The UK-based Titan Books began reissuing Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels from 1960-93 about a year ago.
If you think the character was anything like Dean Martin's spoofy portrayal in four films loosely based on Hamilton's books during the sixties, you're in for a big surprise.
Death of a Citizen (click here to reserve our copy), published in 1960, introduces the reader to Helm, a former WWII Allied spy and assassin now living in the late 1950s Southwest with a wife and three kids. Helm works as a photographer and writer and is pretty much settled down, until he has a chance encounter with former fellow operative Tina.
Tina, it seems, is on a mission that requires Matt's help. He's not eager to get involved until an attempt is made on his life. Then the opposition starts going after the two former wartime agents. But what does it have to do with an important scientist and can Tina really be trusted?
Taunt and suspenseful, and written in a punchy style that reminded me of Mickey Spillane, Death of a Citizen holds your interest from start to finish. Hamilton develops Helm (who narrates the story) as a pragmatic and tough former agent who's still pretty dangerous to anybody that gets in his face. Late in the novel, the villains find out the hard way how ruthless Helm can be when they kidnap his daughter.
Don't expect the boozy, girl-chasing playboy agent seen in the films. This Matt Helm is capable of cold-blooded murder (albeit towards the bad guys), and uses sex only as a way of loosening up. He's no joke, and that's why, despite some plot holes, Death... works as well as it does.
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