Showing posts with label Helms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Helms. Show all posts

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Noble Rot, by Richard Helms

"Noble Rot," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May/June 2020.

This is the fifth appearance in this slot by Richard Helms, and the third in for this series.

I recently wrote about the ambiguity of some subgenres.  It occurs to me  that I would not like to be on the Shamus Awards committee that has to decide whether this is a private eye story.

The narrator is definitely not a P.I. Boy Boatwright is a cop.  But he is really playing a reluctant Watson to Bowie Crapster.  The Crapster (wonderful name) is not a P.I. either.  He makes his living as a psychic and part of his shtick is using his alleged  magical powers to solve crimes. Does that qualify?  Beats me.

Boy and Bowie don't get along too well.  Witness this piece of phone conversation.

"There's been a murder."
"Please tell me you're the victim."

Ha ha.  Actually a woman has been slain at a winery during a fundraising party full of the rich and influential.  And since Crapster is a friend of the wealthy host/winemaker Boy has to tread lightly.

Helms is juggling a lot of balls in this story.  He has to tell a coherent story, provide clues, and allow Boy to figure out a non-psychic explanation for Crapster's apparently mystical solution. It's a lot of fun.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shooting Stars, by Richard Helms

"Shooting Stars," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September/October 2015.

Mr. Helms makes his third appearance on this page, with his second story in this series.  (Here is the first.)

Boy Boatright is a down-on-his-luck police detective, as you can tell from this opening sentence:

Even after the crime-scene guys finished wrecking it, Nigel Bowles's trailer looked nicer than my apartment.

Lovely.  Bowles is, or was, the favorite judge on a top TV talent show, visiting town to film a special episode.  Everyone involved in the series had multiple reasons to want him dead, and most had opportunities.

But that isn't Boatright's real problem.  That would be the fact that one of the other judges is a client of an alleged psychic with the amazing name of Bowie Crapster, and he is the reason Boyright keeps threatening to retire.  Forced, again to work with the Crapster - No more than five and a half feet tall, built like the Pillsbury Doughboy, resplendent in an Italian ice-cream suit with silk cravat and gleaming white patent-leather shoes. His hair, cut in a sort of Caesar style with short bleached bangs, was reflected in his silver Elvis sunglasses.  He looked like a Good Humor Man in Key West. - our hero threatens to resign , but that would spoil the fun.

Crapster isn't quite as charmingly annoying this time, largely because he explains to Boatright and us how he achieves some of his allegedly mystical effects.  A nice example of working your way through the suspects.

One complaint:  Helms is stuck with the names he chose for his heroes but with so many letters in the alphabet why does this story include: Boy Boatwright, Bowie, Belinda, Billy, Baggs, and Bliss?  Why make it harder for the reader to keep the characters straight?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Second Sight Unseen, by Richard Helms

"Second Sight Unseen," by Richard, Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 2014.

Helms offers us what is intended to be the first in a series of stories.  The concept here isn't new (hey, Sherlock Holmes wasn't the first genius detective either) but the characters are intersting and the writing is amusing. 

The narrator is Boy Boatwright, a cop who should have retired but is living on booze and adrenalin.  (When the story starts he is waking up with his face on the toilet rim.)  But the hero, for lack of a better word, is the remarkably-named Bowie Crapster.  Crapster is "five and a half feet tall, with a figure like a Bradford pear."  He dresses in flashy clothes and "looked like the vanguard of a midget Elvis parade."

Crapster claims to be a psychic detective but he graciously gives the cops all the credit for his work.  He just wants the reward money.  Boatwright loathes him, but the fact is, he is a pretty shrewd sleuth.  In this case he deals with the apparent kidnapping of the young heir to a wealthy family. 

Will he solve it?  Will he drive Boatwright back to the booze?  "Some days it just doesn't pay to get up out of the toilet."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Busting Red Heads, by Richard Helms

"Busting Red Heads," by Richard Helms, in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,  March/April

I have said before that my favorite stories tend to have at least one of three qualities: a great concept, heightened language, or a surprise ending.  Helms' story scores on the first two and makes a shot at the third.

Here's the concept: Tommy Crane fought in World War I, joined the Boston Police, and then figured he could make more money by joining a detective agency.  But like a lot of "detectives" in the twenties his job wasn't to solve crimes; it was to stop Bolsheviks, being defined as anyone who wanted to form or join a union.  This is a part of the private dick business I don't remember anyone writing about before.

 By heightened language I mean that the words are there for something more than just telling the story.  In this case, they tell you a lot about character:

Three of us -- me, Everett Sloop, and Warren Johns -- were sitting in the Kansas City office in August of 1923, trying to stay cool and counting the minutes until we could shove off and grab a cool beer down the street.  Jess Coulter, our commander, walked in and scowled when he saw us.
"You guys packed?"
"We goin' somewhere?" Johns asked. 
"Rawlings, Kentucky."
"Don't much care for Kentucky," Sloop said.
"There's the door," Coulter said.  "Nobody's holding you here."
That shut Sloop up but good.

In Kentucky they get to work beating up strikers but things go wrong when they  attack the union office.  The wrong people die and there's a mystery to solve.   Good story.