In the midst of a deadly heat wave during the summer of 1896 in New York City, famed financier and investor J.P. Morgan walked into the office of then-Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. Though destined to clash with the future U.S. president in just a few short years, Morgan then approached Roosevelt to ask a favor.
William d’Alton Mann, a Civil War veteran turned magazine publisher, had been blackmailing Morgan, and the financier asked Roosevelt to investigate on his behalf. Days later, Mann turned up dead in an alleyway near the Brooklyn Bridge, and Roosevelt’s assistant Otto Raphael took it upon himself to personally investigate even at the risk of his own career. The trail ended up taking Raphael higher up the political ladder of New York City.
So begins “Hot Time: A Mystery,” a historical-fiction, mystery novel that Belhaven resident Gerard Helferich published through Arcade Publishing in April 2022 under the pen name W.H. Flint. While William d’Alton Mann’s murder is a historical liberty Helferich took for the sake of the story, the characters the story follows are real, including Raphael, who was one of the first Jewish men to work for the New York City Police Department. The plot also follows a woman named Minnie Gertrude Kelly, the first woman to work for the NYPD as Roosevelt’s personal stenographer.
“Hot Time” is Helferich’s sixth published book and the first time he has dabbled into fiction. Two of his previous nonfiction works include “An Unlikely Trust: Theodore Roosevelt, J. P. Morgan, and the Improbable Partnership That Remade American Business” and “Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin,” both of which served as inspiration for Helferich’s fiction debut.
“I first came up with the idea for this story about three years ago, right around the time I was finishing my book about Morgan and Roosevelt,” Helferich said. “I had come across details about William d’Alton Mann while researching them and found him to be quite a colorful character. He was a notorious blackmailer who came into conflict with Roosevelt when he sued Mann over something he’d published about his daughter, Alice Roosevelt.
“He seemed like an interesting murder victim, and soon I started thinking about who else I could draw into the conflict as well, like J.P. Morgan.”
From Humboldt to Roosevelt
Born in Troy, N.Y., which is on the Hudson River roughly 150 miles north of New York City, Helferich graduated from La Salle Institute, a private college preparatory school for students grades six through 12, and went on to Swarthmore College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1976. Afterward, he began working as an editorial assistant for a Philadelphia-based medical journal called Cancer Research, which sparked his interest in writing.
One year later, Helferich moved to New York City with his wife, fellow author Teresa Nicholas, who is from Yazoo City, Miss. The two spent the next 25 years working for a number of book-publishing companies, including Doubleday, Hearst Corporation, Facts on File, Simon and Schuster and John Wiley and Sons. The couple moved to Mexico in 2002 and remained there until 2013, when they moved into their current home in Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood.
Helferich published his first book, “Humboldt’s Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Latin American Journey That Changed the Way We See the World,” in 2004 through Gotham Books and Penguin. The book follows 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 a recounting of the crop’s history in the state.
In 2012 Helferich published “Stone of Kings: In Search of the Lost Jade of the Maya” through Lyons Press. This third book follows the search for the lost sources of jade that the Mayan civilization of South America used before its collapse.
Helferich’s fourth book, “Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912,” which he similarly published through Lyons Press in 2013, details saloonkeeper John Flammang Schrank’s attempted assassination of Roosevelt in 1912, when Roosevelt was running for a third presidential term.
Lastly, in 2017, Lyons Press published “An Unlikely Trust,” which chronicles the connection between Roosevelt and Morgan and laid the groundwork for “Hot Time.”
“Roosevelt was famous as a trust-buster, breaking up major business monopolies, while Morgan was a financier involved in setting those very monopolies up,” Helferich told the Mississippi Free Press. “While they are traditionally seen as adversaries, the truth was a bit deeper, since several times during his presidency Roosevelt cooperated with Morgan in the interest of saving the U.S. from serious financial trouble.”
“When I started writing ‘Hot Time’ after all the research I did on them, I knew that I wanted the story to serve as a way to explore the ways the two cooperated rather than the ways they fought each other,” he added.
A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Helferich publishes book reviews in the Wall Street Journal and contributes to the Fodors Travel Guides to Mexico and Guatemala. He served on the faculty of the Columbia Publishing Course at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York for 19 years and has presented workshops at the San Miguel Writers Conference for the last 10 years. In 2014, he began teaching a course titled “How to Edit What You Write” in the Millsaps College Community Enrichment Program in Jackson.
“Books have always been important to me throughout my life, so in a way it felt natural that after I graduated I would turn toward bringing new books into the world,” Helferich said. “Writing is both absorbing and always challenging, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it.”
Helferich and his wife have been married for 45 years. Teresa Nicholas, a Yazoo City, Miss., native, has authored “Buryin’ Daddy: Putting My Lebanese, Catholic, Southern Baptist Childhood to Rest,” “Willie: The Life of Willie Morris” and “The Mama Chronicles: A Memoir,” the last of which won her the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Life Writing Award in 2021.