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 Amazon.com
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.