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Richard Helms, 2020 Derringer Finalist

I'm a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, an informal association of writers, publishers, and fans that has kept mystery & crime short stories in the public eye since 1996. The SMFS's 2020 Derringer Awards voting ends April 29 and winners will be announced in May. In the meantime, I've invited the finalists for interviews.

Rick Helms
Retired North Carolina court psychologist Richard Helms is a finalist for Best Long Story with "See Humble and Die" from Down & Out Books' The Eyes of Texas private eye anthology, and for Best Novelette with "The Cripplegate Apprehension" from the July/August 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Describe your stories in up to 20 words each.

"See Humble and Die": Retired Texas Ranger turned PI delivers a court summons to a butcher in a former oil boom town. Murder ensues.

"The Cripplegate Apprehension": 1840s London thief-taker Vicar Brekonridge tracks a thief in the Cripplegate market and finds himself investigating a murder.

What were the most difficult and most enjoyable parts of writing your stories?

In both cases, the research. I'm not from Texas, and in fact my entire experience of Texas consists of two layovers at DFW Airport. I had recently read James Lee Burke's TThe Jealous Kind, though, and had a noirish feel for Houston as a result, so I decided to base my retired Texas Ranger Huck Spence there. It was challenging to capture the feel of a place I'd never seen personally, but also rewarding to realize that small towns are pretty much the same all over.

The research for "The Cripplegate Apprehension" was particularly difficult, as I was trying to capture life in London almost 180 years ago. Since this story is actually a segment from my upcoming novel Vicar Brekonridge, which won't be out for at least a year, or even later, the research for this story only accounted for a small fraction of what I conducted for the entire novel. That research file takes up about 600 pages, and took weeks to assemble from various sources. It was ultimately rewarding, as I believe the authenticity of "The Cripplegate Apprehension" played a large role in the story being nominated.

How does it feel to be a Derringer finalist?

These two were my seventh and eighth Derringer nominations, and the third time I've had stories nominated in two different categories in the same year. Even so, this feeling never grows old. It is such an honor to be included with such terrific authors in each of the categories. I'm still pinching myself to make sure it's real. I hope the SMFS members will find my stories as gratifying as it was writing them.

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