In December 1958, Castro and Che march to depose Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Miami private eye Cormac Loame heads to Havana to locate the missing daughter of former heavyweight fighter turned mob money-launderer Cecil “Madman” Hacker. In Havana, Loame loses old friends, tangles with notorious gangsters, mingles with movie stars and a Nobel laureate, finds betrayal and murder, and rekindles a long-lost love while staying a step ahead of the Grim Reaper. Nothing seems to go according to plan along the Mojito Coast.
Richard Helms added, “I’m fascinated by pre-Castro Cuba, which was a strange mix of corruption and capitalism. This book examines the Batista regime’s fall in late ’58 as witnessed by a private eye at a critical point in history. Many themes interact with one another in this book: lost opportunities, personal regrets, fate, love, desire, betrayal, and existential futility.”
Bruce DeSilva, Edgar Award-winning author of CLIFF WALK and ROGUE ISLAND, said, “Helms’s tight, muscular prose is reminiscent of the largely-forgotten [Richard] Prather, whose work is still very much worth reading. Read THE MOJITO COAST for the fine writing, the taut suspense, and as a fitting homage to crime fiction’s golden age.”
Richard Greener, author of The Locator novels, said, “Richard Helms’ slick page turner THE MOJITO COAST is a novel ripe with the dialogue of old Cuba. You taste the scent of beautiful women, sense the danger from a host of unsavory characters, feel the heavy humid breeze of an unknown Cuban mystery, and actually believe you really are in the pre-Castro Havana that was home to the likes of Hemingway, Tony Bennett, and a slew of colorful mobsters from Batista on down to the usual suspects.”
Scenes featuring Ernest Hemingway make the novel compelling. “I originally wrote him in as a cameo—didn’t even mention his name, though sharp-eyed readers would probably recognize him. Then I had an opportunity to write him into another scene. Before I knew it, he became a major supporting character. When the book takes place, Hemingway was in mid-stages of dementia that led to his suicide two years later. I wanted to write him as a character coping with growing confusion, but still clinging desperately to his diminishing vitality, and seeing in the revolution one more shot at relevance. This book, unintentionally, became as much about Hemingway as it is about Cormac Loame and Marisol Gonzalez.”
Helms gave his protagonist some defining quality independent of the story’s mainstream. “Cormac Loame in THE MOJITO COAST claims to be cold and hardboiled, but shows signs that he is genuinely concerned about the people he encounters.”
Inspiration came from a recurring dream Helms had. “In my dream, I’d search through desk drawers, closets—everywhere—trying to find a lost private eye manuscript set in Havana. Then I found it in my dream and started reading it. As happens in dreams, reading the book led to dreaming the story, and that dream formed the background for the real book.”
Regarding writing mechanics, Helms said, “I hate, hate, hate writing first drafts—pure drudgery. Once I have it down, however, I get to make it pretty. I compare it to woodwork, my other personal devotion. Once the basics are in place, I get to refine it, sand it, smooth it, and make it truly beautiful. I tend to write a first draft in about a hundred hours, and at least that much time editing, rewriting, filling in, and producing the finished product. I do some mild rewriting as I build the first draft, but most of the hard work comes in rewrite. It’s not unusual for me to cut twenty thousand words out of the first draft, though I may add many more new ones.”
Like a road trip without a map—or GPS—Helms said, “My stories always change from the way I first envision them. I know where I want it to go, but my characters get other ideas. The ending of THE MOJITO COAST bears no resemblance to the synopsis I wrote when starting the book. It took on a life of its own, and dragged me along with it.”
Discussing outline process, Helms said, “Outline? What’s that? I’m more of a pantser. I begin with a concept, and a vague notion of how the story will end. Sometimes I write a brief synopsis, but the end story differs, because my characters insist on doing their own thing.”
Helms offers advice for aspiring writers. “I like Stephen King’s admonition, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ As my buddy Jack Bludis says, ‘Read, read, read. Write, write, write.’”
Writers are readers. Helms said, “When I started writing thrillers in the 1980s, I emulated Robert Ludlum and David Morrell. Morrell’s THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE strongly inspired my novel, THE AMADEUS LEGACY. When writing private eye novels, McDonald’s Travis McGee series, and Parker’s Spenser series inspired me.”
Prolific Helms has his third Judd Wheeler novel, OLDER THAN GOODBYE, coming out in 2014. His fifth Pat Gallegher novel, PAID IN SPADES, is targeted for 2015. And he has two short stories in queue at ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (EQMM). Listing many titles slated beyond 2015, Helms concluded by saying, “Buy the books! I’m running out of relatives!”
Retired forensic psychologist Richard Helms is a three-time Shamus Award nominee, a four-time Derringer Award nominee, and received Macavity and Thriller Award nominations. He’s the only author to win two different Derringer Award categories in the same year (2008), and he won the Thriller Award for Best Short Story in 2011 for THE GODS FOR VENGEANCE CRY (EQMM, November 2010). A full-time psychology professor, Helms and his wife Elaine live in a small North Carolina town.
To learn more about Richard, visit his website.