Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guest Post & Giveaway ~ Elaine Viets - An Uplifting Murder

The Five Finger Discounts
By Elaine Viets

Winona Ryder got caught doing it.

So did former Miss America Bess Myerson.

Josie Marcus nabbed a shoplifter in the act.

Josie is the heroine of my mystery shopper series. Mystery shoppers, also known as secret shoppers, are suburban spies. They’re hired by the big chains to go undercover as ordinary customers and report back to headquarters. Mystery shoppers find out if the store’s stock is displayed well, the restrooms are clean and customers are treated with courtesy.

Josie sees herself as the protector of Mrs. Minivan, her name for the American shopper who suffers the rudeness and indifference of bad sales persons. Mrs. Minivan helps keep the economy going, but rarely gets respect. In some stores, she’s downright invisible.

Josie makes sure that Mrs. Minivan gets the treatment she deserves.

The holidays are the height of the shoplifting season. As a mall moll, Josie knows that shoplifters cost stores – and consumers – billions every year. One survey said that $6 billion was stolen from 25 major retailers by shoppers and light-fingered employees in 2009. You read that right. Six billion dollars.

Shoplifters wallop Mrs. Minivan in the wallet. But Josie has personal reasons for tracking down the shoplifter in “An Uplifting Murder.” She wants to stop the woman who tried to get to Josie by threatening her ten-year-old daughter, Amelia. When Josie went to the police, the wily shoplifter turned the tables and threatened to arrest Josie as a stalker. Josie wants this woman in jail.

She has no proof that the woman is a shoplifter. But Josie knows it. She also knows if she watches long enough, she could bring the shoplifter to justice – unless her tormenter gets Josie arrested first.

Their cat-and-mouse game goes on in “An Uplifting Murder” while Josie hunts a killer. The victim is a high school mean girl, who grew up to be a mean woman. Josie mystery-shops a lingerie store and sees her favorite high school teacher after more than twenty years. The teacher is now working as the shop manager. She calls herself a C-cup counselor. The teacher has a secret in her past and when the mean girl is found strangled, the teacher is the main suspect. Her alibi is flimsier than the lingerie she sells, but Josie believes she’s innocent. Josie learns the lesson we all know – we never get out of high school.

Shoplifting is part of the retail world and was a natural subplot for “An Uplifting Murder.”

I’ve seen many shoplifting scams when I worked retail. I was a bookseller at a large chain store to research “Murder Between the Covers.” The most stolen book at the store was the Bible. Thieves believed we wouldn’t think they’d steal the Good Book. Too bad they never opened the Bible and read the part about “Thou shalt not steal.”

Other shoplifters took advantage of clerks gabbing to each other or shops with overworked staff to give themselves five-finger discounts. They’d slip into dressing rooms and wear stolen clothes out of the stores – or rip open CD cases in the restroom and take out the alarm tags.

The worst shoplifter I encountered was at a St. Louis mall dress shop. Our dresses cost between $100 and $500. The staff was alert for shoplifters, but we never suspected a new mother with a baby.

As this woman wheeled her stroller through our shop door, her baby started crying. The kid had powerful lungs. The saleswomen tried to soothe the poor baby so Mom could shop. When the baby stopped crying, Mom thanked us and left.

Later, Mom was arrested at the mall. Security found her baby stroller and diaper bag were packed with stolen merchandise, including a coat dress from our shop.

Mom used the baby has her accomplice. She would pinch the child when she entered the shop. While the staff comforted the wailing baby, Mom would stuff the diaper bag with stolen goods.

The awful mom was arrested. She no longer pinches clothes – or babies.

About the author ~ 

It’s midnight on a moonless night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. From my office window I see boats with no running lights slipping down the Intracoastal Waterway. What illegal cargo are they carrying: drugs, guns, people? I’ve used them all in my Dead-End Job mysteries.
Across a canal, my window overlooks a million-dollar condo where mysterious neighbors hold parties in the dead of night. Everyone dresses in black evening clothes. They became the inspiration for my short story, “Vampire Hours.”
South Florida is the setting for my Dead-End Job mysteries and many short stories. It’s the inspiration that feeds my dark side.
My roots are in the Midwest, where I set my Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper series. St. Louis is very different from Fort Lauderdale. Its people have pasts, families and neighborhoods. If someone new moves into a community, a St. Louisan can make a few calls and find out where the newcomer went to school, if he has a drinking problem, if she’s divorced, and where the person works. It’s a big small town.
Not so in South Florida, where one of my snowbird neighbors turned out to be a drug dealer. I should have known that a pilot didn’t make enough money to own a Porsche, a Harley, a state-of-the-art sound system and a beachside condo unless he was flying in a very special cargo. Florida’s rootlessness and St. Louis’s structured life are important facets of my series.
These two locations drive my mysteries and occasional fictional forays into other worlds. My vampire short stories take place in Fort Lauderdale. My paranormal story, “The Bedroom Door,” is set in St. Louis and features a woman based on my Grandmother Vierling, who swore she had second sight.
Josie Marcus is a St. Louis woman. She’s connected to her community, the suburb of Maplewood. She has a mother, a daughter, and a job, where she fights for better treatment for the mythical Mrs. Minivan, the American shopper.
“An Uplifting Murder” is my sixth Josie Marcus mystery. The tenth Dead-End Job mystery, “Pumped for Murder,” will be out in May 2011. In a good series – and I hope mine fit that description – the characters grow and change.
Josie, a single mother with a ten-year-old daughter, has a talent for friendship as well as solving mysteries. She tries to help her daughter develop into an independent young woman. She fights her own tendency to fall in love with the wrong men. As a member of the sandwich generation, Josie has to care for her mother as well as her daughter.
Helen Hawthorne is a St. Louis woman on the run in South Florida. After nine Dead-End Jobs, she changed the course of her life. Helen and I both worked those same awful jobs from salesclerk to telemarketer. In her tenth adventure, Helen and Phil, her new husband, open a private eye agency called Coronado Investigations and open new possibilities to keep the series fresh.
 Don’t worry, Dead-End Job fans. Helen is still working those low-paying jobs, only now she goes undercover as part of her private eye investigation.  I’m going to classes at private investigators conferences and asking private eyes I know for their help. I also took the Death Investigators course at St. Louis University to give the series authenticity.
I promise you that some things will not change. Both series will still be as entertaining as I can make them. 

Visit Elaine's website
Friend Elaine on Facebook
Follow Josie Marcus on Twitter
Follow Helen Hawthorne on Twitter
Visit Elaine as she blogs on Femme Fatales

Her Latest Book ~ 

 An Uplifting Murder: Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper

On Josie's latest assignment, her former teacher-now working in a lingerie shop-is in need of some serious support when a customer is found murdered. Unfortunately, the teacher's alibi is flimsier than the camisoles she sells, so Josie will need to bust out her sleuthing skills to expose the real killer... 

Other books by Elaine ~ 

Thanks to  Penguin, I have two (2) copies of this book to give away. 

GIVEAWAY  Rules for entering:

  • This contest is open to residents of USA only!
  • Please complete the form below - do not leave information in the comments - it will not count.
  • The contest will end on December 28, 2010 at 11:59PM EST; 2 winners will be selected and contacted thereafter.
  • Once the winners are contacted, they will have 48 hours to respond to my email or another winner will be chosen (make sure to check your spam filters!).
  • Book will be shipped directly from Penguin.