In the midst of a deadly heat wave in New York City in the summer of 1896, famed financier and investor JP Morgan walked into the office of then-Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Destined to clash with the future US president in just a few years, Morgan then turned to Roosevelt to ask a favor.
William d’Alton Mann, a Civil War veteran-turned-magazine publisher, had blackmailed Morgan, and the financier asked Roosevelt to investigate on his behalf. Days later, Mann was found dead in an alleyway near the Brooklyn Bridge, and Roosevelt’s assistant, Otto Raphael, took it upon himself to investigate, even if he risked his own career. The path eventually led to Raphael climbing higher up the political ladder of New York City.
Thus begins Hot Time: A Mystery, a historical mystery novel published by Belhaven resident Gerard Helferich in April 2022 under the pseudonym WH Flint through Arcade Publishing. While the murder of William d’Alton Mann is a historical liberty that Helferich took for the story, the characters that the story follows are real, including Raphael, who was one of the first Jewish men to work for the New Yorker police department worked. The plot also follows a woman named Minnie Gertrude Kelly, the first woman to work for the NYPD as Roosevelt’s personal stenographer.
“Heisse Zeit” is Helferich’s sixth published book and the first time he has delved into fiction. Two of his earlier non-fiction books are An Unlikely Trust: Theodore Roosevelt, JP Morgan and the Unlikely Partnership That Reshaped American Business and Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin, both of which served as inspiration for Helferich’s debut novel.
“The idea for this story first came to me about three years ago, around the time I was finishing my book on Morgan and Roosevelt,” said Helferich. “I stumbled upon details about William d’Alton Mann while doing my research and found him to be quite a colorful character. He was a notorious blackmailer who came into conflict with Roosevelt when he sued Mann for something he published about his daughter, Alice Roosevelt.
“He seemed like an interesting murder victim and soon I started thinking about who else I could bring into the conflict, like JP Morgan.”
From Humboldt to Roosevelt
Helferich was born in Troy, NY, which is located on the Hudson River about 150 miles north of New York City. He graduated from La Salle Institute, a private college preparatory school for students in grades 6 through 12, and went on to Swarthmore College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1976. He then began working as an editorial assistant for a Philadelphia-based medical journal called Cancer Research, which sparked his interest in writing.
A year later, Helferich moved to New York City with his wife, author Teresa Nicholas of Yazoo City, Miss. The two spent the next 25 years working for a number of book publishers, including Doubleday, Hearst Corporation, Facts on File, Simon and Schuster, and John Wiley and Sons. The couple moved to Mexico in 2002 and stayed there until 2013, when they moved to their current home in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood.
Hilderich published his first book, Humboldt’s Kosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Latin American Journey That Changed the Way We See the World, in 2004 with Gotham Books and Penguin. The book follows the German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt and his journey through Latin America from 1799 to 1804.
Counterpoint published his second work, High Cotton: Four Seasons in the Mississippi Delta, in 2007. The work details Helferich’s experiences during a year spent with a cotton farmer in the Mississippi Delta, in addition to telling the story of the state’s crops .
In 2012, Helferich published Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya with Lyons Press. This third book follows the search for the lost sources of jade used by the Mayan civilization of South America before its collapse.
Helferich’s fourth book, Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912, also published by Lyons Press in 2013, details the attempted assassination of Roosevelt by saloon keeper John Flammang Wardrobe in 1912 when Roosevelt for a third-term presidential bid.
Finally, in 2017, Lyons Press published An Unlikely Trust, which chronicled the connection between Roosevelt and Morgan and laid the groundwork for Hot Time.
“Roosevelt was famous as a breach of trust who broke up large business monopolies, while Morgan was involved as a financier in building those very monopolies,”helferich told the Mississippi Free Press. “While they have traditionally been viewed as adversaries, the truth lay a little deeper, as Roosevelt worked with Morgan several times during his presidency to save the US from serious financial troubles.”
“When I started writing ‘Hot Time’ after all that research, I knew I wanted the story to serve as an exploration of how the two of them cooperate, not how they fight.” he added.
As a member of the National Book Critics Circle, Helferich publishes book reviews in The Wall Street Journal and contributes to Fodor’s Travel Guides to Mexico and Guatemala. He has been on the faculty of the Columbia Publishing Course at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York for 19 years and has taught workshops at the San Miguel Writers Conference for the past 10 years. In 2014, he began teaching a course called How to Edit What You Write at Millsaps College Community Enrichment Program in Jackson.
“Books have been important to me my entire life, so in a way it felt natural that after graduating I turned to the task of bringing new books into the world,” said Helferich. “Writing is both engaging and always challenging, and I feel lucky to be able to do it.”
Helferich and his wife have been married for 45 years. Teresa Nicholas, from Yazoo City, Miss. ‘, the last of which earned her the 2021 Life Writing Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.
To learn more about author Gerard Helferich and his published works, visit gerardhelferich.com. For more information on his wife Teresa Nicholas’s writing career, see teresanicholas.com.