I'm surprised it's taken me this long to write about Matt Helm. Unlike most of the series I have written about here, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm books were a part of my literary diet when I was a kid. I started reading them when I was about 13 or 14, and have owned the first dozen or so paperbacks all that time. I don't think I have read any of them in over twenty years, but they have faithfully moved with me from house to dorm to trailer to apartment (many) to house in that time, ready for me when I was ready to tear into them again. I finally dug into Hamilton's first Helm novel, and it's just as great as I remember.
DEATH OF A CITIZEN was a Fawcett Gold Medal adventure published in 1960, which predates the men's adventure genre, but I'm including it anyway. Hero Matt Helm, an American spy, is much more in the Sam Durell mode than James Bond. Helm tells his stories in first person in a terse, tight, exciting style in which he approaches his duties as just a job. If he has to "make a touch," hey, it's just a job.
His first book finds Helm retired fifteen years after a distinguished war record operating in secret behind enemy lines. He's now married with three children, a cat, a nice adobe home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a lucrative career as a photographer and an author of western novels. Which all goes away lickety-split when a face from his past appears out of nowhere when he could have least expected it.
Tina, another agent with whom Matt teams on a treacherous mission in Europe during World War II, pops up in New Mexico one evening and blackmails him into accompanying her on her latest mission, which involves protecting an important atomic scientist (and friend of Matt's) from assassins, one of which Matt finds dead in the bathtub of his backyard studio.
DEATH OF A CITIZEN is not exactly action-packed, and Hamilton doesn't leave a trail of bodies in Helm's wake, but the violence that occurs is sudden, shocking, and in Helm's mind, absolutely necessary. By the time DEATH OF A CITIZEN has ended, Helm has pulled a shockingly quick 180 on his domestic life and has fallen back into his old ways. "Killing is my line," he says in a matter-of-fact way, which is the way Helm approaches everything.
If you were going to read any of the I have covered on this blog, I would suggest Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels are a great place to start.