Deadly Catch by E Michael Helms
Deadly Catch by E Michael Helms (Seventh Street Books, 2013) is like entering into a time warp (in the nicest possible way, of course). In the good old days of publishing, one of the norms was the 192 page paperback. That was six gathers of thirty-two pages, a reality many authors embraced the hard way. I know of several who suddenly discovered their word counts were going to miss the target and so had to wind up their plot in two or three pages. These were the train wrecks caused by the need to produce high volume. Those few authors with the luxury of time could go back, revise their texts, and so produce greater plotting coherence. Mostly, we readers just shuddered, tried to guess how it might have come out with another gather of thirty-two pages to play with, and then passed on to the next book. This ARC almost hits the mark perfectly, not that the plot is truncated to fit. But it did give me a frisson as memories clicked into place.
In fact, the style is also in the classic mode, being not a million miles from John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels, i.e. it’s a stripped down prose style that propels the plot along at a good pace, pausing only briefly for a dalliance with a convenient female. So like Sergeant McGee, we have a retired US Marine called Mac McClellan who ends up in Florida to do some fishing. As the title suggests, he casts and snags a dead body. Where would we be without a murder to solve? Obviously, there are suspicious looks coming from the local law. Here’s this tough guy who just happens to go out fishing and pulls out a body at a place where some drugs recently washed up on shore. Like there are such things as coincidences. Normally, he might ignore such obviously baseless suspicions, but when the body turns out to be a young woman about the same age as his daughter, Mac decides he will investigate to clear his name and get justice for the victim. Except the autopsy suggests she might not have been completely on the side of the angels. It seems, like many young people today, she had been “experimenting” with drugs. When some drugs turn up on the boat Mac had rented, it’s obvious he’s being set up. So he begins to look around the local community to see who had motive and opportunity to both kill the girl and try to frame him.
This is more a thriller than a mystery, i.e. the plot is really an excuse for the hero to show off his determination and, when pushed to it, his fighting skills. Although it’s necessary to identify the bad guys for this to wrap up, it really comes down to the growing list of people trying to frame and/or kill him. This is not to deny the professionalism with which the package is put together but, as puzzles go, this is not terribly challenging. That said, the whodunnit is not really the point. The expectation is that we readers will be swept along as our hero both asks the right questions and shows off his tracking skills, conquers the underwater swimming thing, and remembers which end of the gun bullets come out. In this, the author is modestly successful. Deadly Catch is an undemanding thriller which just about holds interest for the short period of time it takes to read it.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.