I devoured crime and spy thrillers back in the Sixties when I was a teenager. After seeing the first two James Bond films starring Sean Connery, I began reading Ian Fleming and was pleased to find that his Bond novels were more dark and complex than the films.
After Fleming died in 1964 I moved on to the other Brit spy thriller writers like Len Deighton and John le Carre. At the time I thought the Brits wrote the best spy thrillers and the Americans, like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, wrote the best crime thrillers.
Around the mid-1960s I began reading Donald Hamilton's paperback spy stories that featured a tough guy character named Matt Helm. Hamilton was Louis L'Amour meets Mickey Spillane meets Ian Fleming.
Later Dean Martin made a series of films based on the Hamilton stories. I love Dean Martin as a singer and entertainer, and he could be a good actor when he wanted to be, but the films were broad spy spoofs. They were amusing, but I liked Hamilton's darker novels better.
As Hamilton's Matt Helm was a Westerner and an outdoorsman, and Hamilton described him as 6'4, lean and with blond hair, I thought the young Clint Eastwood would have made a better Helm than ole Dino.
"Whereas Bond was a sophisticate who knew wine, expensive cars, and tuxedos, Helm lived much of the time in the American Southwest, drove a pickup truck, and wore flannel shirts," writer and editor Otto Penzler noted.
I recently reread Hamilton's first two Matt Helm thrillers, Death of a Citizen and The Wreaking Crew, as Titan Books has reissued Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm spy thrillers.
Helm was an Army officer and assassin in Europe during World War II and he's called back into action (circa 1960) in Death of a Citizen. His elite, top secret unit was known as "the Wreaking Crew" or "M Group (for murder) by only a handful of people. In the second thriller, The Wreaking Crew, Helm is sent overseas to Sweden to take out a mysterious secret agent and killer.
“These novels were among the best spy thrillers ever published,” said Nick Landau, Publisher of Titan Books and CEO of the Titan Publishing Group. “We’re thrilled to partner with the estate of Donald Hamilton, enabling us to bring them back into print and show readers what they’ve been missing all these years.”
And I was thrilled to revisit my youth by rereading Hamilton's first two Matt Helm spy thrillers. I look forward to reading more of them.