Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery

Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery

4.6 8
by E. Michael Helms

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“The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare. . . .”
After twenty-four years in the U.S. Marines, recently retired Mac McClellan is happy to be a civilian again. He is enjoying a leisurely fishing vacation in the Florida panhandle when he hooks a badly decomposed body.

Then, when a bag of rare marijuana


“The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare. . . .”
After twenty-four years in the U.S. Marines, recently retired Mac McClellan is happy to be a civilian again. He is enjoying a leisurely fishing vacation in the Florida panhandle when he hooks a badly decomposed body.

Then, when a bag of rare marijuana is discovered stashed aboard his rental boat, he realizes someone is setting him up to take the fall for murder and drug smuggling. Mac’s plans for a more laid-back life must be put on hold while he works to clear his name as the number one suspect.

Mac launches an investigation with the help of Kate Bell, a feisty saleslady at the local marina with whom he has struck up a promising relationship. Along the way he must butt heads and match wits with local law enforcement officials, shady politicians, and strong-armed thugs from the Eastern Seaboard to sniff out and bring the real smuggler and killer to justice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lackluster development wastes a promising setting in the first thriller from Helms, author of the military memoir The Proud Bastards. A tough 24-year-old Marine veteran, currently unemployed, Mac McClellan has stopped in the Florida panhandle to do some fishing. Unfortunately, hooking the rotting body of a murdered teenaged heiress, Madison “Maddie” Lynn Harper, lands him in a web of family intrigue and big-time marijuana smuggling. Mac warily accepts an offer from Sheriff Bo Pickron, Maddie’s uncle, to become an undercover investigator, further entangling himself in the case. Helms has a gift for local color and action sequences, as shown in Mac’s trek into a snake-infested state park to locate a pot plantation, but the complicated plot gets bogged down in cumbersome exposition. The novel is intended to be the first in a series; hopefully Mac will either become more nimble or stay retired. Agent: Fred Tribuzzo, Rudy Agency. (Nov.)
Library Journal
★ 11/01/2013
Looking for purpose in his life, the newly retired and divorced Mac McClellan goes on a fishing vacation in the Florida Panhandle. Wouldn't you know it, he snags a corpse. A few days later, someone plants a bag of marijuana on his boat. Surprised to be considered a suspect, Mac weighs his options and figures he'd better protect his interests and find out who killed young Maddie Harper and her fiancé, Brett Barfield (his body is found later). Neither the local sheriff nor the city police chief strike Mac as trustworthy, but Kate Bell, a local businesswoman, might fit the bill. VERDICT This debut from a Vietnam War memoirist (The Proud Bastards) will resonate with retired military, boomers, and all Florida crime fiction fans. Although the plotline is perhaps too familiar, Helms's love of his novel's setting, and his engaging first-person narrative and internal musings suggest a winning new series is under way.

Product Details

Prometheus Books
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Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.60(d)

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Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2013 E. Michael Helms
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61614-867-6


The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare.

A quick flick of the wrist and the lure flashed in the rising sun, arched thirty or so yards alongside the grass flats and landed with a quiet splash barely a foot from the edge. Bull's-eye! During my week of fishing the waters of St. George Bay I'd developed a nice touch for casting, especially for someone who'd hardly wet a line the past twenty years. I closed the bail, gave the rod tip a couple of light twitches, and waited.

I'd hooked and landed some fine speckled trout the past few days, but I still hadn't nailed a bragging-size "gator" trout despite a crash course in speck fishing from Lamar Randall. Lamar is the mechanic and part-time fishing guide who keeps the rental boats at Gillman's Marina in tiptop condition. When I first met him he was wearing an eye patch, and with his goatee and longish hair he bore an uncanny resemblance to a classic Hollywood pirate. He'd recently suffered an injury while working on a boat he was building at home and would have to wear the protective patch for several more weeks.

Lamar is also known as one of the best trout and redfish anglers along the Florida Panhandle. When I'd asked why he was turning wrenches instead of guiding rich tourists full-time to his favorite honey-holes, he laughed.

"I got three kids and a wife to feed. Throw in bad weather, the slow winters, well, you get the picture. Now if I was still single ..."

After a minute I gave the rod tip another twitch and began a slow retrieve. The lure wiggled and skirted the grassy edge for ten or fifteen feet when I felt resistance. My pulse raced as I yanked back on the rod to set the hook and started reeling. The rod bent against the heavy weight, and I got psyched for the fight of my angling life. Seconds later disappointment doused my adrenaline rush. Gator trout, my ass. I was hung up.

I lowered the rod, pointed the tip at whatever I'd snagged, and pulled, hoping to free the lure. No such luck. I tried again with the same results. Well, damned if I was going to give it up without a fight. I'd paid six ninety-five plus tax for that MirrOlure at the marina shop last evening. I lived just fine on my military retirement, but seven bucks was seven bucks. If it came down to it I'd swim for that lure.

After a few more tries I gave up trying to free the lure. It was stuck fast. The thought of getting wet this early in the morning didn't thrill me, but moving the boat closer to the grass flats would be more likely to spook whatever fish might be lurking around than my wading. Decision made, I released the bail to give the line some slack and leaned the spinning outfit against the gunnels. The clear water looked shallow enough, but just to be sure I grabbed the paddle from its rack. The handle slipped beneath the surface, and the water rose past my elbow before the blade struck bottom. With luck my head and neck would be above water.

I shed my shirt, kicked off my new leather deck shoes, emptied my pockets, and unclipped the cell phone from my belt. There wasn't much wind to speak of, but I knew that could change without warning. So, I crawled onto the bow, unfastened the anchor, slipped the rope through the bow guide and lowered it to the bottom. I gave the anchor line a few feet of slack and wrapped it fast to a cleat. I tugged on the 12-pound test monofilament again to relocate my target. Satisfied of my bearings, I braced my hands on the gunnels and hopped over the side.

The bay was chilly even though June was just a few days away. I stood there a minute getting used to the water, which topped out just below my shoulders. Then I headed for the grass flats using the "stingray shuffle" that Kate, the attractive saleslady at Gillman's, had demonstrated for me should I decide for whatever reason to go wading in these waters. A trip to the local emergency room to remove a stingray barb wasn't high on my vacation agenda.

I found the fishing line, held it loosely in my right hand, and eased along. I kept my eyes focused on where I thought the lure was, making as little motion as possible. About halfway to the target a light breeze rose and drifted my way. That's when the stench hit, almost gagging me. Iraq flashed through my mind, bodies rotting in the alleys and rubble of Fallujah. Whatever the hell I'd snagged had to be sizeable to raise that much stink. A dolphin or sea turtle, maybe a shark. Lamar had mentioned that this area of the bay was a prime breeding ground for certain species of sharks. Well, if this was a shark I smelled, it was in no condition to attack me.

I covered my mouth and nose with my free hand and kept going, breathing as little and shallow as possible. Just a few feet from my objective I lifted the line out of the water and gave it a light pull. Five feet away, the surface exploded. Hundreds of small fish and blue crabs darted and scurried in every direction. I tripped backward and nearly went under before I somehow regained my footing. My heart was racing, and despite the foul air I grabbed several deep breaths to calm myself. Then I saw it—my lure, embedded in the bleached-white underbelly of a large fish sticking halfway out of the grass.

"You chickenshit," I muttered, glad no fishing buddies were along to witness my brave reaction to a bunch of scavengers feasting on a dead fish. I turned my head and took another deep breath and covered the few remaining feet as fast as possible. Pulling the line tight, I reached for the lure. My hand froze in midair and I stumbled back again, heart pounding. Christ on a crutch, this was no dead fish! It was a leg—a human leg!


Excerpted from DEADLY CATCH by E. MICHAEL HELMS. Copyright © 2013 E. Michael Helms. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

E. Michael Helms’s memoir of his Vietnam combat service, The Proud Bastards, has remained in print for two decades. Originally published by Kensington/Zebra in 1990, it was republished in 2004 by Simon & Schuster/Pocket Star, and has sold nearly 50,000 copies (Pocket Star edition). The memoir is also a past hardcover selection of The Military Book Club. Helms is also the author of Of Blood and Brothers, a two-part novel about the Civil War. Helms currently resides with his wife Karen in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina.

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Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first in what promises to be a great series.  Mac is still recovering from his divorce and trying to find himself after retiring from the military,  He lands in a vacation area a buddy told him about to do some fishing.  As noted in the first line of the story, what you catch can certainly change the tenor of a vacation.  Not only does he find the Maddie's body, but he is being framed and then targeted by persons unknown.  The action is well-paced and the story well constructed so the ending makes sense.  Mac is a strong male protagonist, determined to find the truth. The romance between Kate and Mac progresses slowly; on a positive note, Kate is a strong female character who works well with Mac. If you are into fishing, that is still another layer, but it is not overdone for those of us who don't fish.  I strongly recommend this book and I'll be looking for the next one in this series! 
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
For most people, taking a relaxing fishing vacation, is just that, relaxing, but for retired Marine, Mac McClellan, his first cast of the day nets him more trouble than he could have imagined. On the end of his line wasn’t the prize catch of the day, but a badly decomposing body and the sharks are circling as he becomes a suspect in the murder of a local small town girl. Something’s rotten in the small Florida fishing town and Mac isn’t sure who he can trust, but one thing’s certain, he didn’t survive active duty and a divorce to end up accused of a crime he didn’t commit. With an uneasy alliance with a local Sheriff, Mac becomes an unofficial investigator to discover who is setting him up and why. What he discovers is bigger than anyone could have imagined and the players hold enough power to get him killed. Deadly Catch by author E. Michael Helms is filled with his signature flair for detail that places the reader directly in the thick of the action without slowing down the flow. Scents, sights and sounds come alive through his words. Mac’s character has the confidence of a career marine, who boldly, if not a little blindly stumbles through his investigation while we have the pleasure of sharing his thought process and actions minus the bullseye clearly painted on his back. What mystery is complete without a romantic interest? Mac is no James Bond, so down-to-earth Kate is the perfect match for him, but will their budding romance last? Only Mac, Kate and E. Michael Helms know for sure. Written without excessive gore, but filled with conflict, deceit, some small town charm, and a dash of subtle humor, Deadly Catch is a firm foundation to a new series and great way to escape into a good mystery that will find you riding the twists and turns while trying to figure out who-dun-it!
WiLoveBooks More than 1 year ago
I was drawn into this book from the first sentence "The first cast of the day turned my dream vacation into a nightmare." It is written in first person from the point of view of Mac McClellan and the style is sort of casual and laid back. A comfortable read. Mac is a likeable character. He is just trying to relax on vacation before figuring out what to do with his life and he gets pulled into a mystery involving murder and drugs. The mystery has enough going on to keep you guessing. Held my interest to the end. There is also a bit of romance which fit perfectly into the story. I look forward to more Mac McClellan mysteries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A page-turning mystery with a bit of humor thrown in. Mac, recently retired from the Marines, is just looking for some peace and relaxation. He instead finds himself a suspect in a murder case. He turns into a private investigator out of necessity, learning the ropes as he goes. Mac is a charming Southern gentleman, but can be tough when he needs to be. And girlfriend Kate grew up rough and tumble with brothers, but can be sweet and caring. The small beach town is a refreshing change from big city crime settings. Helms has a great writing style. His use of dialogue and narrative transported me to the white sandy beaches in the Florida Panhandle. It brought back memories of when I vacationed at a state park in that area, and learned to do the “stingray shuffle.” Overall it was a very enjoyable and captivating story. I look forward reading his next book in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author keeps you reading ,great read.
PureJonel More than 1 year ago
This novel is mystery at its finest.  I couldn’t unravel it until the very end, and even then, I was stunned.  Helms writes with graphic descriptions without ever being gory, but ones that you can’t help but picture.  Helms has developed a completely interconnected plot.  It was fabulous to delve into.  This novel is at the same time funny, fun, and suspenseful.  I even enjoyed the technical fishing aspects of the novel.  It added that extra bit of realism to the tale.  Helms has a very personal writing style.  I felt as if I were listening to the main character tell his story.  It made it very easy to get to know him, and those he cares about (or those with whom he has a rather large beef).   The well suited and entertaining dialogue brought the entire cast to life.  The web of relationships in this novel was beyond compare.  No action or reaction was without long reaching consequence.  All of the interplay and byplay between characters deepens the plot. This novel is a quick, fast paced read that’s easy to get lost in.  I’m anxiously waiting to see what Mac gets up to next.   Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this work in exchange for an honest review.
JAB4422 More than 1 year ago
Mac McClellan is a recently retired Marine who decides to go fishing in Florida for his vacation. His vacation doesn't start out the best when he "catches" a decomposed body. It turns out that the sheriff, Bo, is the uncle of the dead girl so he decides Mac is the prime suspect for the girl's murder. When a bag of rare marijuana is found on Mac's boat, he starts to look really guilty. Mac becomes friendly with a local salesperson, Kate, and they decide to solve the murder and figure out who is trying to set Mac up so they can get Mac off the hook. I enjoyed the story line and didn't have any idea who the killer was. I liked being completely surprised when I learned the culprit's identity. The author had the small town descriptions down pat in the way residents know everything about everybody. I thought the descriptions ran on and were too detailed. I prefer a faster pace. This wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't for me.  received a complementary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
TheBookFairie More than 1 year ago
Deadly Catch was extremely well written, the plot was solid with no holes or random weird things thrown in, and unlike most of the books I’ve read recently, the author actually knew how to spell and use punctuation.  (You seriously have no idea how big of a deal this is!) For a more in-depth review and an interview with the author, check out my review site, The Book Fairie, at bookfairie (dot) weebly (dot) com.