Saturday, January 15, 2011

Matt Helm: The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton

Quickly following DEATH OF A CITIZEN onto bookshelves was THE WRECKING CREW, the second Matt Helm adventure by Donald Hamilton. Also published in 1960, THE WRECKING CREW was used as the title of the fourth and final Matt Helm movie in 1969. Starring Dean Martin as Helm, the ridiculously tongue-in-cheek films had nothing to do with the hard-hitting novels.

On his first real mission for old boss Mac after his wife and kids left him, Helm poses as the photographer for a widowed journalist named Lou Taylor who is supposedly writing a magazine article on iron mining in northern Sweden. Lou's late husband, an investigative journalist, was murdered by a mysterious agent named Caselius while working on a story there. Helm's mission is simple enough: find Caselius and kill him.

Although THE WRECKING CREW offers a slight body count, it isn't about action, but the grim world of espionage. Interesting that Helm actually has two cover IDs in this one: a photographer and also an agent that's slightly over the hill and clumsy. Since Helm had been retired from the spy game for fifteen years before this mission, his enemies would expect him to have slowed down a step or two since his youth. Although he had trained physically and mentally for his "touch" of Caselius, pretending to be in less than tip-top shape allowed him to gain an advantage over an opponent who may underestimate him.

When the action happens, Hamilton frequently describes it as quick and ugly, leaving even those who look up to Helm to wonder if he's really some sort of heartless monster. Hamilton does a good job of describing Sweden and filling the plot with local color without becoming a dull travelogue, and his use of first-person narrative gives us a more complete picture of Helm than we usually get of spy heroes.


Joey H said...

I had almost all the Helm books.

Samuel Wilson said...

Just read the next book in the series, The Removers a couple of months ago. I'd heard the books were much better than the movies and this was definitely stronger stuff than what I remember of the movies. Very hard-boiled. Phil Karlson probably would have done more faithful adaptations more justice.

Jack Badelaire said...

I've had a couple of these on the back shelf for years now. Perhaps when I finish The Big Sleep, I'll have to read a few Helm books.