Viets’s latest Dead-End Job mystery, Catnapped!, explores the high-stakes world of show cats and their low-wage feline wranglers.
The Dead-End Job series offer some social commentary on low-wage jobs. Is there a gender opportunities aspect to the series as well?
Yes. The workers in these jobs are invisible, and even seemingly “nice” people lash out at low-wage workers when they’ve had a bad day. Many of the pink collar jobs I [write about] in the series–including salesclerk, hotel maid, and customer service representative—are [traditionally] women’s jobs. Almost all are underpaid and have no benefits. Other jobs, like telemarketing, are equal-opportunity but also underpaid. I sold septic tank cleaner [when researching] Dying to Call You. My spiel was, “Tank Titan 2000 eliminates odors, large chunks, and wet spots.” The [person] who ran the boiler room cheated all of us. There were no formal records and our commissions were always short. I suspected [he] was mob-connected. Some tough people worked at that boiler room. When a furious biker confronted him about being short changed, the manager glared at him, and the biker backed down.
Did you always plan for Helen to transition into her current role as a private eye as the series evolved?
Helen’s role evolved. When Helen and I worked those Dead-End Jobs, she was an amateur sleuth. But dead-end jobs were hard to find during the Great Recession. I couldn’t take a job as lark when someone needed it. By book 10, Pumped for Murder, Helen Hawthorne and her new husband, private eye Phil Sagemont, open a PI agency. Now that she is a private eye, the mysteries have more depth and scope. Helen doesn’t have to keep killing customers and bosses.
Did you work as a Private Investigator to prepare for book 10? Do you still spend time working in the dead-end jobs now that Helen works undercover?
No, but I do extensive research. I learned to paddleboard for Board Stiff. I spent time aboard a 142-yacht for Final Sail. For Catnapped!, a Cat Fanciers' Association judge Tracy Petty schooled me in the language of show cats. Pedigreed grays are always blue. I’ve stared at [my cat] Mystery, [who is a] pedigreed Chartreux, until I’m blue in the face, but she still looks gray as a rainy day.
How does your Dead-End Jobs radio show inform the series, and vice versa?
I learn things for the radio show that I use in my mysteries. I interviewed Logan Pierson, with SmartWater CSI, a forensic coding system that’s big in the U.K. SmartWater is now being tested in South Florida. Helen Hawthorne and Phil Sagemont mark the ransom money with SmartWater. My novel may be the first time SmartWater has been used in a traditional mystery.
You have two cats and one of them is on the cover your book. Was the other one jealous?
Cats don’t know envy. It’s part of their charm. Harry, our other cat, is a beach rescue. He likes the privacy of anonymity. Mystery, a former show cat, loves the limelight. I have the best of both worlds.