Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Matt Helm 2: Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton

Matt Helm 2
Wrecking Crew
by Donald Hamilton
1960 Fawcett

Matt Helm is assigned to take pictures for a journalist in Sweden with the expectation he will be given a target to "touch". In the meantime he's been ordered to not take action, and lets himself get beat up to avoid arousing suspicion, which doesn't help thrill levels. Every cover is blown from the start, and Helm jus kind of hangs around while those around him are occasionally murdered.

The Helm series feels like a reaction to idealistic trends in the genre, like grimdark is to fantasy, but this is years after James Bond and decades into hardboiled and noir crime fiction, and I have no idea what he's reacting to. The whole "I might eventually kill someone, do you find that upsetting?" attitude seems a bit tired by 1960.

The attitude towards women is tiresome - one has to put up with at least a little chauvinism in these kinds of books, but it felt like half the word count was Helm judging women's appearances. Some folks go in for the non-PC, "when men were men" stuff, but here he's complaining about their shoes. Pretty much all the secondary characters are women, but they just exist for Helm to brutalize. He even brags about torturing a woman in the first novel. It's not that I disapprove of women in action settings, but it's written to be edgy years after I the Jury started that trend.

Another take is that Helm the character is actually sentimental and trying to convince himself, unsuccessfully, that he isn't. Either way, these kinds of themes are better delivered while the action is going on - here, we get themes instead of action.

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