My Favorite Mysteries List

By E. Michael Helms

The season of giving (and receiving) is upon us once again. For all you fans of mystery/crime/suspense/thriller, what better to receive (or possibly, give) than books in the aforementioned genres to/from relatives and friends? Therefore, in the spirit of the season, I hereby list some of my favorite crime/mystery/suspense/thriller-related books of all time.

Note: All cover images and brief synopses courtesy of


The Tower Treasure, by Franklin W. Dixon

A dying criminal confesses that his loot has been stored “in the tower.” Both towers of the looted mansion are searched in vain. It remains for the Hardy boys to make an astonishing discovery that clears up the mystery and clears the name of a friend’s father.

I might as well begin at the beginning. I really can’t remember why or how I became interested in The Hardy Boys mystery series, but I scrimped and saved all my hard-earned nickels and dimes to purchase the first 40-plus books in the series. Suffice it to say I was enraptured by brothers Frank and Joe, who inevitably helped their father, Fenton Hardy, solve cases which might have had the elder Hardy stumped. Of course occasionally the boys, with the help of pal Chet Morton (and others), were faced with the arduous task of solving mysteries they would stumble upon themselves. Author Franklin W. Dixon (pseudonym for several authors over the years) provided me with hours of adventure and thrills as I helped Frank, Joe, and the gang solve their many cases. I chose to showcase The Tower Treasure simply because it was the first book in this mesmerizing series.


The Deep Blue Good-by: A Travis McGee Novel, by John D. MacDonald

Travis McGee is a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He’s also a knight-errant who’s wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half.

Again, I chose to showcase the first Travis McGee mystery simply because it’s the first of author John D. MacDonald’s signature Travis McGee novels. Who could resist a guy who lives aboard a houseboat—The Busted Flush—that he won in a poker game? The McGee novels are fun, fast-paced, and a wonderful escape from the mundane everyday life most of us live. High marks to the author for this series. Note to fans of Travis McGee: don’t forget to check out MacDonald’s pre-Travis McGee novels. There are some gems to be found.


The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

A treasure worth killing for Sam Spade, a slightly shopworn private eye with his own solitary code of ethics. A perfumed grafter named Joel Cairo, a fat man name Gutman, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, a beautiful and treacherous woman whose loyalties shift at the drop of a dime. These are the ingredients of Dashiell Hammett’s coolly glittering gem of detective fiction, a novel that has haunted three generations of readers.

What can I add to this classic forerunner of the modern mystery? The movie version starring Bogey is almost as good as the book—a rare thing in Hollywood. As one reviewer put it:  . . . Spade is tough enough to bluff the toughest thugs and hold off the police, risking his reputation when a beautiful woman begs for his help, while knowing that betrayal may deal him a new hand in the next moment.

My opinion? You can’t go wrong with any novel by Hammett.


The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel. Okay, I’m beginning to sound redundant here, but why not? All of Chandler’s works are worth having. Buy one, consume it, and you’re bound to go back for more helpings. What better recommendation can one give? Bogart’s movie performance is an added blessing.

The Big Sleep (1939) is a hardboiled crime novel by Raymond Chandler, the first to feature the detective Philip Marlowe. It has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 and again in 1978. The story is set in Los Angeles, California.

The story is noted for its complexity, with characters double-crossing one another and secrets being exposed throughout the narrative. The title is a euphemism for death; it refers to a rumination about “sleeping the big sleep” in the final pages of the book.

In 1999, the book was voted ninety-sixth of Le Monde’s “100 Books of the Century”. In 2005, it was included in Time magazine’s “List of the 100 Best Novels”


The Galton Case, by Ross Macdonald

Almost twenty years have passed since Anthony Galton disappeared, along with a suspiciously streetwise bride and several thousand dollars of his family’s fortune. Now Anthony’s mother wants him back and has hired Lew Archer to find him. What turns up is a headless skeleton, a boy who claims to be Galton’s son, and a con game whose stakes are so high that someone is still willing to kill for them. Devious and poetic, The Galton Case displays MacDonald at the pinnacle of his form.

Okay, I’m breaking tradition here by not featuring Ross Macdonald’s first Lew Archer Mystery on my list of all-time favorite mysteries. Why? Well, it’s certainly not because I think The Moving Target isn’t worthy of the honor; it’s simply because of all Macdonald’s Archer books, The Galton Case shines. I won’t go into a detailed explanation here. Do a little research and see for yourself. All the Lew Archer novels are fantastic reads (in my humble opinion); and Ross Macdonald is, and shall remain, my favorite author in the genre (he said, expectantly). Enough said. As they say, “Opinions are like a – – h – les; everybody has one.”

It is with my highest recommendation that you cannot go wrong by giving or receiving any of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels. Feast and enjoy!


Deadly Spirits: A Mac McClellan Mystery, by E. Michael Helms

When PI Mac McClellan’s girlfriend convinces him to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society, he becomes embroiled in a case of whooodunnit. The society president, while investigating an old hotel, is found dead at the foot of the stairwell, his neck broken. The man’s secretary and current squeeze stands horrified beside his body. Authorities rule the death an accident. Mac has doubts–no one heard the man tumbling down the stairs. Then the secretary dies in an apparent suicide. Two deaths in two paranormal investigations, and not a peep out of either victim. Mac suspects there’s more going on than a vengeful spirit. Book 4 in the Mac McClellan Mystery series, which began with Deadly Catch.

Well, come on, I couldn’t pass up this FREE opportunity to blow my own humble horn now, could I? Well, okay—but I’m blowing it anyway. In my humble opinion, Deadly Spirits is the most complex and compelling mystery in the series to date. I’m not asking you to go out and preorder, or buy it (pretty please?); but if you do, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the least. Hey, it’s a good read if I do say so myself!

Okay, self-hawking over. Do yourself a favor; buy one or more of these aforementioned mysteries for that special person on your list who enjoys the genre, or who just might become a fan; or, if someone asks you what you want for a present this Holiday Season, well, you now have my humble recommendations!

Here’s wishing you and your loved ones a happy and peaceful Holiday Season! Enjoy!


About the Author

E. Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, FL, on the beautiful coast of the Florida Panhandle. He played football and excelled in baseball as a catcher. Turning down a scholarship offer from the local junior college, he joined the Marine Corps after high school graduation. He served as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War until wounded three times in one day. Helms discounts it as “waking up on the wrong side of the foxhole.”

His memoir of the war, The Proud Bastards, has been called “As powerful and compelling a battlefield memoir as any ever written … a modern military classic,” and remains in print after 26 years.

 The Private War of Corporal Henson, a semi-autobiographical fictional sequel to The Proud Bastards, was published in August 2014.

 A long-time Civil War buff, Book One of Helms’ two-volume historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers, was released September 2013. Book Two followed in March 2014.

Seeking a respite from writing about war, Helms decided to give mysteries a try. The first novel of his Mac McClellan Mystery series, Deadly Catch, was published in November 2013 and was named Library Journal’s “Debut Mystery of the Month.” The second Mac McClellan Mystery, Deadly Ruse, premiered in November 2014. It won the 2015 RONE AWARD for Best Mystery. Deadly Dunes followed in March 2016. Deadly Spirits is set to launch January 15, 2017.

With his wife, Karen, Helms now lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the shadow of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. He enjoys playing guitar, hiking, camping, fishing, canoeing, and is an avid birdwatcher. He continues to listen as Mac McClellan dictates his latest adventures in his mystery series.

Represented by Fred Tribuzzo, The Rudy agency.



17 thoughts on “My Favorite Mysteries List

  1. Wow, Michael! Thank you so much. I’m always wandering down the mystery aisle in the library and I don’t know who to read. Now I have a list! And your paranormal mystery sounds fantastic. That’s on my list too. What a life you’ve had! I don’t know why we writers are so worried about blowing our own horn. We put our lives into these books. All the best. Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Wendy! There are so many other great authors whose books I didn’t mention. You might want to check out Robert J. Ray (rather hard boiled, but I love his work); our own Max Everhart (a Finalist for this year’s SHAMUS AWARD–I love his PI, Eli Sharpe); also, MMO’s own Kait Carson (she takes you to another world underwater via SCUBA diving); and Jill Edmondson (her Sasha Jackson mysteries are a real hoot!). I could go on, but you get the picture. Thanks again for your continued support and comments. We appreciate it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Judy! I read a few Nancy Drew mysteries myself (shh, don’t let my buddies know!) and enjoyed them. I believe the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books have been “modernized” to suit today’s kids. It also (sadly) appears they’ve been “dumbed down” somewhat, and of course made politically correct. In my opinion the old versions were better, and also provided a bit of a history lesson to how things were a few generations ago. Sill in all, they’re wonderful and entertaining reads (anything to get those electronic devices out of kids’ hands for awhile!). 🙂


    1. Thanks, Janet! There are quite a number of interesting series for kids today, but it takes some researching. Thankfully Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys are still available. Kids need to read. Reading exercises the mind, and takes the reader on adventures that he/she can become part of firsthand by identifying with the heroes of the story. Electronics are great and very useful tools, but nothing will ever replace good ol’ reading!


  2. MacDonald, Chandler, Macdonald, yes, I couldn’t agree more, Michael. Those are fantastic books by highly talented authors. You really can’t go far wrong. And as for your own stories, hey, why not plug them? They’re great stories, you should promote them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Margot! There’s a world of mystery (and their authors) out there waiting to be discovered. Dame Agatha, anyone? So many books, so little time! I haven’t been receiving your blog notices lately. Maybe I need to “re-up.” Hey, how is PAST TENSE doing? Which reminds me of a certain book I need to pick up for Christmas! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Michael, for your interest. I’ve been really fortunate that those who’ve read Past Tense have liked it, and there’ve been some generous reviews. If you do get to it, I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice list Michael. I especially like The Maltese Falcon. I have just finished Deadly Spirits, gave it a five star rating and loved it. Review pending. All the Mac McClellan Mysteries are exciting, super smooth reads, but my favorite is Deadly Spirits. The climax of the story occurs during a hurricane, during which the complex plot comes to a boiling head. Frankly I don’t know how Mac gets insurance on his stuff at all!

    As far as gifts, the war books are tremendous reads too. If you are in the military or are a military buff, The Proud Bastards is a classic and Of Blood & Brothers is full of historical information and great characters. When I find an author I really enjoy I tend to go through all their books because that’s my way of reading. Just a quirk, but with Michael’s works I don’t have to worry if I’m going to like them. Best to all in your holiday giving. Here’s to literacy!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, MJ! (The check is in the mail.) 🙂 I appreciate all the flattering comments. That guy must be really good–think I’ll check him out. I agree about Deadly Spirits. I think it’s the best in the series (to date). The characters really took over in that one. I should list them as co-authors! Thanks again for your continuing support of MMO!


  5. Aw, shucks–McGee and McClellan in the same sentence–what to do, what to do? Well, Travis lives at a nice marina aboard his big houseboat, while Mac and Henry live in their modest travel trailer beneath pine trees accessed by crushed shell roads. Not too many bikini-clad honeys playing about in Mac’s lot or in any of the next nearby sites. Hey, Maybe I ought to have him saddle up and move to Fort Lauderdale. . . now THERE’S a thought! 🙂


  6. Michael, I loved the Hardy Boys as a kid. I read almost the entire series. Back then, I thought Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene were real writers. I reread the first Hardy Boys novel THE TOWER TREASURE a year ago and was delighted that the detective adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy and their friends still held up. And such fascinating titles too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice to hear from you, Prashant! I also thought Franklin & Carolyn were the real deal way back when. I’ve been buying (in order) the Hardy Boys for my two grandsons. I loved taking part in their adventures/investigations. I often felt like I was riding in the backseat of their roadster beside Chet Morton. Such fun & magical times! 🙂


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