Friday, August 10, 2012
Book Review: THE SHADOWERS by Donald Hamilton
After James Reasoner, in his blog review of my novel Killer Instincts, compared my main character in some ways to the earlier Helm adventures, my curiosity was definitely stirred. So, having some free time recently, I grabbed the earlier of the two books, THE SHADOWERS, and gave it a read over the course of two evenings.
Boy, am I glad I did.
THE SHADOWERS is the seventh of the Matt Helm stories written by Donald Hamilton. The main character is a "counter-agent" for an unnamed, shadowy branch of the US government, tasked with finding and eliminating or neutralizing enemy spies. In this book, Helm returns to work after a tragic accident ends the life of his current occasional love interest. He's assigned the task of guarding a female scientist from a possible assassin, and in order to do so, Helm will have to "fall in love" with her and get married, since it is unknown how long this bodyguard duty will last. The nonchalant manner in which Helm agrees to this romantic charade - even when he is informed that they will legally become wedded to each other - speaks volumes to the character's total commitment to his profession. I won't give away any spoilers, but let us just say that the insights this book gives us into the mind of Matt Helm, secret agent, are very revealing.
Overall, I found THE SHADOWERS to be an excellent read. Hamilton's use of the first-person perspective works perfectly because the book is so character-centric. We are subsumed into Helm's consciousness, dunked headfirst into the cold, hard, brutal world of Cold War-era espionage. Helm is a man of ruthless violence, who will do anything and commit to it wholeheartedly if it will see the job done. He is cruel, he is calculating, and he is without scruples. That he is ultimately human, with a human being's feelings and regrets, is something that we are shown because we have the unique perspective of living in Helm's head with him during his assignment, but to the outside world, he is little more than a clockwork machine controlled by the toymakers in Washington.
Although out of print for a long while now, it appears that most of the Helm books can be found online for a reasonable price through Amazon or other booksellers. I've also seen a report that they'll be reprinted starting sometime next year. If you can get your hands on them, I definitely recommend doing so. I've just ordered the first novel in the series, DEATH OF A CITIZEN, and hope to pick up more as time goes on.