Truth can be stranger than fiction, and it’s often more fascinating for being veritable.
When retired criminal defense attorney and Methow Valley part-time resident Stewart Riley viewed one of his past cases through a retrospective lens, he realized that he had the makings of a book. So he sat down and wrote it. “Helena Star: An Epic Adventure through the Murky Underworld of International Drug Smuggling” has recently hit bookstore shelves.
Riley, who has owned a vacation home in the Wolf Creek area for 35 years, said that he was inspired to write a book chronicling one of his more riveting cases because “people kept asking me why I hadn’t written a book.”
Riley always replied that he was “too lazy” to write a book, but the idea percolated, finally gaining some legs when Riley closed down his law office and started exploring the possibility in earnest.
“I had about 15 cases that I thought might be worth further examination,” said Riley, “so I tried to narrow it down to the case that would merit an entire book.” After going through several large boxes that contained trial transcripts, pleadings, notes and letters, Riley said he realized “how much I’d forgotten that was so interesting.”
So he “just started writing.” A self-proclaimed reluctant writer at first, Riley said that “the more I got into it, the more fun I had.”
Riley spent 2019 writing the book, and then dedicated 2020 to finding a publisher and marketing the book — a task that has become notably more difficult in the COVID era. In pre-pandemic times, authors gave readings and attended book signings. Currently, Riley’s book promotion is limited to personal contacts, emails and word-of-mouth advertising. Still, Riley said, more than 300 copies of the original 500-book allotment have already been sold.
The inside story
The book chronicles an “aging freighter 1,240 miles off Washington State’s coast with hits hold loaded with 37 tons of marijuana — the west coast’s largest pot bust — worth an estimated street value of $74 million,” says a Helena Star press packet. “This drug bust and the ensuing events comprise a true saga about the inner workings of a Colombian-American drug cartel, smuggling on a massive scale, money laundering, the capture of fugitives in Bolivia, suspicious deaths, the lives of high-profile individuals, and courtroom battles in Seattle and San Francisco.”
Riley represented the ship’s captain, and thus tells the story from inside the mind of a criminal defense lawyer.
Riley said that one of his goals with writing the book was to “provide readers with a look into the mind of a criminal defense lawyer like me.” Many people, Riley said, “assume that all criminal defenders do is put violent criminals back on the street,” but that’s not the case. “My hope is that the public will come out with a complimentary view of criminal defense lawyers after reading this book.”
Although he said he “had no idea what to expect” from the journey of researching, writing, publishing and marketing “Helena Star” and has “no intention or ambition to write another one,” Riley admits that “I’ve had an incredible amount of fun. It has been a great ride so far.”
“Helena Star” can be purchased at Valley Goods in Twisp. Check with Trail’s End Bookstore for availability. Or order from Amazon if you can’t find it elsewhere. For more information about Riley and “Helena Star,” visit http://www.stewriley.com.