

No wonder Kathy was scared. Helen felt guilty hiding this secret from Phil, her new husband and private eye partner.

At the end of FINAL SAIL, Helen said, “I swear that I will trust my husband and tell him what happened to Rob. We will catch the blackmailer together. And then I hope that he will still love me.”

Helen still didn’t know who was blackmailing her. Neither did I.

But readers were deluging me with e-mails, demanding an answer. “Enough!” my editor said. “End that story line.”

I was still clueless. I had dinner with my St. Louis friend Karen Grace and said, “I don’t know who blackmailed Rob.”

“I do,” Karen said.

And so she told me.

sunnyjimsTo find the blackmailer, Helen has to risk her marriage, her new private eye business and her friendship with Margery Flax.

But when you read BOARD STIFF, you’ll know who’s been blackmailing Helen and Kathy.

Hope it’s worth the wait.

BOARD STIFF, Elaine Viets’ new hardcover mystery, is the ultimate beach book, set in the cutthroat world of Florida tourism. The New York Times Review of Books praises her “quick-witted mysteries.”  Elaine’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Elaine’s second series features mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards.

Visit Elaine on Facebook

Check out the first chapters of her mysteries at

Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets actually works the same dead-end jobs as her character, Helen Hawthorne. She has been a dress shop clerk, bookseller and a telemarketer who called you at dinner time. You probably hung up on her. MURDER BETWEEN THE COVERS is the second book in the Dead- End Job series. She and Helen have a real future working jobs that go nowhere. Elaine has just signed a contract for three more books.

She lives in South Florida with her husband, Don Crinklaw. They collect parking tickets.

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