Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Death of a Citizen - Matt Helm 1 - Donald Hamilton

Death of a Citizen
Matt Helm 1
by Donald Hamilton
1960 Gold Medal Books

First, forget about the Dean Martin movies.  While the films try to out-camp James Bond, the books are closer to Mickey Spillane than Ian Fleming.

Matt Helm is a retired secret agent who is trying to live a normal life after leaving the service at the end of World War II.  Most of the first installment is a series of slow-paced cliches - Nobody ever really quits, being framed for murder, searching femme fatales for weapons, "I want you to find her and stop her.  Permanently.", etc.

I'd like to give Hamilton the benefit of the doubt since the book is pretty well written, but I'm sure all of this was already old hat by 1960.  Most of the first person narrative is Helm thinking about what he's going to do, doing it, then thinking about what he did.  There's a good gritty, realistic tone, but not enough happens until the end, and the ending's not quite enough to really recommend it.


  1. Donald Hamilton was probably better at westerns, but I liked the first dozen Matt Helm books. Really, they were better than James Bond. After reading Casino Royale, I never wanted to read another 007 again. The only Matt Helm book I kept in my collection was the original printing of Death of A Citizen and Assassins Have Starry Eyes (a non-Helm title). I always enjoy your posts, thanks.

  2. DoaC is good, but there is a lot of warm-up that has to happen before the story really gets goign. I do like how utterly and completely ruthless the main character is, especially once the "Citizen" portion of him "dies" and the Agent is reborn again. I've read The Wrecking Crew, second in the series, and it is also a really brutal, ruthless story. I think the first-person perspective does a good job of getting us into the mind of the character, a pretty chilling view really, and I agree with Tom that they're much more interesting reads than the Bond novels, even though I do enjoy the old Fleming originals quite a bit.

  3. I seem to be the only one enjoying Hamilton over allmost all the other "serial writers" of that era.
    I really must be getting old:)

    But it is there in the storytelling; the lone hero doing what needs to be done... withoug any of the "with his Luger called Wilhelmina" or some sort of they called him "the Death Merchant"... Just a guy who did what he felt he had to to get the job done.