Books




Hamilton's creations far exceed the sometimes silly spy novels of Fleming, Ludlum, or others who got more press and Hollywood fawning. Matt Helm TM was the quintessential spy hero. He was tough, intelligent and brutal when needed. James Bond was a pussy by comparison.

Not only did Hamilton write almost thirty Matt Helm books, but he wrote numerous other espionage thrillers and many great westerns, several of which were made into famous movies. He was also a respected gun writer and so had the bonus of knowledge and realism when including gun and hunting references in his books.

His first novel is a bitch to find, but well worth it. Date with Darkness details a GI returning from WWII to an unexpected encounter with post-war intrigue and danger. Hamilton often wrote in the first person. He is possibly the best in the world at this rare form of fiction writing. I managed to borrow the book on inter-library loan, which is akin to pulling gold teeth out of a mad Irishman. I seriously considered keeping the book and just paying a lost book fine, (Many times I wished I had) but instead just photo-copied the whole book. I scanned it into my computer. I have made it available here on TDHWP. It is zipped up so you can download the whole thing without having your browser choke. It is only 126kBytes so it should not take too long to download.
A while back Greg Ferguson sent me a copy he found, for which I am very appreciative.

It is occasionally available from bookfinder.com


Westerns

Hamilton started out writing a variety of espionage thrillers and westerns. Several of his westerns were made into movies. The Man from Santa Clara was a great novel about a photographer who moves west to escape an embarrassing scandal, and gets involved in local tensions between a land baron and smaller ranchers, who had fought a range war, years before. A very good movie was made, and I have seen it, but I cannot remember the name of the movie or who starred in it. It is not listed in any of the movie databases, so far as I can find. If you know anything about the movie, send me an email. The book was later re-published under the title The Two Shoot Gun.

Another western made into a popular movie was The Big Country starring Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives. Peck was, in my view, a strange choice to play a handsome ship's captain who falls in love with a passenger and moves west to marry her. I never cared for Peck and was dismayed to see him as the hero. Heston played against type and was cast in the bully boy role. Ives played the cantankerous hillbilly patriarch of the clan that is the main rival of the hero's future in-laws for water rights in the valley. The hero becomes embroiled in the ensuing battle, and trying to make peace, buys the land between the warring clans. Along the way he realizes his fiancee is a scheming witch. He falls for the courageous school-marm whose land seperates the rivals and with whom he dickers for ownership. When she is kidnapped by the hillbillies, he is forced into a formal duel with the patriarch's eldest son played by Chuck Connors (The Rifleman). The climax is most surprising. Check out the movie review.

Another fine western is Smoky Valley. Once again the hero moves west, this time for his health, and gets embroiled in a local feud. The local family who nursed him back to health, hope to marry their daughter off to him and send her back east to civilization and gentility. A local land baron who was crippled in a past feud is again fighting neighbors for land and rights. His foreman, a hired gun, decides to take over and push the old man out of the way by marrying the eldest daughter. The younger daughter resists and the hired gun decides to take matters into his own hands. The woman who nursed the hero back to health betrays him and he decides to throw in with the baron's younger daughter and in a final showdown, kills the gunslinger by the trick of drawing and firing well out of the range of the other man's quick draw skills. This was made into a movie as well, although it was renamed "The Violent Men" and was also known as "Rough Country." It starred Glenn Ford and Barbara Stanwyck and the review can be seen here.

A while back I purchased the video from IMDB (which now seems to be owned by Amazon.com). It stars Glenn Ford as the hero John Parrish and Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Wilkerson. Edward G Robinson was Lou Wilkerson and Brian Keith was the vicious ranch foreman. You may recall that in the book, the old man was a widower with two daughters and the oldest of them was engaged to the foreman character. As happens too often, the screenwriter rewrote the story to make Barbara Stanwyck the old man's wife and the foreman to be his brother, Cole. I suppose this was because Stanwyck was a bit long in the tooth to portray a young woman. Anyway, there are a few other differences that make a purist like me wince. Martha and Cole are fooling around and she leaves her husband to die when Parrish and his men come to burn the ranch down. This was not part of the book because the daughter had no need to kill her father. They completely dropped the fight in the mountain cabin. One thing they did include, as an afterthought, but without explaining as the book did, was the final gunfight between Parrish and Cole, where Parrish drew and fired at about fifty yards separation, forcing Cole to draw and fan all his bullets wildly, whereupon Parrish calmly took aim and killed him dead. They even had Cole's jealous girlfriend then shoot Martha dead.
I can't say it was a great movie, but as a DH fan it is a must see. An interesting note, the town sheriff, who gets killed early on and the crooked deputy were played by two actors who are familiar to 'Perry Mason' fans both being regulars as the judges at many of Mason's trials. I did not care for Stanwyck in her role and would have preferred a younger actress with the original storyline, but I suppose she was hot property at the time and the studio needed a vehicle for her. It was interesting to see Brian Keith as a bad guy, which he does fairly well. Glenn Ford was well cast as the hero. Get it.

I recently dug up my copy of Iron Men and Silver Stars that I had tucked away. I hadn't read it in years. It is basically an anthology by various western writers of short stories about lawmen in the old west. Hamilton only wrote one of the stories, a short about a wild cowboy who comes home from a trail drive and is invited by another one of the trail drivers to run off and join a notorious killer and his band of outlaws. Instead, he comes to the aid of a US Marshal who came to town to capture the killer. The story ends with his changing his ways and acceptance of his own silver star.

Other westerns were Mad River and Texas Fever. Both are well worth finding and reading.


Non-fiction

Hamilton also wrote a non-fiction book "On Guns and Hunting" about his hunting experiences. This included several articles Hamilton had written for various gun magazines.

I recently found my copy and read it. I can't say for sure that I'd ever actually read it, but I've had it for twenty years. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in finding out more about the real Donald Hamilton. He discusses his feelings about dogs, hunting, growing old, and his family, and is a fascinating background about our favorite author. Many of the stories were originally published in magazines such as Field and Stream and Sports Afield. One of the most interesting was a recounting of when he once owned an Afghan hound, which experience he later used in The Removers.
Recently on the Yahoo newsgroup, I had been discussing the mertits of the book to understand what Hamilton was all aboutoutside the context of Matt Helm. Following is a list of the articles he included in that book:

  • Inside on the Rail
  • The World Was Full of Quail
  • The Geese of Still Pond
  • What's the Big Mystery?
  • Watch My Smoke
  • Arctic Hunt
  • The Great Swedish Alg
  • The Mile Gun
  • Cottontail Carnival
  • Afghan, Farewell
  • Just Want a Deer?
  • Pronghorns in the Pasture
  • Family Hunt
  • Block That Kick!
  • Caliber Catastrophe
  • Test Patterns Are Necessary!
  • First-Year Retriever Man
  • Who's Minding the Store?
  • King of the Canadian Canyon
  • Excuse me, I Love Guns

I recently got a request from a fan in Germany to purchase a copy for him because none of his local services had it and none of the US based services shipped overseas. The prices vary wildly and often a request to a service will only result in a reply that they already sold it. (I would think they would be more prompt about fixing their databases.) If you find it, good luck, you may have to mortgage the farm.

Despite Matt Helm's many complaints about sailing, Donald Hamilton is an excellent sailor and wrote a book entitled, Cruises With Kathleen which gives an interesting insight into his personality. He named his boat "Kathleen" after his late wife. Incidentally, this book is in hardcover. Check out the review supplied by Rennie Petersen.


Thrillers

One of Hamilton's best non-Helm thrillers was Line Of Fire, about a gunsmith, who as a young man was accidentally injured while on a hunting trip, by a foolish rich brat who then set up the hero in business to atone for his cowardice. The rich kid becomes a local political boss and gangster. To get a crooked politician elected, he hatches a plot to fake a murder attempt on the politician and strong-arms the gunsmith to help him pull it off. The plot goes bad and the politician is seriously injured. The plot is further messed up by the woman who accidentally stumbles upon the hero during the attempt. The politician demands that the gunsmith be wiped out.The hero then goes on the offensive as his former benefactor tries to have him and the woman killed. It is an excellent story and has lots of interesting and accurate gunsmithing references. Get it.

Hamilton, early in his career had just retired from the Navy and fear of spies was a common theme in his early works. Other thrillers and espionage novels were:


  • Assasins Have Starry Eyes (also known as 'Assignment: Murder')
    Atomic Physicist James Gregory was just minding his own business in the New Mexico desert hunting deer when someone took a shot at him, and continued shooting at him. Badly hurt, he shoots back. After he comes to in the hospital he finds his young, beautiful wife who had just left for Reno to get a divorce is back at his side. Then the fiance of the guy who he shot out on the desert tries to finish the job. As he recovers, more and more strange things happen to him. The security guy out at the top secret lab where he worked is getting upset because many of his top guys are either disappearing or turning up dead. Read the book and find out what happens.
  • Murder twice Told
    Two novellas about murder and mayhem. Deadfall is about a chemist who gets involved with spies and has to deal with Feds who think he is one too, while trying to sort out why the real spies are so interested in him. The Black Cross follows a man who believes he saw his wife killed with a 'black cross' by an unknown man as they were trying to escape from a wrecked car. Friends and the police initially think he was merely dazed from the accident but some begin to suspect him.
  • The Steel Mirror
    A movie named "5 Steps to Danger" was made based on this book. I haven't seen it but it stars Sterling Hayden and Werner Klemperer, who just recently died. (Colonel Klink from 'Hogan's Heroes') See the movie review.
    Hank Parnell tells me that it has played several times on Turner Classic Movies. I don't have cable so I have never seen it.
  • Nightwalker - A Naval reserve officer reluctantly on his way to report after being called back, is hitchhiking when he is attacked by a man who picked him up. When he comes to, he is mistaken for the driver. It seems there are differences of opinion about the man he is supposed to be. He plays along with the charade until he can figure out what is going on.
  • The Mona Intercept - It is one of his few non-Helm books in later years. But it still has the Hamilton touch. Jimmy Columbus is a former Cuban big-shot who was forced out after Castro came to power. He still dreams of returning and reclaiming his former position. On his trail is Phil Martin, aka Felipe Martinez, a government agent tasked to stop potential terrorists before they have a chance to get nasty. Columbus fits the profile of someone who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Columbus has started hijacking private boats to supplement his flotilla of drug runners to finance his glorious return to Cuba. Along the way he manages to piss off some former boat owners who have survived his various nefarious schemes.
    Elizabeth Cameron of a rival agency involved in drug enforcement manages to get her agency involved in shutting down Columbus' invasion force, losing a big part of her force in the process. Along the way she and Martin get involved in another way.
    Harold Ullman and Janet McHugh, both who survived Columbus' attacks on their persons and/or property decide separately to take matters into their own hands. They manage to interfere in Columbus' version of revenge on the evil US.
    Hamilton uses this book to express his love of boating, disdain for idiot beauracrats, and how pushing around the wrong people can really be a bad idea.
Certainly though, Hamilton is most famous for his Matt Helm series. Helm is a government hit man. His targets are usually foreign killers or espionage masters. He and his compatriots are often sent into dangerous situations and expected to die if necessary. Helm is thirty-five at the beginning of the series and ages very well through twenty-three novels. Like James Bond, much of his time is spent getting in the sack with various and sundry nasty female operatives who are either trying to lead him on wild goose chases or worm information from him. Helm is a man's man, but has attractions for women as well. He is polite and considerate and is very sure of himself. His boss is a mysterious man named Mac who seems to know all and see all. As a clever and thorough head of a super secret government agency, he has a habit of positioning his office desk such that visitors stare into bright sunlight.

Hamilton wrote the Helm novels in the first person, a very unusual method but in the Master's hands it is a very effective style.

Here is a listing of the Matt Helm novels-

1. Death of a Citizen

Helm had been a member of Mac's killer force during WWII as a young man. He retired at the end of the war and settled into a simple life as a photographer and writer with a pretty wife who has no idea of his life during the war. Then after fifteen years and three kids, one of his old war-time compatriots, code-named Tina shows up unexpectedly and blackmails him into helping her. As they chase around southern New Mexico and Texas, the bad guys are closing in. When they suddenly get the drop on him, he discovers Tina is not who he thought she was. The 'bay guys' turn out to be Mac's troops and they are chasing Tina who is really working for the Russians. Mac asks him to help them get Tina, but he refuses. Then as he makes his way back to his home in Santa Fe, he finds out that Tina has kidnapped his baby daughter to try and force him to help her kill an American nuclear scientist. He returns to Santa Fe and finds Tina. Returning to his old training he beats the location of his daughter out of his nemisis, eventually killing her. His unsuspecting wife walks in on him after it is all over and is shocked to learn of Matt's true past. Thus we have the rebirth of the man code-named Eric.
2. The Wrecking Crew
The newly divorced Helm, code name Eric, is sent on his first mission back in the fold to Scandinavia, where he is to pose as a photographer helping a journalist document a mining operation in northern Sweden. Along the way he is to search for a Russian spymaster who has been decimating the ranks of a sister spy organization. He succeeds in the end after numerous twists and thrills.
3. The Removers
Helm finds himself in Reno at the behest of his ex-wife whose new husband is having difficulties with his former boss, a gangster who wants him to come back to work for him. Helm is also there to find and eliminate a well-known Russian agent who has gone to work for the gangster, but who is apparently up to his own nefarious tricks.
4. The Silencers
Helm is sent to El Paso to intercept a former confederate who has gone bad and is working for the opposition. Before he gets to her, she is mysteriously killed and he has to take on the task of rounding up her confederates and putting a stop to whatever they were doing in the first place.
5. Murder's Row
Helm is assigned to perform a beat-up job on a co-worker to convince the bad guys she is a turncoat, so she can worm her way into their organization. Instead she accidentally dies during the supposedly non-lethal beating and Helm takes on the task of completing her job.
6. The Ambushers
Helm is selected to assasinate a South American general. To accomplish his mission he has to make a fantastic long-range rifle shot. In the process he sees a Russian ground to ground missile. Then he rescues a fellow agent who has been held captive and abused by the bad guys. Matt takes her on his next mission, to find the nuclear missle and kill the mad man who controls it. He meets a sexy Russian spy, code named Vadya, who will become a big factor in his life.
(thanks to Greg for the following reviews)
7. The Shadowers
The Russians are following important Americans around. When given the proper signal, these shadowers will kill the Americans. Helm is assigned to capture one of the Russian assassins and bring him back alive. The woman he is protecting, a rather frumpy academic, turns out to be much more interesting and much more alluring than Matt would ever imagine.
8. The Ravagers
Genevieve Drilling's husband couldn't handle her. She took off and she grabbed a handful of top secret files in the process. As he follows her, Matt has to beat off one escaped convict with a stick and another with his bare hands. Genevieve doesn't believe him at first but ends up asking Matt to teach her how to seduce him. This red haired woman comes complete with a fifteen year old daughter whose personality is clearly acidic.
9. The Devastators
Vadya's back. She gets all choked up over Matt's new bride. Then Matt does one of the neatest driving tricks in the series. He goes on to face Chinese agents, a treacherous woman and bubonic plague.
10. The Betrayers
Matt's on vacation in Hawaii. An old nemesis, the Monk, wants to say aloha. The Monk is fond of loud noises. That bride Matt picked up in The Devastators is no longer around but her sister is. She wants the half million dollars Matt didn't know he'd inherited. She goes on to take him to bed and give him a refresher course in small boat handling. Matt has to save three thousand American troops from the Monk's nefarious plot.
11. The Menacers
Matt has a close encounter in Mexico and a fond farewell. Vadya's back briefly, and a new woman enters Matt's life. This one's a red head who enjoys bourbon, and homicide. There's a new man in Matt's life, too. His name is Herbert Leonard and he'll be back. Donald Hamilton then presents the most dramatic scene in the series. Matt's being held captive in an airplane when an enemy agent gets careless with a gun and you won't believe what happens next.
12. The Interlopers
Matt's new partner is a real dog. Hank, a labrador retriever, turns out to be the genuine hero in this story. In the mean time, Pat Bellman, a big blonde American traitor, teaches Matt a few things about trout fishing. And Libby Meridith, a Cadillac driving dark haired spy, shows him some tricks with a lever action rifle. Matt's assignment supposedly concerns the Northwest Coastal System but Mac has something else in mind. Mac is worried about a presidential assassin named Holz.
13. The Poisoners
The red head who saw a flying saucer in Mexico is back, for about five pages. Matt's new assignment is to find out who killed her, and why. In the process he faces a tall, skinny girl named Bobbie, the yellow peril and a machine designed to poison America's atmosphere.
14. The Intriguers
This is probably the best book Donald Hamilton wrote. Mac sends a very special agent to give Matt his new assignment. Only she isn't sure which side she's on. Herbert Leonard is back, new and improved. He's got big plans for the United States and Mac objects, violently. Matt travels from the beaches of Baja Mexico to a south Florida swamp. At the end he turns out to have a much softer heart than any of us suspected.
15. The Intimidators
Matt goes up against Pavel Minsk - also known as the Mink. But that's only the beginning of his troubles. This time he has to deal with an old enemy and a new boss. The enemy is a nautical lady we've met before and the boss is a loud-mouth Texan. They have to work together to find some members of the international set who are missing in the Bermuda Triangle.
16. The Terminators
Hank Priest was a picturesque old seadog in the Intriguers. He's back as Sigmund and he is a serious badass. During WWII the Germans had a policy of shooting ten Norwegians for every Nazi they lost. Sigmund knew how to play that game too. Now he's on a personal mission and Matt is sent along for the ride. As usual, Mac has his own ideas about how things should work out.
17. The Retaliators
Matt Helm finds $20,000 in his checking account and doesn't like it a bit. Someone is framing him and two fellow agents, someone who is just as rich as they are ruthless. We meet Mrs. Oscar O'Hearn, who's timid as a driver but aggressive in other ways. Ramon Solana-Ruiz is back but acting strangely. And Matt finds himself in the middle of a plot to take over part of Mexico.
18. The Terrorizers
Matt Helm has lost his mind. Or at least his memory. Even if he doesn't know who he is, he does know he's in the middle of a hospital nightmare. A vicious bitch named Somerset wants some answers the Matt can't supply. By the time he finds out who he really is, Matt decides he doesn't want his old life back. Unfortunately, the People's Protest Party, a local terrorist group, has other plans for him.
19. The Revengers
Martha's back. So is Captain Harriet Robinson. In fact it's old home week for Donald Hamilton. He brings back about a dozen characters from earlier books. There is also a new character. A monkey-faced female reporter named Elly. They all get wrapped up in a bizzare plot involving mysterious accidents in the Bermuda Triangle and COLREGS rule 18-a-iv.
20. The Annihilators
Matt Helm was alway hard on his women. This is once again the case when he loses Elly in fewer than twenty pages. He ends up in South America, climbing pyramids and doing some of the wildest stunts to date. This is a feral story with sweet-smelling smoke, vivid hallucinations and even a human sacrifice. Hang on to your hats, fans.
21. The Infiltrators
Madeleine Ellershaw was a bright and beautiful young lawyer who was on her way to the top. Until she ran afoul of CADRE. Now she is a rather plain and shapeless woman well into her forties who's grown fat on prison starch. The destruction of her life was an insignificant price in a no limits game. CADRE was after nothing less than control of the most powerful nation on earth. The only thing standing in their way was one man.
22. The Detonators
The prim young lady was the daughter of Matt Helm's old colleague at the agency. She wants to find the people who killed her father. In the process, she and Matt get wrapped up with a pack of fanatics who may be planning an explosive surprise.
23. The Vanishers
This time there are two women, both treacherous and beautiful. Matt starts by pulling a woman out of her hospital bed and putting her on a plane for Scandinavia. The fact that she would go under such circumstances is a clue as to how desperate the situation is. There is a coup from within the agency and a terrorist attack from without.
24. The Demolishers
Matt hooks up with his dead son's widow. She is Amy, the daughter of a drug smuggler and a very fiesty lady. Together, they go after an unlikely pack of fanatics who are trying to take over a Caribbean island. Herman Heinrich Bultman shoulda stood in bed. Instead he pissed off the wrong guy.
25. The Frighteners
Matt's new bride is as gorgeous as Barbie. But she fights dirty. Gloria Pierce extracts her vengeance but it wasn't the worst vengeance Matt had ever endured. Then he hooks up with Antonia, a diminutive terror whose kind of a Mexican female version of Eric. She becomes his hunting partner and they tear a serious hole in a revolutionary plot.
26. The Threateners
Matt is caught in the middle again. Cocaine cowboys and killer G-men want his hide. A ruthless drug lord presents a clear and present danger to the United States and Matt has to stop him.
27. The Damagers
This time there is a whole crew of dangerous women. Add in an Arab terroist squad, an elite organization of death-dealing specialists and a suave psychopath with personal resons for hating Matt Helm. It adds up to an explosive adventure for our favorite hero.

 
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