"If President Kennedy is a fan of British secret agent James Bond, he should switch his allegiance to Matt Helm. For there isn't a thing the incredible Bond can do that U. S. agent Helm can't do better."
Back in the day when I was a teenager and read just about anything I could get my hands on I read fistfuls of 1960s equivalents of the dime novel and one of those writers that came into my hands was Donald Hamilton. I have always been a fan of the Bond films and so reading the Matt Helm series just fed right into that mystique I had for spies, spy craft, killing bad guys, and because I would be so damned irresistible seducing beautiful women would be mere child's play. More importantly this guy was an American in a publishing field dominated by British secret agents. To put Matt Helm into perspective, the grittiest Bond moment you can think of in a film happens several times between the covers of a Donald Hamilton book. Donald Hamilton looking as tough as his character.
I always thought for sure that Donald Hamilton was made in America, but he was actually born in Sweden, emigrated to America, and served in United States Navy Reserve during World War Two. Besides the Matt Helm series he also wrote Westerns which if I have read any I didn't make the association with the writer of the spy series.
The noted critic Anthony Boucher wrote: "Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Dashiell Hammett; and his stories are as compelling, and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told."
This is the first book in the series and it finds Matt Helm living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, also a place that Donald Hamilton lived for many years. Helm has been retired for fifteen years from the black ops organization that he had worked for during the war. He married a beautiful nurse, has three kids, and writes Westerns for a living. His life is safe and probably if he took time to think about it he'd realize he was actually happy. The girl with the code name of Tina walks into a cocktail party and 15 years of Matt Helm's complacent postwar life slips away.
He has a history with Tina. In fact he has fond memories of: I could recall very clearly--although it seemed most improbably now--making love to this fashionable and gracious lady in a ditch in the rain, while uniformed men beat the dripping bushes all around us.First Edition
Helm knows his life is about to fall off the linear forward track and circle back around to a life he felt he left behind when he married his wife Beth. After the party he has a moment where he finds himself gazing at his wife with reflective attention. "She watched me cross the room to her without smiling or speaking. The light was soft on her upturned face. There's something very nice about a pretty woman at the end of a party evening when, you might say, she's well broken in. She no longer looks and smells like a new car just off the salesroom floor. Her nose is just a little shiny now, her hair is no longer too smooth to caress or her lipstick too even to kiss, and her clothes have imperceptibly begun to fit her body instead of fitting some mad flight of the designer's fancy. And in her mind, you can hope, she's begun to feel like a woman again, instead of a self-conscious work of art."
Donald Hamilton had a fine grasp of hardboiled dialogue and descriptions.
After Helm is drawn into the convoluted situation surrounding Tina, he finds himself lying to his wife for the first time in 15 years, but there is almost an immediate acceptance that he can not escape becoming a principle character in this new drama even if he had wanted to. He is blunt and doesn't fool himself about anything. "Naturally," I said. "I'm bound to be unfaithful to my wife before I'm through with you. It was inevitable from the moment I saw you last night. Well, this is a nice quiet place. Let's get it over with, so I can stop wrestling with my conscience."
The action takes place from Santa Fe to Dodge City an area that I am very familiar with and certainly increased my enjoyment of the book. A nostalgic tour for me that certainly left me with the decision that of course I will read more. Next up [b:The Wrecking Crew|305314|The Wrecking Crew (Matt Helm, #2)|Donald Hamilton|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1330013221s/305314.jpg|540399]. If you want a bit of escapism that leaves a bit of grit between your teeth then spend an hour or two with Matt Helm. It will most certainly do the trick. Books like this are almost historical documents of a time when paperbacks were published with garish covers and splashy blurbs. Maybe like Matt Helm my life too has started becoming a circle.