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The Shadowers ()

An avid reader but notorious cheapskate, I've long made a habit of haunting thrift stores, libraries, and book sales in search of cheap books. As you can imagine, it's easier to find older stuff than new under such circumstances, which is no drawback at all given the state of literature. One of the oddest sensations though is to stumble upon some author--with whom you're familiar or not--whose cover blurbs are glowing plaudits from the NY Times and who it is announced has sold millions of copies, only to realize that he/she isn't even in print anymore, if remembered at all. Sadly, Donald Hamilton and his wonderful creation, Matt Helm, number among the forgotten these days. To the extent anyone thinks of them, it's likely they dwell on the campy films starring a miscast Dean Martin as the hero and featuring a plethora of gadgets and goofy supervillains quite foreign to the original source material.

I read the whole series years ago, but found a few recently at a Salvation Army store and The Shadowers (the seventh in the set) seems fairly representative. It opens with Helms's current squeeze dying in a car accident after a spat, quickly sets him up in a bogus marriage with a bookish doctor and on the trail of a murderous foreign agent, and proceeds at breakneck pace through beatings, killings, seductions and page after page of tough talk and snappy banter. Helm is decidedly less flashy than James Bond, who he was quite consciously marketed with back in the day, except maybe for the Bond of the first few books. Indeed, the 007 you find in Casino Royale is not dissimilar to Matt Helm. As the Bond producers re-energized the series by getting back to those meat-and-potatoes basics recently, so too will the reader who's tired of Tom Clancy/Dan Brown antics find a welcome respite in the Helm books. As befits an American spy, they're secret agent thrillers by way of Raymond Chandler, a hard-boiled treat.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Donald Hamilton Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Donald Hamilton
    -Donald Hamilton Worship Page
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Donald Hamilton (
-Matt Helm: The Unofficial Home Page
    -Donald Hamilton (Kirjasto)
    -Matt Helm (Thrilling Detective)
    -Matt's Maps (A Travelogue)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: A Mysterious Gallimaufry (OTTO PENZLER, May 2, 2007, NY Sun)
    -OBIT: Donald Hamilton, R. I. P. ( Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine)
    -ESSAY: THRILLER WRITERS #1: DONALD HAMILTON (John Fraser, Mystery File)

Book-related and General Links: