A Suitable Job for a Sleuth

  I spent part of the workday, yesterday, moving boxes and furniture because our office is being renovated. (Yes, with us in it.) I felt like a mover. Some time ago, while researching ideas for a potential novel, I stumbled across a New York Times article from the 1800s about professional mourners in Paris going on strike for better wages. Turns out professional mourners are called moirologists. They’re still around, although the term “moirologist ” isn’t commonly used anymore. There’s a UK-based company called Rent a Mourner, www.rentamourner.co.uk, that offers “discreet and professional” people to “attend funerals and wakes”. This got me thinking about jobs. Specifically, jobs for an amateur sleuth. How might a sleuth’s occupation lead to mayhem and mystery?
My question for my fellow Miss Demeanors: What’s the strangest and/or coolest job you can think of for an amateur sleuth? The job doesn’t have to exist currently. An amateur sleuth in the speculative fiction realm could be a professional vampire hunter or a space junk remover. A sleuth in a historical novel might have a job that used to exist but no longer does, like a gas lamplighter or a resurrectionist. (I hope resurrectionist is a now-obsolete job.) Here’s what my co-bloggers had to say.

I was recently talking to a historian who specializes in Tudor jewelry. I think that could lead to some mayhem. Also, Alexia, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Christine Trent, but her protagonist is a Victorian undertaker.

In Jamaica, folks hire professional mourners when someone dies without a lot of living relatives. People actually cry and gnash teeth. It’s just too embarrassing to leave this earth unmourned. My mom says that she’s been to funerals with them. You wouldn’t want to not do it and have grandpa wandering around waiting for people to cry for him.

I think an electrician would be a cool job for an amateur sleuth. He’d get to go into strangers’ houses –maybe deal with cases in which the electricity had been cut to disarm the alarm system. Or maybe it’s a better job for a villain. After I send my current book into my publisher, I intend to write a story about a guy solving a personal mystery who owns a home tech company. What did Jarvis do?

I’ve thought about a freelance mortician’s makeup artist as an amateur sleuth. Kind of outside my area of expertise but would make for an entertaining, if grisly, series. A slightly weirder and more fun idea I’ve got on the back burner is a car mechanic as the sleuth. Every car built after September 1, 2014 has the automotive version of an airplane “black box” originally intended to provide crash data that mechanics now use for diagnostics. These black boxes also give law enforcement all kinds of information on cars and their drivers.

I believe professional mourners ate common in Asian countries. Maybe their popularity in certain areas is related to ancestors/elders being revered in those places. I like the idea of hiring moirologists. A sparsely attended funeral just seems tragic.

Could an electrician or a mechanic tamper with the car’s black box to make it seem to have been someplace it wasn’t? Maybe the mortician’s makeup artist is the mechanic’s girlfriend. I could see them faking injuries and tampering with the black box to mislead an investigation. An episode of “Midsomer Murders” hinges on the ability of a makeup artist to apply fake bruises.

At Malice Domestic this year one author described her new series with a “Professional Organizer” as the sleuth. Made sense to me…. they nose around in people’s private (and forgotten) junk. Perfect for an amateur sleuth to fall into mysteries.

Every time I have a manicure or pedicure, I marvel at the creative names given nail polish and say I’d like that job. Not manicurist, but the position where you get to make up names like “Meet Me at the Altar” and “I’m Suzy and I’m a Chocoholic.” Imagine sitting somewhere all day dreaming up names like “Hands off My Kielbasa” (from the international collection) to “No Tan Lines” (from the Fiji collection). But could my Creative Polish Namer (CNP) become an amateur sleuth? Absolutely. The competition between Opi and Esse must be murderous. The pressure to come up with the sexiest names for the most alluring colors a motive to kill. Surely there would be leaks within the ranks. Beauty magazine editors selling secrets. The CPN at one company is found dead holding a bottle of “Blood Bath” (from the Lady Killer collection). Her competition is a person of interest. A new color, “Nailed,” is christened at the end when we find out who killed the CNP.
Oddly enough, this sounds like a cozy to me.

Did you see the article about the AI programmer who tried to teach her computer (recurrent neural network–I guess that’s a fancy computer) to come up with names for paint colors? It came up with names like Barfly, spring tumchid, jeurici rain, mud, bank butt, dorkwood, caring tan, and sink. Personal faves: copper panty and shivable peach.
Hey, maybe neural network programmer would be a good job for a sleuth. She could investigate the “murder” of her neural networked computer by a human nail polish color namer who was made redundant by her AI program.

Here’s a fun example of machine learning (aka neural network which isn’t exactly a computer but the explanation is long and boring): https://ternus.github.io/nsaproductgenerator/
It creates a new NSA code name and “project sheet” based on words used collections, dumps and leaks found online. They make for intriguing story prompts

Love that!
We have a cottage behind our house (it started off as the original kitchen for the house) and we had a tenant who was 21 and studying to be a mortician. Struck me as an odd choice if you weren’t born into the tradition …

Fun though…. maybe we can have a contest on missdemeanors to come up with a story about a theme (500 to 1000 words) … make a story about the mortician’s girlfriend. We will write our own and then ask readers to submit. Publish the best one on the blog in a nonbinding way….

How about it? Anyone want to take us up on the challenge? Write a short (500-1000 word) story about a mechanic, a mortician’s makeup artist, and a moirologist. It has to be a mystery, of course. Bonus points if you can work in Tudor jewelry, a professional organizer, and nail polish. The contest isn’t affiliated with Wix, Facebook, or anybody except us. The only prizes are bragging rights and a really cool Missdemeanors webcam cover to keep homicidal neural networks (or human hackers) from spying on you through your laptop’s camera. Also handy for covering peepholes in hotel doors. Participating doesn’t obligate us to you nor you to us in any way, shape, or form. Your story remains yours but we’ll post the winner on the blog. We’ll be the judges. We can’t guarantee you fame, fortune, or a book deal but we’re pretty certain you’ll have fun.
Not up to writing a story? Share your ideas for crazy, cool, or freaky amateur sleuth jobs instead.

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Be Careful What You Say; You Might End Up in My Novel

 I struggled to come up with an idea for a blog post today. I mean I had nothing. Nothing struck me as new or blogworthy. I didn’t feel I had anything to say about anything, at least nothing that hadn’t been said countless times already. No new spins, no new twists. Until I decided to get dinner and went out for a sandwich.
My town boasts a lovely cheese market. They sell more varieties of cheese than I imagined possible. Cheese made from milk produced by every animal except yak, I think. Cheese from more countries than you can find on Google Earth. Plain cheese and cheese with add-ins ranging from berries to nuts to nettles to bourbon. Pure cheese nirvana. The market also sells deli meats, salads, pastries, beverages, and heat-and-eat meals. And sandwiches. Which is why I was there. As I waited for my panino (which I just learned is the singular of panini) to come off the grill, a man approached the counter with a tub of grated parmesan cheese. The cashier rang up the cheese and asked the man if he wanted anything else. “No,” the man said. He swiped his card to pay for his cheese and left.
Grated parmesan. That’s all he bought. No pasta, no bread, no wine. Just a single tub of grated parmesan. Who goes to the store and buys only a tub of grated parmesan? What’s he going to do with it? I looked him over—unobtrusively, I hoped. Middle-aged. Handsome. A bit of gray flecked his dark hair and beard. His beard fell into the scruffy category—too heavy to be five o’clock shadow, too scant to be called full. Neat and trim enough to suggest he worked to keep it that way. He wore a nice suit and carried a stainless-steel travel coffee mug. The lid was on but he held it sideways, suggesting he’d finished the contents at some earlier point in his commute. It also suggested he’d just come from the train. If he’d driven, he’d have left the mug in his vehicle. In other words, he looked like an average businessman, no different from some zillion other average commuters. Nothing sinister about him.
But, because this is how my brain works, I immediately started to attribute sinister motive behind buying only a tub of grated parmesan cheese. I decided he was going to mix poison in it and swap it for an unadulterated tub. A regular brain would assume he was planning a spaghetti dinner and simply forgot the parmesan so stopped by the store on the way from work to get some. Or someone was fixing spaghetti for him and called or texted him to say they were out of cheese and please get some on the way home. A regular brain would assume these things. My brain is not regular. My brain writes murder mysteries. A friend once asked me if I spent all my time imagining ways my friends would die if they were characters in my novels. I told him my “friends” have nothing to worry about. But, yeah, I kind of do. Every place I visit is a potential crime scene in some future novel. Every person I see is a model for a fictional victim or suspect. Every overheard conversation becomes the basis for potential dialog or a plot. It’s been said that authors steal lives. Authors steal entire worlds. Everything, even the most mundane situation (and, really, what’s more mundane than buying a tub of cheese?) is fair game for future fiction. And, you know what? I’m not sorry. No apologies. As an introvert, I’ve lived in my head my entire life. I enjoy the stories swirling around in there. I’m not hurting anyone. I don’t shout at strangers, “Hey! Who are you going to poison with that cheese?” Making up stories satisfies my urge to create, fulfills my God complex. The world in my head operates the way I want it to. Good triumphs over evil, the bad guy never gets away with it, repentance and redemption are the rules, not the exceptions, chaos becomes order, wrongs are made right, justice prevails.
So, Mr. Cheese, if you happen to read this, don’t worry. I don’t really think you’re a mad poisoner. My assessment of your food choice may have been influenced by the advanced reader’s copy of fellow Missdemeanor, Cate Holahan’s, new domestic thriller, The Lies She Told. A good domestic thriller makes you suspicious of all things associated with domestic tranquility. You give every mundane action, every scene of commonplace life, the side eye, wondering what darkness lurks beneath the Norman Rockwell-esque veneer. But, please, enjoy your pasta or whatever you plan to sprinkle with parmesan. I’ll keep my thoughts about your purchase to myself. Unless I come across a breaking news headline about the Spaghetti Murders. 

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