Virtual Book Tour: Vicar Brekonridge by Richard Helms #blogtour #interview #historical #mystery #giveaway #rabtbooktours @RABTBookTours - A Life Through Books

Friday, November 3, 2023

Virtual Book Tour: Vicar Brekonridge by Richard Helms #blogtour #interview #historical #mystery #giveaway #rabtbooktours @RABTBookTours


 Historical Mystery

Date Published: 10-23-2023

Publisher: Level Best Books' Historia Imprint

photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png


A historical mystery based on Helms' Derringer Award-nominated EQMM short story "The Cripplegate Apprehension". 

 In 1843 London, a Scottish woodturner named Daniel M'Naghten gunned down Edward Drummond, the private secretary to Prime Minister Robert Peel, while Drummond strolled the streets of Whitehall. M'Naghten believed he shot the Prime Minister and, after being informed otherwise and making a brief statement at his arraignment, he never spoke in public about the crime again. M'Naghten was represented at trial by firebrand Queen's Counsel Alexander Cockburn, who intended to plead insanity and rewrite four hundred years of English Common Law in the process. In this fictional retelling of the famous historical event, Cockburn recruits legendary London thief-taker Vicar Brekonridge to travel to Glasgow, M'Naghten's home, and find witnesses who can bolster the insanity defense. What Brekonridge finds instead suggests that M'Naghten was part of a frightening conspiracy to bring down the British government. 


"In a seamless blending of historical fact and narrative skill, Richard Helms reimagines the sensational case of Daniel M'Naghten, whose 1843 murder trial set a precedent that reverberates to this day. Helms has crafted a thoroughly gripping historical mystery that will leave readers eager to hear more of the “notorious thief-taker” Vicar Brekonridge. 

 —Daniel Stashower, Edgar Award Winning Author of American Demon 

“VICAR BREKONRIDGE may be one of (Richard Helms’) more intriguing creations...a fascinating character to follow around, as he makes his way through the streets and back alleys of London, through its open air markets and dingy taverns or journeying out to Newgate Prison to visit a man he put there...For all his rough-and-tumble manners, cynical bravado, mercenary motives and sliding scale honesty, in a shady profession not particularly known for its integrity, he struts through the streets of London, a cloud of hemp in his wake, hewing to some inexplicable personal code that betrays a startling even-minded empathy for the criminals he hunts down, and a concern for — of all things — justice, which reminded me of Sam Spade‘s moral ambivalence. “ 

—Kevin Burton Smith, Thrilling Detective Website




What is the hardest part of writing your books?

Honestly, I hate writing first drafts. I’m more or less a pure pantser (writing by the seat of your pants, for those who aren’t familiar with the term), which is to say I don’t necessarily know where the books are going when I start them. My pattern is to introduce two primary characters in the first scene. One has a problem and the other might have the solution, and I allow the story to grow organically from there. One problem with pantsing is the potential for rolling down a lot of blind dead-end alleys. On the other hand, since I have no idea whodunit or why, my options are wide open. Navigating that terra incognita, however, can be a genuine chore.

I was a woodworker for a number of years before we downsized and I lost my shop space. I used to employ a woodworking analogy to writing first drafts: The first step is to bang the boards together. Maybe they fit, maybe they don’t, but ultimately they can fit, which is what happens in rewrites. My greatest relief is writing The End on a first draft and knowing that banging the boards together is over. As in woodworking, now comes the meticulous process of smoothing, shaping, rasping, cutting, contouring, and ultimately polishing the polish to produce something lovely out of a couple of banged-together boards. Writing is like that. Typing The End is really just the beginning. I love rewriting, because that’s when the real magic happens. Writing first drafts? Not so much.

What songs are most played on your Ipod?

I don’t have one! I had a Sansa MP3 player a few years back, but I’ve lost track of it. Nowadays, if I have music running in the background, it’s usually on YouTube. I tend to alternate between classical music and the Laurel Canyon sound from the 1960s, with some occasional forays into The Grateful Dead. In fact, I’m planning a novel about that period in Laurel Canyon, and you can bet I’ll have Poco and CSNY and Joni and The Byrds playing in my ear as I write it! As for classical, I’ve been on a Sergei Rachmaninoff binge for a while now. I was a huge Tchaikovsky fan for decades, but only recently began to uncover the works of Rocky, his legitimate successor. I’m particularly fond of his Third Piano Concerto and his Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers?

This is going to sound hokey and quaint, but I write for an audience of one—my wife Elaine. Every story and book I write is for her entertainment, but I allow others to read them as well. She gets first look at everything, which is kind of a shame, since she usually winds up reading the rough-edged, still splintery early stages of a work, usually after the first rewrite. I don’t know if she has ever read a finished work of mine. She was a professional writer and editor before we both retired, so I’m fortunate to have her to help shepherd each new story or book.

I don’t typically employ beta readers (plural), though I have on occasion. Alan and Kate Kaplan provided a great deal of input on my first Pat Gallegher novel (Joker Poker), for instance, and I did recruit several beta readers for this new title Vicar Brekonridge. In general, though, I don’t use them.

What book are you reading now?

I just returned from an anniversary trip to the beach, where I finished one of Tom Straw’s (Richard Castle’s) Nikki Heat books, which I chose specifically because it’s a light beach read. Now that I’m home, I’m about to plunge into historical novelist Edward Rutherfurd’s massive book China. At almost eight hundred pages, it should keep me busy for a while! I discovered Rutherfurd when I read his novel Paris a few years back, before visiting the city myself. Rutherfurd writes Michener-length novels, and really makes history come alive by focusing on several families over a number of generations. He exposes history by its effects on individuals, which I love. I used the same approach with one of my upcoming novels, 22 Rue Montparnasse, in which I examined the post-WWI ‘Lost Generation’ in Paris by following the careers of two young ex-soldiers who stay in Paris after the war to become a painter and a writer. They are destined not to become famous, which made them terribly attractive to me as characters.

How did you start your writing career?

I wrote my first two novels (novellas, really, since they came in around forty-five thousand words each) in the early 1980s. They were about kart racing and were published serially in World Karting Magazine between 1981 and 1984. I decided this writing thing must be a cinch, so I dashed off two thrillers by 1986 (The Valentine Profile and The Amadeus Legacy) which were blatant Robert Ludlum / David Morrell rip-offs. It took me fifteen years to get them into print, and even then, it was through a short-lived Mystery Writers of America co-publishing arrangement with iUniverse (Mystery and Suspense Press). I just left them parked there when I moved on and tried to forget them. They’re still out there, if anyone is interested in truly cringe-inducing writing. I got better with time.

I self-published my first seven novels or so through my own company, Barbadoes Hall Communications / Back Alley Books. That included my first four Pat Gallegher novels (Joker Poker, Voodoo That You Do, Juicy Watusi, and Wet Debt), my first two Eamon Gold novels (Grass Sandal and Cordite Wine), and a couple of stand-alone novels (Bobby J. and The Daedalus Deception). Three of them were PWA Shamus Award finalists, so I was improving. I wrote five novels for Five Star between 2010 and 2016, before they closed their mystery imprint, and since then I’ve published through Clay Stafford Books and Level Best Books. Even so, I do believe embracing the POD / self-publishing revolution so early, I probably did some damage to my marketability to traditional publishers. I don’t worry much about it, except when the checks start coming in. I’d definitely make a lot more money with larger publishers, but I could also lose a lot of my creative independence. Having won the Silver Falchion, Derringer, Macavity, Thriller, and Shamus Awards, I think I’m on the right creative track, and I really don’t need the money in any case. I’d rather be proud of my product than compromise it for a hefty paycheck.

I still publish my private eye novels through my own company, under a new imprint (Black Arch Books), because I want to retain complete control over them. My traditional mysteries and historical novels—such as Vicar Brekonridge—tend to be shopped to outside publishers. My first Whitlock novel (Holy City) will come out from Black Arch sometime in 2024. I’m currently shopping 22 Rue Montparnasse and the first book in a new series featuring a North Carolina SBI agent (Bump and Run) with outside publishers.

I plan to start number twenty-seven, the fifth Eamon Gold novel, sometime in November. It will likely come out from Black Arch Books in 2025.

Tell us about your next release.

I was sitting at a sushi bar in Matthews, North Carolina, maybe ten years ago. I’m one of those guys who eats in restaurants alone and reads books the entire time. I was reading Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, while munching down on Spider and California Rolls. As I read, I thought it might be fun to write a historical mystery, but what would I write about?

I was a college psychology professor at the time, and as it happened, I had lectured about the Daniel M’Naghten case in 1843 London that very day. That trial, over the murder of Prime Minister Robert Peel’s private secretary Edward Drummond, overturned four centuries of English common law, and established a new definition of insanity that has endured for almost two hundred years. The story of the trial itself is fascinating, but I wanted to add a central protagonist through which we could examine the crime and trial from an independent point of view.

Within a day or two, after reading about the culture, people, and legal system in 1840s London, I came up with the character of Vicar Brekonridge, a former London Metropolitan Police officer who had reverted to his thief-taker roots after suffering serious burns in a house fire. I wrote a Brekonridge short story (“The Cripplegate Apprehension”) which I sold to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and which eventually was a finalist for the Derringer Award. I decided Brekonridge had some serious potential, so I went ahead and wrote the M’Naghten Trial novel with Brekonridge as the protagonist.

My first attempts missed something critical, but it took me a while to figure out what it was. Since I wrote the book in third person, exploring Brekonridge’s deductive and deliberative process was difficult. Like Batman, Brekonridge needed a youthful sidekick. I wrote a new character named Simon Daughtrey, a young law clerk who travels with Brekonridge to Glasgow to investigate M’Naghten’s past, and the book took off. Giving him Simon as a sounding board enabled me to give his internal thoughts as voice. To spice things up, I made Daughtrey a pretty shrewd budding investigator himself. Imagine that Sherlock Holmes met Frank and Joe Hardy instead of John Watson, and you get the general idea.

The result was a book of which I’m justifiably proud. The murder of Edward Drummond triggered a political tsunami at Buckingham Palace and in Parliament, at a time when Great Britain was being ripped to pieces over the demands of working people who were subjugated to the ruling class. The Chartists and Anti-Corn Law League had already engaged in riots, and Queen Victoria had been the target of several failed assassination attempts. The murder of Edward Drummond was the last straw for the queen, who rashly demanded M’Naghten’s execution. Prime Minister Peel, among others, recognized that executing M’Naghten could make him a martyr to the insurrectionists, and thought an insanity plea might be a better option. Across town, M’Naghten’s dream team of defense attorneys, headed by Queen’s Counsel Alexander Cockburn, had the same notion. The only problem was evidence. In my novel, Cockburn hires notorious thief-taker Vicar Brekonridge to travel to Glasgow, M’Naghten’s hometown, with clerk Simon Daughtrey to collect evidence of M’Naghten’s insanity.

What they find there, instead, suggests a much more malevolent motivation for the killing.

This wasn’t my first novel combining actual historical characters with fictional detectives. My 2013 novel The Mojito Coast took place during the Cuban Revolution in 1958, and paired my protagonist Cormac Loame with Ernest Hemingway, Meyer Lansky, Errol Flynn, and several other lesser-known but real people of the period. Having dipped my toes into the historical mystery waters, I discovered I liked it, which led to Vicar Brekonridge.

Thanks for the opportunity to share with your readers! I hope all of you will enjoy my new novel!

About the Author

A lifelong North Carolinian, Richard Helms retired from active practice as a forensic psychologist in 2005, after working in the field for over two decades. At one time, he was the only court psychologist covering four counties in NC. A court-recognized expert in sex crimes and the psychology of sex offenders, mystery writing was an easy transition and a logical next step after Helms left his professional career to become a college professor in Charlotte. He retired from teaching in the summer of 2016 to become a full time writer. Helms has twenty-two novels in print. 

Besides writing, Helms loves gourmet cooking, woodworking, traveling, simracing, amateur astronomy, playing with his grandsons, and rooting for the Carolina Tarheels and Carolina Panthers. For a peek at his non-writing life, check out his other website at

The parents of two grown children, Richard Helms and his wife Elaine live in Charlotte, NC.


Contact Links




Purchase Link

Amazon Author Page

a Rafflecopter giveaway
RABT Book Tours & PR

No comments: