St. Louis author Elaine Viets draws from her stroke survival in new, dark mystery ‘Brain Storm’ | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis author Elaine Viets draws from her stroke survival in new, dark mystery ‘Brain Storm’

Jul 27, 2016

Eight years ago, mystery author Elaine Viets survived six strokes, a coma and brain surgery. Now, she’s drawing on that experience in a new, dark mystery called “Brain Storm,” which will be released on Aug. 2.

The former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist now makes her home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but still draws extensively from her years in St. Louis. This book, for example, is set in the fictionalized land of Chouteau Forest, has a villain named Dr. Gravois and features a heroine, Angela Richman, who is a “death investigator,” a role first created out of Saint Louis University in 1978.

Elaine Viets.
Credit Elaine Viets

“It’s about my struggle with brain surgery and six strokes and a coma…but it is also a good mystery,” Viets told St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter. “I’ve been writing cozies and light-hearted traditional mysteries but I started writing dark mysteries in St. Louis and I want to go back to that.”

Viets, who often uses her personal life as inspiration for her mystery writing, has also authored the “Dead End Jobs” series, the “Mystery Shopper” series and several other dark mystery series. She said her “Dead End Jobs” series was influenced by the time in her life when she moved to southern Florida from St. Louis.

“I was writing mysteries for Bantam Dell and I had a 5 book contract and then Random House bought Bantam Dell,” Viets said. “My contract was over, the series was killed, my husband was in the hospital with stage 3 cancer and we were being audited by the IRS. It was a stellar year.”

So, she went on to take a job at a bookstore to help pay the rent.

“I discovered that when you’re a columnist for the Post-Dispatch, people treat you much better than when you’re a clerk barely making minimum wage,” Viets said.

Her experiences at that bookstore led her to create a protagonist who only took so-called dead-end jobs to stay under-the-radar. That series, and many of Viets’ other works have a lighter, more humorous tone.

“Brain Storm,” which is the first of several novels that will focus on death investigations is much darker. Viets said that, when she was writing it, she was in a much angrier place.

Elaine Viets' latest mystery, "Brain Storm."
Credit Thomas & Mercer

“What happened was that I went to one of the top 50 hospitals in the U.S. with headaches and the neurologist on call said I was too young and fit to have a stroke,” Viets said. “He said to come back on Wednesday for a PET scan. For me, Wednesday never happened. My husband found me and I had six strokes and needed brain surgery. I was in a coma for a week.”

It took Viets four years to recover and she had to learn everything all over again.

“That’s why writing this book was so hard,” Viets said. “I was angry, I was misdiagnosed and couldn’t do anything about it.”

Angela Richman, “Brain Storm’s” protagonist, has also suffered from a stroke that almost left her dead. That makes for the perfect unreliable narrator, Viets said, which adds mystery to the novel in and of itself.

Listen to Viets discuss her writing, her new book and more: 

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