The hero, Cormac Loame, is one of those romantic private eyes with a cynical outer shell, like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Richard S. Prather’s Shell Scott. “I usually don’t give a damn,” Loame says. “I take the money, I do the job, and I walk away and leave my clients to pick up the pieces of their lives.”
That’s how he likes to think of himself, but when it comes right down to it, he’ll walk away from the money and even risk his life to do the right thing.
Loame narrates his own story, and when he says things like “the hot poop and the straight skinny,” you can almost hear Cannonball Adderley blowing a smoky alto sax riff or Dooley Wilson playing a soulful “As Time Goes By” in the background.
The story begins when a Miami mobster known as The Madman hires Loam to track down his 14-year-old daughter, who has been abducted by an older man. But Loame soon learns that the facts are more complicated than that.
His investigation takes him to Havana, where American mobsters run the hotels and casinos, and where the rich who stand to lose everything in the revolution seem blithely unaware that Fidel Castro’s ragtag army has the forces of the country’s ruthless dictator, Fulgencio Batista, on the run.
Along the way, Loame runs into a long-lost love he’s never forgotten and discovers that she’s now the wife of an old enemy. He also encounters several historical figures from the era, tangling with mobster Meyer Lansky and getting a little help from mobster Santo Trafficante and author Ernest Hemingway.
The novel’s plot and tone bring to mind another romantic story about a hard-boiled character with a heart of gold who must choose between self-interest and honor in another war-torn city — Michael Curtiz’s classic 1942 movie, Cassablanca. And Helms’s tight, muscular prose is reminiscent of the largely-forgotten Prather, whose work is still very much worth reading.
Read The Mosquito Coast for the fine writing, the taut suspense, and as a fitting homage to crime fiction’s golden age.
You can order the novel here.
And you can learn more about Helms and his work here.