Saturday, April 04, 2020

A Star is Dead by Elaine Viets

I had never heard of a death investigator before reading Elaine Viets' latest Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery. According to the web site, Coroner Talk, "The role of the medicolegal death investigator is to investigate any death that falls under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner or coroner, including all suspicious, violent, unexplained and unexpected deaths. The medicolegal death investigator is responsible for the dead person, whereas the local law enforcement jurisdiction is responsible for the scene." That explains why Angela Richman took charge of the bodies in A Star is Dead.

Angela Richman, death investigator of Chouteau County, Missouri, outside St. Louis, only attends Jessica Gray's last performance because of a friend. Mario Garcia, Angela's hair stylist, was hired to style the diva's hair. Jessica Gray had starred in two classic films from the 1960s. Now, she's touring with a stand-up performance that draws the wealthy, elderly crowd that remembers her. Angela is so appalled at Gray's performance that she almost walks out. Angela saw it as a bitter, caustic humiliation of three homeless women when Jessica brought them on stage. But, Mario had begged Angela to be there for him, and to go to the after-party. Both the performance and after-party leave a bitter taste in Angela's mouth.

Jessica is the one who actually suffered that bitter taste. She ends up in the hospital that night due to pneumonia. When she insists on checking herself out of the hospital, she and her staff, including Mario, head to the airport in a limo. On the way Jessica dies of poisoning. And, it's Mario Garcia, a Hispanic immigrant, who the police detective picks as the primary suspect. Angela knows Mario didn't kill anyone. She's even more suspicious when one of the homeless women from Jessica's performance ends up dead. But, she has to be careful as she tiptoes around the case so she doesn't lose her job for interference in a police investigation.

Viets shines a light on issues of homelessness and bigotry in an intriguing mystery. Although there were times I rejected her methods, I found her job as a death investigator to be fascinating. Anyone interested in forensic mysteries might want to try A Star is Dead. Better yet, start with the first in the series, Brain Storm.

Elaine Viets' website is

A Star is Dead by Elaine Viets. Severn House, 2020. ISBN 9780727890160 (hardcover), 224p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Jeff Meyerson said...

Lesa, you should go back and read the first book (and origin story) in the series, BRAIN STORM. Like her author, Richman suffered a series of strokes and had a slow recovery. I liked the first one best so far.

Lesa said...

I'll have to do that, Jeff. Thank you!

Glen Davis said...

I tend to run hot and cold with Viets.

Lesa said...

Glen, I really liked her early series set in St. Louis.

Beth said...

Love all Viets' books. Such a talent to go from cozy mysteries to thrillers.
She has great settings, humor and wonderful clues for her readers. In addition to her writing, Elaine is a generous author who shares her knowledge and humorous real-life adventures with others. I recommend you get to know her!

Beth Schmelzer

Lesa said...

I've known Elaine for years. She appeared at our first Lee County Reading Festival for us, and brought a flamingo with her. She's delightful.