Josie Marcus is not a typical mystery shopper. Among other things, she makes her living as a full-time mystery shopper while working for just one company. Oh, and she also tends to wind up in the middle of murder investigations. Fortunately, that does not happen to most of us, although it has happened to Josie three times (so far).
The Josie Marcus mysteries are written by popular mystery novelist Elaine Viets, who is also the author of the Dead End Jobs mysteries. Viets researches the jobs she features in her books, so how did she do with describing what mystery shopping is really like?
Some aspects she gets nearly spot-on. She shows that Josie’s life as a mystery shopper is not the glamorous whirlwind of designer gowns, flashy sports cars and cruise vacations some would have you believe. Josie spends one entire day going from one fast-food place to another, acquiring buckets of chicken (and a car that smells like a deep fryer) along the way. And Josie is not getting rich by mystery shopping, either.
Most of the shop scenarios seem reasonable. Josie checks the appearance of the building exterior, looks for fingerprints on display cases, interacts with employees, and other things that real-life mystery shoppers do every day.
So (aside from getting involved in murder investigations) what doesn’t ring true? First of all, Josie is a full-time mystery shopper, working for one company. That is not at all typical, except perhaps in Nevada. Her communications with the local office of the mystery shopping company are by fax and phone, not the Internet.
Josie’s disguises are a bit over the top. For example, when shopping those chicken restaurants, she wears “a pink tube top with WHITE TRASH written in rhinestones, purple short shorts that looked like they had been applied with a paintbrush, and red high-heeled sandals.” The outfit is topped off with a “Dolly Parton wig…down to her rear.” It is important to blend in with other customers when mystery shopping, and you won’t be blending in anywhere, even a fast food restaurant, in an outfit like that.
Most of the unrealistic aspects of mystery shopping are driven by the story. After all, would you want to read a novel about what mystery shoppers really do all day? Yeah, well, neither would anyone else, so Viets can be excused for jazzing up the job a bit.
What is the bottom line? If you like cozy mysteries (mysteries that are relatively free of blood and gore, despite the body count) you will probably enjoy the Josie Marcus mysteries. The stories are set in St. Louis, so if you have any connection with that area you will find much that is familiar. These novels are entertaining and fun to read, so if you are looking for an escape from the real life of a mystery shopper, pick up one of the Josie Marcus books and spend some time in her world.