Karen’s Killer Book Bench #Detective #Mystery: VICAR BREKONRIDGE, A Vicar Brekonridge Novel Book 1 by Richard Helms

KAREN’S KILLER BOOK BENCH: Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench, where readers can discover talented new authors and take a peek inside their wonderful books. This is not an age-filtered site, so all book peeks are PG-13 or better. Come back and visit often. Happy reading!


A Vicar Brekonridge Novel Book 1


“On a frigid January day on London’s Whitehall in 1843, a Scottish woodturner named Daniel M’Naghten guns down Edward Drummond, believing him to be British Prime Minister Robert Peel. M’Naghten, who sympathizes with the Chartist cause in Great Britain, claims he intended to murder the Prime Minister—a Tory—because he blames Peel for persecution by the Tories in his home city of Glasgow. Queen Victoria, incensed at the most recent attempt on a high government official’s life, demands that M’Naghten be hanged. M’Naghten, however, demonstrates every accepted sign of insanity, which would save him a visit to Tyburn Tree. Queen’s Counsel Alexander Cockburn is hired to defend M’Naghten, and he recruits legendary thief-taker Vicar Brekonridge to travel to Glasgow to investigate M’Naghten’s claims, with the goal of supporting an insanity plea. He sends young law clerk Simon Daughtrey to Glasgow with Brekonridge, and together they uncover contradictory evidence suggesting that M’Naghten’s motivations in the murder of Edward Drummond might be considerably more sinister than mental illness. With M’Naghten’s trial days away, Brekonridge and Daughtrey race to find the truth behind the assassination of Edward Drummond.”

A Vicar Brekonridge Novel Book 1

Frequently, I don’t remember when or how an idea for a novel occurred to me. That’s not the case with my latest historical mystery Vicar Brekonridge ( https://www.amazon.com/Vicar-Brekonridge-Novel/dp/168512352X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1700603329&sr=1-1 ). I know exactly when I came up with it.

I was in a sushi bar in Matthews, North Carolina, sometime around autumn of 2015. I was enjoying some miso soup, spider rolls, and California rolls, and reading Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time. I’ve always been a history buff, and it is highly likely that one of my ancestors, Welsh chieftain Rhys Ap Thomas, actually slew King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Therefore, Tey’s dramatization of Richard’s downfall and the mystery surrounding his burial was of keen interest to me.

I had already published one historical mystery, 2013’s Shamus Award-nominated The Mojito Coast, which took place during the Cuban Revolution in 1958. I had enjoyed writing about other times, and thought it might be fun to come up with another mystery built around a real historical event. But which one?

I was a college psychology professor at the time and, as it happens, I had lectured just that morning about the 1843 London trail of Daniel M’Naghten, and how the decision in that case rewrote almost four hundred years of English common law regarding insanity. I immediately seized on that case as the spine of my projected novel. My original intent was to write about the political upheaval of the period (Chartists, the Plug Plot Riots, etc), and tell the story from both the side of the Crown and the protestors, and how that might have led to the assassination attempt by M’Naghten on Robert Peel that instead felled his private secretary Edward Drummond. I was familiar with Dr. Richard Moran’s exhaustive examination of the case (Knowing Right From Wrong) and his contention that M’Naghten was not insane at all, but rather was hired by persons unknown to kill the Prime Minister. I retired from teaching the following summer, while still accumulating research for the book, and set about writing it in the fall of 2016. The result early in 2017 was a massive 750 page doorstop of a first draft that read as kind of a soap opera combined with a courtroom drama, and didn’t satisfy me. Worried that I might have wasted a year and a half on a dud, I sat down and considered all my options.

As it happens, I had just recently completed a short story for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine featuring a hulking 1840s London thief-taker named Vicar Brekonridge (“The Cripplegate Apprehension”). That story went on to earn a Derringer Award nomination, so I knew the character had legs. The M’Naghten novel to that point had a strong third-person edge, but was a little dry. Inserting Brekonridge into it as a fictional investigator for real-life M’Naghten defense barrister Alexander Cockburn felt like a slam-dunk solution. It provided a stand-in for the reader as a surrogate observer of the events surrounding the trial, and a character whose internal debate could illuminate the facts of the story. As Brekonridge says several times during the tale, “I have questions, and I will have answers for them.” My hope was that Brekonridge would echo the questions raised in the readers’ minds, and draw them in as partners in his investigation. I think it worked.

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of dining with legendary science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. During our conversation, he talked about the symbol he used as part of his signature, a strange modified ‘Q’ bisected by an upward-flying arrow. He said the symbol stood for “Ask the next question.” Readers of Vicar Brekonridge will recognize this command readily, as he uses it frequently to prod his young investigative companion Simon Daughtrey to explore a tricky question more closely. Daughtrey was also a later addition. I realized that Brekonridge needed a sounding board off which to bounce his own questions, and Simon proved to be a perfect student, and not a half-bad investigator in his own right. Simon Daughtrey plays Watson to Brekonridge’s Sherlock Holmes, and in the process allows Brekonridge to voice his own internal dialogue in a more organic and natural way. Adding just these two characters brought the book to life.

My original intent while chomping on sushi eight years ago was to write a straightforward historical novel. That didn’t work out, but I’ve discovered many times that nothing pays off like persistence. I think using the famous M’Naghten trial as a framework for a ripping mystery– still unsolved to this day–made for a much more engrossing and fulfilling read. As a side benefit, the extensive research (hundreds of pages) that I collected for Vicar Brekonridge enabled me to write a non-fiction book of my own about the M’Naghten trial and its aftermath, which I hope to publish in a year or so.

In the process, I realized I had also written a scathing indictment of the British government on the cusp of The Gilded Age, and its insistence on maintaining a heavily stratified population in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. The machinations, rationalizations, and collusion surrounding the M’Naghten trial of 1843 is presented front and center, and provides the primary conflict for my stalwart, honest, and principled investigator Vicar Brekonridge and his young companion Simon Daughtrey. I hope the readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

And keep an eye out for more of Vicar Brekonridge. He appeared in a recent story in Mystery Magazine (“Corpse Cake”). I’m working on another short story involving the British opium trade in the 1840s, and a third involving the murder of a cordswainer. In addition, I’ve been working on a sequel novel in which Brekonridge travels to America, and a third that takes him and Simon Daughtrey to Australia in pursuit of a transported criminal needed for an important trial in London.

Read all you want! I’ll write more!

About Author Richard Helms…

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-three novels in print. His twenty-third novel, Vicar Brekonridge, was published in October 2023 by Level Best Books. He has been nominated eight times for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award (2003 for Juicy Watusi; 2004 for Wet Debt, 2006 for Cordite Wine,  2014 for The Mojito Coast, 2015 for “Busting Red Heads”, 2020 for Paid In Spades, 2021 for Brittle Karma, and 2022 for “Sweeps Week”) with one win, for Brittle Karma (2021). He has also been nominated eight times for the Short Mystery Fiction Society Derringer Award, and remains one of only two authors (with John Floyd) ever to win that award in two different categories in the same year (2008, for Paper Walls/Glass Houses, published in The Back Alley Webzine; and for The Gospel According to Gordon Black, published at the Thrilling Detective Website). ​​

​In 2011, he was nominated for the Derringer Award, the Mystery Readers International Macavity Award, and the ITW Thriller Award for his Pat Gallegher short story The Gods For Vengeance Cry (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 2010), and won the Thriller Award presented at the ITW ThrillerFest in New York City. ​​

In 2015, he was again nominated for three different awards, including the SMFS Derringer Award, the ITW Thriller Award, and the PWA Shamus Award, for his Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine story Busting Red Heads.
From 2007 until 2011, he edited and published The Back Alley Webzine, a hardboiled and noir short story site. Stories published in The Back Alley were nominated for the Derringer Award, the Spinetingler Award, and the Bouchercon Anthony Award. ​

 In 2011 and 2012, he was President of the Southeast Regional Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and a member of the National Board of Directors of MWA. In August, 2017, at the Killer Nashville Mystery Conference, Helms was presented with the prestigious SEMWA Magnolia Award for his service to the chapter. 

In 2020, Helms’ short story “See Humble and Die”  (The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Book, 2019) was one of twenty selected for inclusion in Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Mystery Stories 2020, edited by Otto Penzler and C. J. Box. 

“See Humble and Die” was also nominated for the 2020 SMFS Derringer Awards, in the Best Long Story Category. In addition, Helms received a second 2020 Derringer Award nomination in the Best Novelette category for “The Cripplegate Apprehension”, from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. This was the third time Helms has received Derringer Award nominations in two different categories in the same year.

Also in 2020, Helms’ fifth Pat Gallegher novel Paid In Spades (Clay Stafford Books, March 2019) was nominated for the PWA Shamus Award and won the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award.

In 2021, Helms’ third Eamon Gold novel, Brittle Karma, won the PWA Shamus Award in the Best Original Private Eye Paperback category.

In 2022, Helms’ Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine story “Sweeps Week” won the PWA Shamus Award in the Best Short Story category, and the Mystery Readers International Best Short Story Macavity Award.

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 http://www.rickhelms.com
The parents of two grown children, Richard Helms and his wife Elaine live in Charlotte, NC.


Links to Richard’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Vicar-Brekonridge-Novel/dp/168512352X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1700603329&sr=1-1

Book trailer for Vicar Brekonridge:


Special Giveaway: Richard will give away  a signed print copy of VICAR BREKONRIDGE (U.S Only)  to one lucky reader who comments on his Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog

Happy Reading!


Thanks, Richard, for sharing your book with us!

Don’t miss the chance to read this book!





6 thoughts on “Karen’s Killer Book Bench #Detective #Mystery: VICAR BREKONRIDGE, A Vicar Brekonridge Novel Book 1 by Richard Helms”

  1. Welcome to Karen’s Killer Book Bench, Richard. I love history, and took historical classes as most of my electives. I think I would have enjoyed your classes. 🙂 I also love Sherlock Holmes and the way you describe how the characters unwind the truth sounds right up my alley. LOVE the cover, too. Thanks for sharing your process and where the story idea came from. I can’t wait to read this one.

  2. Hi, very nice to meet you. Thank you so much for sharing your book blurb, it sounds very intriguing ! Have a very nice day and a great week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.