Deadly Dunes, by E. Michael Helms: Two Fatal “Accidents” Put a Florida PI on Alert

deadly_dunesDeadly Dunes ($14.95, 228 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-347-1) is the third book in a mystery/suspense series by E. Michael Helms set in the Florida Panhandle. Private eye Mac McClellan investigates the death of a young archaeologist whose recent discovery threatens to shut down a planned multi-million dollar Florida bayside community development.

“Helms has a good character in Mac…. A solid hardboiled series.” —Booklist

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Recent Interviews with E. Michael Helms:

Maggie Thom’s Blog

“This story is addictive and an easy one to get lost in as the reader continues to turn pages. The characters are well drawn, the even pace builds tension, and the ending satisfies. The author is adept at creating settings and has an eye for detail giving one the feeling they are a part of the landscape.” Read more….

—Edie Dykeman, BellaOnline mystery reviewer

Deadly Dunes is a fabulous whodunit, written in first person narrative—think Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe—a la classic hardboiled, detective movie style. The writing is nearly flawless, with a nice arc and plausible storylines …. A story that comes highly recommended!” Read more….

—Lori Leger for InD’Tale Magazine

“Another deftly crafted mystery/suspense masterpiece from author E. Michael Helms, Deadly Dunes is the third title in his outstanding Mac McClellan Mystery series. Very highly recommended reading action/adventure mystery buffs, Deadly Dunes is certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections.” Read more….

—Carson’s Bookshelf, The Midwest Book Review Reviewer’s Bookwatch

“Helms returns to the world of Mac McClellan with the same solid writing and captivating mystery that I’ve come to expect from him, but with an added twist this time that made the tale even more captivating for me. I enjoyed the mix of history with the mystery. The aura that permeated the tale was both inviting and suspenseful. Helms has created a work of art, backed up by the beautiful scenery of the area in which he set this novel…. This was a good, clean mystery that had me on my toes from page 1 to the very end. The enjoyable writing style backed up the solid plot to create a novel that mystery lovers will have a ball with.”  Read more….

—Pure Jonel: Confessions of a bibliophile

“Michael Helms has done it again! In this engrossing, nonstop action adventure, Mac McClellan investigates treasure hunters, greedy developers, and even greedier heirs.”

—Connie di Marco, author of the Zodiac Mysteries and (as Connie Archer) author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries

Deadly Dunes, the new Mac McClellan mystery by ex-Marine E. Michael Helms, chews up the landscape in the Florida Panhandle—a phone call, a meeting, the sleuth’s first case, the first corpse, the heat build-up of the killer-quest—where suspects and victims play musical beds in the sticky heat of a Florida summer. The Florida panhandle is a terrific locale for a crime tale. The action is well-paced and the military interlude—where the sleuth shoots photos of a cheating ex-Army husband—is wrought with precision. With this addition to the series, a talented story-teller sings his song.”

—Robert J. Ray, author of the Matt Murdock Murder Mysteries

“E. Michael Helms has the perfect blend of action, suspense and mystery that is sure to grab anyone who like a semi-hard-boiled PI tale. Great dialogue, along with detailed scenes set the mood for every page.”

—Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender Reviews

“Third in the Mac McClellan Mystery series, Deadly Dunes pours across the page with all the heat of a Southern summer night. Determined to make it as a private investigator, E Michael Helms’s retired Marine uses sharp wits and a military background to solve a deadly crime. Balancing life and death on the edge of his KA-BAR combat blade, Mac confronts a colorful host of characters, all of whom lie, cheat, and steal their way onto his list of suspects. But who is setting up whom? And which version of the deceased is the one Mac should believe? Intent on untangling the complex web of relationships to uncover the truth about a mysterious death, Mac still finds time to track down a cheating husband and discover a little ancient treasure in the sand. Add in a sexy locale, exotic dancers, and more twists and turns than salt water taffy on a pulling machine, this clever whodunit is the perfect getaway, a great beach read that includes the actual beach.”

—Elena Hartwell, author of One Dead, Two to Go

“This is a great mystery. I didn’t know who did it until the end because there are a lot of potential killers for many different reasons. There is a lot of action and you can’t help but liking Mac. Mac is a true down home hero. I couldn’t put this book down until the wee hours of the morning. I f you are looking for a great mystery full of thrills and chills I recommend you check out Deadly Dunes.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Book Review

5 Stars: “Deadly Dunes is a sleuth mystery with good action and suspense. The story is an interesting one that sees its main character and narrator, Mac, constantly forgetting his P.I. training and resorting to doing things in his own amateurish way. I think the dialogue is witty and I like Mac’s dry sense of humor that seemed to irk some characters…. E. Michael Helms writes well and I want to read other books from his Mac McClellan Mystery series, whose protagonist is compelling.”  Read more….

—Michelle Stanley for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

5 Stars: “Author E. Michael Helms knocks it out of the park with his latest addition to the Mac McClellan Mystery Series. Deadly Dunes is a fast-paced mystery with a colorful cast of characters and a well-developed plot that will keep you guessing. Full of witty dialogue and nail-biting suspense, readers will be captivated as they follow along with Mac, from sandy beaches to gritty nightclubs, as he investigates an intriguing trail of clues that will have you reading well into the night. Highly recommended for fans of crime, mystery, and suspense, Deadly Dunes is an entertaining read that is hard to put down.”  Read more….

—Epic Book Quest

“Like a complex stew, there are many layers to Deadly Dunes, the third installment in the highly-entertaining Mac McClellan series…[A] solid mystery with plenty of red herrings and double-crossings to keep the reader guessing until the end. Highly Recommended.”

—Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mysteries

“Interesting, enjoyable and engaging. Plenty to like here—decent story, likable main characters, action, humour and a decent resolution. Plenty of legs in Helms’ Mac McClellan yet.”  Read more….

—Col’s Criminal Library

The first Mac McClellan mystery, Deadly Catch, was named Library Journal’s Mystery of the Month and received a starred review: “This debut will resonate with retired military, boomers, and crime fiction fans. Helms’s love of setting and engaging first-person narrative suggest a winning new series is underway.” The second book in the series, Deadly Ruse, won the 2015 RONE Award, sponsored by InD’tale Magazine, for Best Mystery.

Hours after hiring Mac McClellan to investigate the supposed suicide of her archaeologist brother, single-mom Jessie dies in a car accident. Jessie had just showed Mac artifacts and a copy of a map Jake found, items that indicate Hernando de Soto and his explorers might have camped on Five Mile Island during the winter of 1539-1540. Studying the map, Mac determines the site lies in the middle of a planned resort, The Dunes. Declaring the area an historic site could shut the project down. Suspicions aroused, he forges ahead, even though he no longer has a paying client.

Everywhere Mac turns, greed abounds, and no one he interviews seems innocent, even Jessie’s closest friends the Deckers, who have adopted her teenage daughter. Ron Decker’s construction company is building the Dunes, and he is heavily invested in its success. Then there is the oily son and ex-stripper wife of an old curmudgeon who won’t sell the one lot the project still needs to acquire. Jake’s estranged wife Laurel had plenty to gain from his death, and as Mac continues to dig, he begins to wonder if Jessie herself had more at stake than he was led to believe.

No one is happy about Mac’s persistence, and someone is unhappy enough to crash his truck and frame him for yet another murder. But Mac isn’t giving up, no matter what the cost.

Says Helms, “Several years ago my wife and I were enjoying a day at Seaside, Florida, on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Seaside was a new and quaint iconic village featuring homes and cottages built around a bustling ‘downtown’ square offering fine and casual dining, food markets, and specialty shops. While enjoying the ambiance of the planned community, I asked myself a question common to all writers: ‘What if?’ What if something of historic significance had been discovered during the early phases of Seaside’s construction? Could it have brought the multi-million dollar project to a halt, potentially bringing ruin to investors who had staked their future on the success of the venture? What lengths might someone be willing to go to make sure the discovery never came to light? Murder, perhaps? I deposited that ‘What if?’ in my memory bank, where it simmered until Mac McClellan reminded me it would make an intriguing story line for his next case, Deadly Dunes.

E. Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, Florida. His memoir about serving in the Marines as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, remains in print after twenty-five years, and he recently published a fictional sequel, The Private War of Corporal Henson. A longtime Civil War buff, Helms is also the author of the historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers. Helms lives in South Carolina with his wife Karen. Click here to go to visit Michael online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“I’m gonna back her up about halfway out and tie off to a stump,” he said. “How long you reckon to be?”

“No longer than it takes,” I said, grabbing the Bounty Hunter in my right hand and using the left to grip the starboard gunnel as I stepped over the side into knee-deep water. I sloshed ashore as Jerry backed the boat into deeper water. After turning to give him a quick wave, I scrambled up the steep bank using handholds of coarse grass to pull against and trying my damndest to avoid a fistful of sandspurs.

By the time I crested the dunes, Jerry had already tied the boat off and was casting a stingray grub into the Stumps for flounder. I took a quick glance around. Nobody seemed to be stirring, so keeping a wary eye out for diamondback rattlers, I worked my way inland for about twenty yards.

During our meeting at Panama Joe’s, Jessie had mentioned that her brother found the artifacts near the bay overlooking what appeared to be a dead forest sticking out of the water. That had to be the Stumps, and most likely the location of the Spaniards’ winter fort, if it had existed. But there was no telling how far out into the bay the small forested peninsula had extended during de Soto’s time. My guess was the main part of the fort was now under several feet of water. From my front pocket, I pulled the map Jessie had given me of what during the 16th century was a seven-mile-long peninsula. I took it out of the protective Ziploc bag. After studying it a minute or so, I slipped it back in the bag and back in my shorts pocket.

My plan was to start inland and work my way in a crisscross pattern toward the bay. Not being familiar with the metal detector, and knowing I was looking for iron objects as well as coins, I turned the discrimination knob low and the sensitivity setting to about midrange and pressed the “All Metal” display. With those settings I’d probably come across a lot of trash, but it was my best shot at finding something worthwhile.

Sweeping the coil back and forth, I almost immediately picked up several beeps of different tones. I pinpointed the object as best I could, then dropped to one knee, pulled the garden trowel I’d borrowed from Kate from my back pocket, and dug into the sand. A few seconds later I flipped up the rim of an old drink can that predated all-aluminum cans.

The next ten or fifteen minutes produced nothing but pull tabs, rusted cans, and other junk. Finally the detector let out a beep different from the ones I’d been hearing. Digging down about four or five inches, I heard the trowel strike something solid and metallic. My adrenaline rushed as I lifted a coin with a trowel-full of sand. Brushing the coin clean, I saw it was an Indian Head penny in rough condition, dated either 1903 or 1908. It was no 16th-century Spanish coin, but what the hell, I figured it had to be worth at least a few cents. The trip wouldn’t be a total loss.

The wind was picking up, and the thunder was getting louder by the minute. Deciding my chances would probably be better closer to the bay, I hurried in that direction. Jerry and I had to motor back to St. George, and I damn sure didn’t want to do it while fighting a gale. About ten feet from the edge where the dunes began to slope downward to the bay the detector cut loose again. I dropped to both knees and began digging. I dug about a foot deep and came up empty, so I passed the coil over the pile of sand I’d excavated to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Nothing.

I kept digging for another six or eight inches and then an object hit the pile and slid down a couple of inches. At first I thought it was an old bracelet someone had lost years ago. Closer inspection proved it to be several small rusted oblong or circular loops linked tightly together, forming a patch-like object a couple of inches long and maybe an inch and a half wide. I had no idea what it was, but I slipped it into my pocket. You never know.

A few feet away the Bounty Hunter beeped again. Down and digging, I soon turned up a similar object, although this one was a little smaller in length. I dropped it in my pocket with the other one as a voice called out, “Hey, you!”

Oops. I turned and saw a tall lanky man with bushy hair approaching from about fifty yards away. He wore a tan shirt and trousers and a brown ball cap. It wasn’t a county sheriff’s uniform, but I had no intentions of hanging around long enough to find out who the guy worked for.

I scrambled to my feet and trotted toward the ledge as a shot rang out. The SOB was shooting at me, at least in my general direction. I hit the deck, cradling the detector in both arms. Low crawling to the dune wall, I went over head first. I spit out a mouthful of sand and tried to let loose a warning whistle to Jerry, but I doubt you could’ve heard it five feet away.

Turning feet-first, I slid on down the slope and hit the beach running. Jerry had the boat waiting a few feet off the shoreline. I high-stepped through the swallows. Tossing the detector into the boat, I grabbed the bow and pushed for all I was worth. Jerry gunned the motor in reverse. I hung on until I managed to pull myself aboard and flop onto the deck.

“Turn this thing around and get the hell out of here!” I shouted, but Jerry was way ahead of the game. We were thirty or forty yards past the end of the Stumps when another shot rang out, barely discernable above the roar of the Merc 50. By then I was more pissed than scared, and if the Bounty Hunter was an M16 I would’ve had that chicken-shit wannabe cop hugging Mother Earth for all he was worth.

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