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Book Author: Richard Helms

SIX MILE CREEK by Richard Helms: Book Review

Racial tensions are on the rise in Prosperity, North Carolina.  A small rural town, populated for years by white farming families, it is now host to new people:  wealthy Anglos from a nearby town looking to build McMansions on former farm land and Mexican workers, many of them illegal, coming there to get a better life for themselves while doing the work that the Anglos won’t do for themselves.  So sooner or later, there’ll be trouble.

In Six Mile Creek, it’s Police Chief Judd Wheeler who needs to keep things cool in his small town.  He’s a hometown boy who left to go to college and then became a policeman in Atlanta.  But he returned home for a quieter life, which he’s pretty much had up until now.

Opening with a fight at the high school between a Mexican immigrant and the son of a wealthy white businessman whose family has been in Prosperity for generations, the tensions escalate when the body of a pretty Mexican teenage girl is found in Six Mile Creek.  The girl was last seen three days earlier leaving a party where she and another Latina had been brought to have sex with the white boys on the high school’s football team.  Gypsy Camarena was willing to do this but left angrily when her demands for payment were laughed at.  She never made it home.

The members of the Town Council, Chief Wheeler’s bosses, are important members of the community.  They want a quick resolution to the case but not one that will involve the boys on the football team as that will hurt their chances for college scholarships.   And why did the parents of the murdered girl leave town so suddenly, with no forwarding address, when they hadn’t even claimed their daughter’s body for burial?

In the midst of his investigation, Wheeler is tormented by nightmares relating to his wife’s death.  She also died at Six Mile Creek, several years earlier.  Was it a coincidence that Gypsy was found in almost exactly the same spot as Susan Wheeler?  Or was she placed there for a reason?  The chief’s current relationship with a teacher at the high school is in jeopardy because of his inability to move past the events on the night his wife died, and this, plus the racial tensions in town, emerging drug trafficking, the girl’s death, and two vicious beatings that follow are taking their toll on Wheeler.

Richard Helms has written a fast-paced, enjoyable novel.  There’s a lot going on here, perhaps too much so.  I felt that the introduction of drugs, although realistically portrayed, took attention away from the main plot and from the racial issues that dominated the first two-thirds of the novel.  I think the novel would have been stronger without bringing drugs into it; the racial tensions, Wheeler’s flashbacks, and his intense romantic relationship with his son’s English teacher were enough to keep the reader’s interest at a high level.  However, Six Mile Creek is a very good read and a fine introduction to a strong-willed, ethical police chief who knows right from wrong and always comes down on the side of right.

You can read more about Richard Helms at his web site.