I’m Josie Marcus, St. Louis mystery shopper and mall moll. I protect and serve Mrs. Minivan, my name for shopping moms.

Let me tell you about the day I got an assignment that led to two murders – and nearly got me killed.

I reported to Harry the Horrible, my boss at Suttin Services. He wanted me to eat brains.

“Do I look like a zombie?” I asked.

“Not raw brains,” Harry said. “Or people brains. These are cow brains. I want you to eat fried brain sandwiches. You have to mystery-shop local restaurants for a big-time food tour. Brains are real St. Louis food.”

“They’re disgusting,” I said.

“Brains are a delicacy,” Harry said. “Look at all the other good food you get to eat – toasted ravioli, St. Louis pizza . . .”

“I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the brains,” I said. “Did you ever eat brain sandwiches?”

“Sure,” Harry said. “If you cover them with ketchup, they’re not half bad.”

Harry would eat Alpo with ketchup. His office wastebasket looked like a culinary crime scene heaped with red-spattered takeout bags.

Harry looked like a case for the fashion police. Bunches of coarse brown hair sprouted from his fingers, ears, nostrils – everywhere but his scalp.

“Choke down the brains and then enjoy the rest,” he said.

Choke was right. “Why do I have to eat brains? St. Louis has so many good restaurants. We’re a city of foodies.”

“So what did you have for dinner last night, Miz Foodie?”

“Macaroni and cheese,” I said.

“Made from specially aged cheddar?” Harry asked. “And that macaroni? Did you whip it up from organic wheat?”

“Kraft makes a quality product,” I said.

“I thought so. Josie, this is a big deal. This is TAG Tours – that’s Travel America Guided Tours, out of New York City. They’re for sophisticated travelers. TAG’s New York scouts identified toasted ravioli, pizza, pig ear sandwiches, and brain sandwiches as the exotic local dishes.”

“Pig ears, too?” My stomach fell like an elevator with snapped cables.

“That’s a specialty in African-American neighborhoods,” Harry said. “Do you want the job or not?”

I had to worry about my own weekly food tour at the supermarket. I’m a single mom with an 11-year-old, Amelia, to support. Mystery-shopping jobs are getting scarce in the ailing economy.

“I’ll do it,” I said. Would Amelia appreciate this sacrifice?

“Good girl.” Harry handed me a list. “The restaurants that make the cut will be on the tour. That guarantees them 50 to 200 prepaid meals at least once a week.”

I felt a surge of pride – and power. Thanks to me, visitors from around the world would dine in selected local restaurants. I could dole out fat rewards to the restaurants who met TAG’s standards. I recognized most of them. They were small, family-owned businesses.

The last four names looked out of place.

“Why is a bakery here?” I asked. “And a chocolate maker?”

“You have to eat local chocolate,” Harry said. “And gooey butter cake, another city specialty.”

“Sweet,” I said, sounding like my daughter.
DEATH ON A PLATTER, Elaine Viets’ seventh Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mystery, debuts Nov. 1 as a paperback and an e-book from NAL, a division of Penguin Group. Elaine has eaten pig-ear sandwiches, brain sandwiches, as well as lots of local chocolate and gooey butter cake.

Elaine Viets’s bestselling Dead-End Job series is a satiric look at a serious subject – the minimum-wage world. Her character, Helen Hawthorne, works a different low-paying job each book, from telemarketer to hotel maid. Publishers Weekly called her hardcover debut “wry social commentary.” Extreme body-building is the setting for PUMPED FOR MURDER, the tenth Dead-End Job mystery. Elaine’s second series features St. Louis mystery shopper Josie Marcus. Elaine has won the Agatha, Anthony and Lefty Awards. Visit Elaine at www.elaineviets.com

** To celebrate the release of DEATH ON A PLATTER, I’m giving away one copy of the book, thanks to the publisher. To enter, you must leave a valid e-mail address in the comment box with your comment. This is only open to US addresses at the publisher’s request. Contest ends on November 8th at 6pm EST. Winner will be notified by e-mail and has 2 days to respond. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. **

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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