by Diana Davis
At 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 15, Elaine Viets casually walked into an auditorium at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters that was filled with eager fans. As she came down the aisle smiling, she paused to shake hands and exchange a word or two with old friends.
She immediately introduced her new book, Murder is a Piece of Cake, the eighth book in the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper Series. In the book, Josie Marcus is finally getting ready to marry the veterinarian, Dr. Ted Scottsmeyer Hall, after having dated him in Viets’ three previous books. Josie is a practical, thrifty bride who wants a nice wedding at moderate prices, so the young couple can save for their first house. But before the plans can be finalized, Ted’s rich, snobbish, mother (who had arrived in St. Louis to upgrade the wedding preparations) is arrested for murder. In order to marry her man, Josie must first find the real killer and get her future mother-in-law out of jail.
At the end of the 268-page book is a 23-page addendum where Viets dispenses advice discovered in her book’s research about scams and pitfalls that every bride should avoid. She also provided website addresses for many on-line wedding items. The book is doing well and is number 11 on the Barnes and Noble Paperback List.
After the reading, Elaine made a few witty comments about St. Louis. She grew up here and considers the St. Louis area her home town. She laughed about the common St. Louis question: “Where did you go to high school?” People from other areas always ask why St. Louisans ask this question. Elaine’s eyes sparkled when she replied. “I tell them because it sounds more polite than if we asked–Is your family important? How much money do you have? And what religion are you?” For example, she added, “I went to St. Thomas Aquinas High School. When I say that, everybody knows that I grew up in North County, my dad carried a lunch pail to work, and we’re Roman Catholic.” Everybody laughed.
She went on to say that she was grateful for the Library hosting her event. When she was young, back in the late fifties, the Book Mobile was the highlight of her week. The librarian sat in the trailer and recorded into a Dictaphone the name of the author and the title of the book. In those days, no one said dirty words. Each of the kids put a special book on hold, and they were delighted weekly when the librarian sat in her chair and dutifully recorded: Erskine Caldwell, The Bastard.
Elaine grew up in Florissant and so coming back to the St. Louis area is going home for her. She said there were no Bridezillas in those days. If a bride had acted out of control, the behavior would have been labeled rude, and the bride would have been called on it. Continuing with her comments on St. Louis, she emphasized what a wonderful town this is – so full of history and tradition. She used the Jewel Box at Forest Park as the wedding setting in her book. Then the couple went to Shaw’s Botanical Gardens for wedding photos. She said her editors in New York were amazed that our city has such beautiful venues for weddings.
Her own wedding in 1971 was not so filled with historical architecture. She had her reception at a VFW hall on the south side and the receiving line was formed in front of the Turkey Shoot Posters. They served mostaccioli. Everybody served mostaccioli in those days, especially the good Germans. Recently, she had heard that some are switching to Pasta con Broccoli. That’s un-American!
She spoke a few words about the special language that St. Louisans speak that is unknown elsewhere in the world; for example, the word fritz, as in “the television went on the fritz today,” meaning it was malfunctioning. Pitch means to discard, as in, “I went through my closet today and pitched a bunch of old clothes.” Sundah is the St. Louis pronunciation of ice cream sundae; whereas others pronounce the word Sunday. Warsh is what St. Louisans do to their dirty clothes while others wash theirs. She asked her aunt why we pronounce wash with an R in it. Her aunt replied it goes back to the ribs on the washboard, and if we didn’t say the R, the clothes would never get clean. A zinc is where we wash our dishes. Although the ice man stopped deliveries in the 1930’s, St. Louisans still call the place where the chill their food, ice boxes rather than refrigerators. Outsiders are amused that we drive Highway Farty, and she must explain to them that farty is the number that comes after thirty-nine.
Every time she comes back to St. Louis, she needs to learn to drive again. She said, “Did you know that other people in this country actually stop at stop signs. We do the St. Louis ‘roll’ and go right on through ours; no one makes a full stop. It’s dangerous, rather like the running of the bulls at Pamplona; you could get run over! I had an out-of-town friend who came here and actually stopped at the stop sign. She got rear-ended—by a cop!”
At the end of the evening, the audience voted on photos the best and worst bridesmaid’s gowns. The prettiest gown was judged to be at worn by Betty Jean Funk. The one judged the worst was worn at a December wedding in 1973 by Barbara Chambers. There was a photo of the original wearing. It was red with white insets in the bodice and at the hemline. It had a Nehru neckline. At the wedding, it was accessorized with a red muff with white flowers and Barbara wore red shoes as she walked down the church’s white runners. She was also at the reading on Thursday evening; and modeled the same gown she that she had worn 39 years earlier. Barbara laughed, said than when her children were young, it was the perfect Mrs. Santa Clause outfit. For her prize, she won a party for 10 at Schlafly Bottleworks at 7260 Southwest Avenue in Maplewood.
Everyone adjourned to the hallway where Elaine signed her books for guests. I recommend the book to our readers. I’m sure you’ll recognize many settings in the book and there is a lot of humor in the storytelling as well.