Pop Culture Gadabout
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
      ( 1/30/2013 10:05:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“HOW CAN WE GIVE YOU A DISCHARGE WHEN WE DON’T EXIST?” The hardest boiled of the Cold War spies, Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm has long languished in undeserved obscurity, mostly remembered for a series of cheesy spy “comedies” starring a thoroughly tiresome Dean Martin. But the pulp connoisseurs at Britain’s Titan Books (who have also been aligned with Hard Case Crime) have sought to bring the real Matt (a.k.a. “Eric”) back into the searchlight – and good for them. First two books in Hamilton’s 27-volume series, Death of a Citizen and The Wrecking Crew, are being published by the company, with the next five titles also announced throughout the next year.

As a teen in the sixties, I read as many of Hamilton’s Helm novels -- initially released in paperback by the legendary pulp line Fawcett -- as I could. The character debuted seven years after James Bond, but he quickly established himself as a grittier alternative to the dapper secret agent. For one thing, he took his role as a government sanctioned killer more seriously, ever aware of just how much the act changes a person. In the novel which introduced Helm, Citizen, there are no grandiloquent criminal masterminds for our hero to best; if anything, the affair in which our temporarily retired ex-spy finds himself reads more like something one of Dashiell Hammett’s p.i.s might have encountered. In fact, from the way that he describes himself it’s easy to visualize the man as a physical mirror to the Continental Op.

When Helm’s debut opens, we see him as a softened married man in New Mexico -- the author of a series of western novels (which Hamilton also wrote) -- who has done his best to forget his history as a ruthless American agent during the Second World War. That past returns to bite him on the ass, however, when his old spy partner, a fur-bearing babe named Tina, shows up at the cocktail party of a neighboring Los Alamos researcher. When our hero finds the body of a self-proclaimed fledgling authoress in his writer’s studio, he’s forced to deal with Tina and her thuggish new partner Loris. Unsure if he is being pushed back into the spy biz by his former boss Mac, he leaves his wife and child to re-partner with Tina, who may or may not have his best interests at heart.

Pursued across the New Mexico and Texas desert, our hero faces two big questions: why was he brought back into his old life and can he trust a single word out of his sexy ex-partner’s mouth? Lovers of noir fiction already know the answer to that second question, of course, but watching the formerly settled Helm slip back into his old self is a treat. As a narrator, Helm is mannishly opinionated: his take on the styles and mores of the Eisenhower Era are engaging at times, though a few of his thoughts on married life and what used to be called the Battle of the Sexes may bring some modern readers up short. This ain’t cuddly ol’ Dean Martin “slaygirl” territory by a long shot: Helm is the real bloody pulp deal.

Great to have him back.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

Ask for These Fine Cultural Blogs & Journals by Name!

aaronneathery.com News
Aaron Neathery

American Sideshow Blow-Off
Marc Hartzman

Arf Lovers
Craig Yoe

Sean T. Collins

Barbers Blog
Wilson Barbers

The Bastard Machine
Tim Goodman

The Beat
Heidi MacDonald

Kevin Church

Big Fat Blog
Paul McAleer

Big Mouth Types Again
Evan Dorkin

Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag

Blog This, Pal!
Gordon Dymowski

Rod Lott

Cartoon Brew
Amid Amidi & Jerry Beck

Cartoon Web Log!
Daryl Cagle

Clea's Cave
Juana Moore-Overmyer

Collected Editions

The Comics Curmudgeon
Josh Fruhlinger

The Comics Reporter
Tom Spurgeon

Christopher Butcher

Comics Waiting Room
Marc Mason

Comics Worth Reading
Johanna Draper Carlson

a dragon dancing with the Buddha
Ben Varkentine


Electromatic Radio
Matt Appleyard Aaron Neathery


Eye of the Goof
Mr. Bali Hai

Fred Sez
Fred Hembeck

Greenbriar Picture Shows
John McElwee

The Groovy Age of Horror
Curt Purcell

The Hooded Utilitarian
Noah Berlatsky

Hooray for Captain Spaulding
Daniel Frank

The Horn Section

The House Next Door
Matt Zoller Seitz

Howling Curmudgeons
Greg Morrow & Friends

The Hurting
Tim O'Neil

I Am A Child of Television
Brent McKee

I Am NOT the Beastmaster
Marc Singer

In Sequence
Teresa Ortega

Innocent Bystander
Gary Sassaman

Irresponsible Pictures

Jog - The Blog
Joe McCulloch

The Johnny Bacardi Show
David Allen Jones

Dirk Deppey

King's Chronicles
Paul Dini

Let's You And Him Fight
One of the Jones Boys

Mah Two Cents
Tony Collett


Michael's Movie Palace

Nat's TV
Nat Gertler

Ned Sonntag


News from ME
Mark Evanier

No Rock&Roll Fun
Simon B

Omega Channel
Matt Bradshaw

Pen-Elayne on the Web
Elayne Riggs

Peter David

Dorian White

Progressive Ruin
Mike Sterling

Punk Rock Graffiti
Cindy Johnson & Autumn Meredith

Revoltin' Developments
Ken Cuperus

Marc Bernardin

Matt Hinrichs

Self-Styled Siren

Spatula Forum
Nik Dirga

Tales from the Longbox
Chris Mosby


The Third Banana
Aaron Neathery & Friends

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.

Toner Mishap
B2 et al

Trusty Plinko Stick
Bill Doughty

TV Barn
Aaron Barnhart et al

Unqualified Offerings
Jim Henley

Various And Sundry
Augie De Blieck

Video WatchBlog
Tim Lucas

When Fangirls Attack
Kalinara & Ragnell

X-Ray Spex
Will Pfeifer

Yet Another Comics Blog
Dave Carter

A Brief Political Disclaimer:

If this blog does not discuss a specific political issue or event, it is not because this writer finds said event politically inconvenient to acknowledge - it's simply because he's scatterbrained and irresponsible.

My Token List of Poli-Blogs:

Roy Edroso


Jane Hamsher

James Wolcott

Lance Mannion

The Moderate Voice
Joe Gandelman


Amanda Marcotte & Friends

The Sideshow
Avedon Carol

Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo

Talking Points Memo
Joshua Micah Marshall

This Modern World
Tom Tomorrow

Welcome to Shakesville
Melissa McEwan & Friends

Blogcritics: news and reviews
Site Feed

Powered by Blogger

    follow me on Twitter