Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Review: THE SHADOWERS by Donald Hamilton

I've had a pair of Matt Helm thrillers on my pulp paperback bookshelf for several years now, but I never too the time to give them a read. For one, both of the books are fairly well worn, and I always get nervous reading paperbacks that are too brittle or stiff for fear of damaging them. Of course, if that's the case, they're just taking up space, right? Sooner or later you have to take the chance and give it a delicately-handled read.

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.

8 comments:

Tom Johnson said...

Definitely one of the best spy thrillers ever written, the Matt Helm series is top notch - especially the first 15 or so. Death of A Citizen may be the best spy novel ever written. A non-Helm novel by Donald Hamilton that is also great is ASSASSINS HAVE STARRY EYES. Be sure to pick it up also.

Anonymous said...

Jack,

I envy you your first reading of Death of a Citizen! I know you're an Executioner fan and so it will interest you to know that before Don Pendleton became a writer, Donald Hamilton and Mickey Spillane were his two favorite writers in that field. He held Hamilton in the highest regard. Hamilton's first 10 novels are uniformly excellent.

--Stephen Mertz

Bill Crider said...

Steve's right. Death of a Citizen is even better than The Shadowers. And don't miss Line of Fire, which may be his best book of all.

Jack Badelaire said...

Tom, Stephen, and Bill, thanks for the comments! I'm almost ashamed that such good writing has sat on my shelves for so long, but I aim to rectify that mistake, especially with all the great suggestions.

RJR said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Steve. The first 10 books are amazing. And the same is true of John D.

RJR

Jack Badelaire said...

Time to start collecting...

BTW, just adding "The Adventure Factory" to my blogroll.

Christopher Mills said...

Donald Hamilton is my favorite writer. Period.

bibliorex said...

Thanks for this review, I have been wondering about the series for a while now. I have #9 and 12 but have not yet checked them out. I certainly will now. Don't they have great titles?