Donald Hamilton is yet another author that surprised me a bit when I read his bio. I am most familiar with the Matt Helm books, a spy/thriller series that started in 1960 and total 27 books from ’60 until 1993. I know that the Helm books were often marketed as similar to the James Bond/Ian Fleming. Hamilton’s wiki does not go that far:
Donald Bengtsson Hamilton (March 24, 1916 – November 20, 2006) was a U.S. writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction about the outdoors. His novels consist mostly of paperback originals, principally spy fiction but also crime fiction and Westerns such as The Big Country. He is best known for his long-running Matt Helm series (1960-1993), which chronicles the adventures of an undercover counter-agent/assassin working for a secret American government agency. The noted critic Anthony Boucher wrote: “Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Dashiell Hammett; and his stories are as compelling, and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told.”
I have not read all of the Matt Helm series but know that I have read all of the first dozen and a couple of later ones in the series. I also know I have read some of Hamilton’s non-Matt Helm books. Looking through this list of Hamilton’s other works, I know I have read the detective/thriller/noir style books as they would have reminded me of John D. MacDonald. These books are not requiring deep thinking – they are a style and genre that have always just allowed me to get involved with a story with good and bad guys and a lot of gray areas where everything and everyone overlap.
As wiki notes, most people are probably aware of Hamilton and Matt Helm through a series of four movies in the late 1960s starring Dean Martin. The movies are only loosely based on the books – The Silencers (first movie but fourth book), Murderer’s Row (second movie and fifth book), The Ambushers (third movie and sixth book) before going back to the second book for the fourth and final Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew. While the Matt Helm character in the books always had a streak of humor, Martin played Helm as far more of a parody than portrayed in the books.
There was a short-lived Matt Helm television series that I vaguely recall, starring Anthony Franciosa. I’m sure I watched one or two of the episodes but have no memory of it. Since there were only fourteen total, few other people watched either.
I know I had read previously that Hamilton was an avid outdoorsman, possibly in the bio pieces that accompanied his books. He made Helm an outdoorsman as well with a strong familiarity with living and working in the US Southwest. He wrote numerous articles for Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, and Gun World magazines which were pulled together for a book titled On Guns and Hunting.
Hamilton is another of the authors that did surprise me as I was not aware of his western books. Prior to the Matt Helm, he wrote some western novels, two of which became classic western movies. The movie The Violent Men starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson is based on Hamilton’s book Smoky Valley. The Big Country is movie and book title both. The movie stars Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, and Charlton Heston.
Read the rest of this entry →