2 Matt Helm Thrillers — Much Better than the Movies

My first exposure to the character of Matt Helm was at the Riverdale Theater in Hampton. Somehow, a print series of books about a CIA assassin was bought for the movies, and then were inexplicably metamorphed into a series of James-Bond ripoffs, aided by a shitload of sexy women . . . and the comic stylings of Dean Martin.

I recently saw the first half hour of The Silencers on TMC — I could only take it that long — and I did not remember how cheesy it all was.  It was produced on a tv budget — at least, it looks that way — and starred such tv mainstays as Roger C. Carmel, Victor Buono and James Gregory, and was produced by Irwin Allen.  Admittedly, the round bed was great, and Martin’s morning wake up call via giant bathtub, replete with hot and cold running nudes, was cool.

But, as usual, the books are better.

Titan Books has recently started releasing the Cold War-era novels in paperback, and they’re a wonderful return to ’60s intrigue and paperback sensibilities.

In Death of a Citizen, Donald Hamilton created a former WWII government assassin, Matt Helm, currently retired and living in Santa Fe as a writer of Westerns.  His daughter is kidnapped and he gets drawn back into the assassination game against his will; and by the beginning of the Sweden-based second novel, The Wrecking Crew, his wife has left him and he’s sent on a mission to find and kill a Moriarty-like crime boss.

I miss the paperback thriller covers of the ’60s and ’70s, because they always promised more sex than anyone could imagine. But let’s get real.  Titan’s cover designers have a wonderful sense of balance and drama, and the motif of the killer with a rifle is the dominant image on the Helm covers, with the promise of dangerous sex secondary.  And that’s how it is in the original novels.  The Helm women are sexy and dangerous, but Hamilton’s main interest is telling stories about a man who was born to kill, but wants to get out of the game and find peace.

This is spy noir, and Matt Helm is a sixties’ anti-hero for today’s generation.

Thanks to Titan, the third novel, The Removers, was released in April, and I’m looking forward to enjoying The Silencers, Murderers’ Row and the rest of Hamilton’s titles in the future.

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