Brain Storm

nolead begins Angela Richman, Death Investigator, Book 1 nolead ends

nolead begins By Elaine Viets

Thomas & Mercer. 320 pp. $15.95 nolead ends

nolead begins

Reviewed by

Oline H. Cogdill

Best known for her humorous, light mysteries, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., author Elaine Viets confidently strides into darker terrain with Brain Storm, the launch of a new series about death investigator Angela Richman.

Angela is doing quite well at her job investigating any death that doesn't happen under a doctor's care in wealthy Choteau County, Mo., near St. Louis. Because she often is first on the scene, her findings, which are turned over to the medical examiner, have helped prove the innocence - and guilt - of murder suspects. But Angela's devastating migraines have gotten worse, forcing her to the emergency room, where she's given a cursory exam by Dr. Porter Gravois and sent home.

She wakes up 19 days later, having been in a coma after suffering six strokes. Emergency surgery by Dr. Jeb Travis saved her. The two doctors are bitter enemies - Porter is much beloved and Jeb has few friends at the Choteau Forest Hospital. When Porter is murdered, Jeb is the logical suspect. Although brain-damaged, Angela can't believe the doctor who saved her life would take another and, in her limited way, tries to prove his innocence.

Brain Storm soars as Viets shows Angela's painful recovery, buoyed by her strong spirit and will to live. Viets realistically illustrates the trials of a stroke patient, her identity and career reduced to what she "used to do." Angela's memory is so fragile she can't remember that a major life-changing event happened a few weeks before her stroke. She also is given to hallucinations because of the drugs she is taking at the hospital. Yet, Viets shows how Angela's resilience, background, and intelligence make her a sleuth to be reckoned with. Viets also adds a soupcon of humor that further shows Angela's humanity.

Angela's recovery is a major part of Brain Storm, but Viets keep the gripping plot churning by weaving in insurance fraud, hospital politics, and vile gossip that can rule an insular community.

Viets based part of Brain Storm on her own experiences. In 2007, three weeks before the publication of her Dead End Job mystery Murder with Reservations, Viets suffered a debilitating stroke. Her author friends continued her book tour for her. Her recovery was as much of a struggle - but ultimately successful - as is Angela's in Brain Storm.

This review originally appeared in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun Sentinel.