Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Review - Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton

Click the Cover for Amazon Page
Many readers of this blog are already familiar with Hamilton's Matt Helm novels, a series of books that set the gold standard in many people's minds for the "hard-bitten secret agent", Matt Helm.

Rather than writing a long lead-up explaining the series, I'll offer up this link to a website dedicated to the series.

Recently, the Matt Helm books have begun to see a reprinting facelift, including ebook versions. I've got a couple of the vintage paperbacks, and I read the seventh book in the series, The Shadowers (my review can be found here). While I have Death of a Citizen in vintage paperback now, I decided to buy and read the new ebook version, since my paper copy is definitely old and a bit fragile.

The ebook was well-formatted, and I don't recall any really glaring formatting or OCR-related errors. There might have been a couple, but they clearly didn't stand out so blatantly as to make me take undue notice. And, while the covers are pretty generic on these new reprints, they are at least stylish and professional-looking.

In short, the story behind Death of a Citizen is simple. Matt Helm was a special operations agent who carried out assassinations and other "black ops" during World War Two. Now, he's a family man, with a wife and small children, a "citizen" living an ordinary life until an old acquaintance, a former fellow agent and lover, comes back into his life. Literally overnight, Helm is dragged kicking and screaming back into the world of covert operations, and by the end of the book, we've seen - ta daaa - the "death" of citizen Matt Helm, and the re-birth of counter-espionage agent code-name Eric. 

Overall, the writing is excellent, the pace is quick but not sloppy, and the action is decisive and brutal. Hamilton writes with a blunt economy, and as the story is told from the first-person perspective of Helm, we can see almost immediately that those predatory killing instincts were not lost - they were only sleeping. Helm left his soul shredded and discarded on the battlefields of Western Europe years ago; he's now as ruthless and unrelenting as The Terminator.

If you like hard-bitten Cold War-era espionage thrillers that pack a lot of character and action into short, fast reads, you need to get your hands on these Matt Helm novels. The ebooks and paperbacks are reasonably priced, so treat yourself to Death of a Citizen and enjoy.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've got some of the original releases around here. haven't read many.

Indyguy said...

Now you'll need to review the movie made with Dean Martin as Matt Helm.

I haven't seen or read but have always been curious about these artifacts of Rat Pack pop culture.

Brian Drake said...

It's the brutality and coldness of the violence (it's as if killing to Helm is like swatting a fly, and no further attention is given to the subject), and the economy of the writing (in the early books) that makes the Helm series such a winner. They were very tightly written until the page count grew in the '70s and '80s. After that, the economy got lost and the books aren't as good, to me, at least.

Anything by Hamilton is good, which includes his westerns if you can find them (I've only tracked down two of them), and his one-shot pre-Helm thrillers are superior to any of the doorstop thrillers written today. I highly recommend "Assassins Have Starry Eyes", which is one of the best books, with one of the worst titles, you will ever read, with one heck of a crackling opening scene.

I have yet to read "The Mona Intercept", a one-shot he wrote in the '80s but I have also yet to read anything good about it. Someday I will find out for myself if it deserves a place in the canon.