The Return of Matt Helm

The Return of Matt Helm

Matt Helm – The Terrorizers by Donald Hamilton
Matt Helm – The Revengers by Donald Hamilton
TItan Books £7.99/$7.99/$10.49 (Canada)

A welcome set of reissues for Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels, originally published by Gold Medal between 1960 and 1993. From the first In the series, Death of a Citizen, to the final book, The Damagers, Hamilton wrote Helm as a competent and pragmatic U.S. government counter-agent, rather than the heroic spy seen in most espionage thrillers of the time.

The Terrorizers TitanThe TerrorizersIn the early books Hamilton depicts Helm as middle aged and out of condition, although over time this was downplayed. This change was probably connected with Dean Martin’s starring role in the films based on Hamilton’s books: (The Silencers (1966), Murderers’ Row (1966), The Ambushers (1967), and The Wrecking Crew (1969)).

In The Terrorizers (1977), number 18 in the series, Helm is in hospital in Canada suffering from amnesia, having survived a plane crash. The beautiful Kitty claims Helm as Paul Madden, her fiancé. Helm’s instincts keep him alive as he stops a terrorist organisation while attempting to recover his memory. In the mid-1970’s several protest groups planted  bombs and practised guerrilla warfare in the USA and Canada. Hamilton uses these events to add depth and realism to the story by using a group that bombs establishment targets, even if it means hurting the innocent.

The Revengers (1982), and number 19 in the series, acts as a reintroduction of Helm after a 5-year hiatus. On the cover of the original paperback, a younger-looking Helm looks out at us. Inside the book Hamilton plays down Helm’s World War II origins, and increases the page count, breaking with the Gold Medal tradition of 200+ pages. All this is to outfit Helm for a more modern age.

The Revengers TitanThe RevengersHelm reunites with Martha Borden at the funeral of her murdered husband Bob Divine. Bob was a former agent of Mac, Martha’s father. Faces from the past show up – Mac’s agents Fred and Brent (from The Intimidators), Sapio (now known as George Winfield Lorca) and Bobbie Prince (from The Poisoners). Mac engages Matt to protect Eleanor Brand, a newswoman who’s written an expose of Mac’s outfit. Matt discovers protecting Brand is not simple, while other things Matt thought buried come to haunt him…

Anthony Boucher wrote: “Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Dashiell Hammett; and his stories are as compelling, and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told.” Don’t expect LeCarre type realism, but if you want a taste of the golden age of men’s fiction, here it is.

If there is anything mediocre about this series it’s the covers: given the chance to deliver something more like Hard Case Crime or the original Gold Medal covers, Titan have gone with the most generic covers possible, sourced from a photo library by the look of them. Helm’s roots go all the way back to the pulps, books written mostly for the entertainment of a working class audience. As such they are minor classics in thriller fiction, featuring a counter-espionage operative who is more everyman than Bond. Hamilton’s writing is as crisp and clear as it was when these books were first picked up from a newsstand. The covers should reflect the pedigree.

Peter Mann

 

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