Review: Death of a Citizen – Donald Hamilton

Matt Helm 1

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction Espionage
Published by: Titan Books
ISBN: 9780857683342
First published: 1960 (2013)

Matt Helm, one-time wartime agent with a talent for killing, meets up with an old accomplice in murder and love. She wants his help, and will use any means to get it.

Forced to give up his new life as a husband and a father, Helm must return to the Agency and to what he does best, armed only with a knife, two pistols, and the codename Eric.

The agent is reborn.

As you can see from the release date above, this is something of a period piece. Reviewing it, I maybe should take into account an idea of how it might have been received at the time of publishing. It may well have been in at the start of the modern flash-bang, go-get ’em action hero type genre. That’s possible. I think it has been well-liked since publication – certainly judging by the re-printing of the whole series and a snippet about Steven Spielberg being in pre-production of a Matt Helm film. That film, should it get going any time before you and I (or SS) are dead, would highlight the problem with reading this book now. Now, we’re comparing it with the Bournes, the Rapps, the Harvaths, etc, and it comes off a good second best.

There seems to be far to much mentioning past, war-time exploits, as possible reasons for current events, but then there aren’t that many current events. It’s big on talk and hints, without delivering.

As I say, at the time, it may well have been required reading and there are enough entertaining elements in it to make it just over the middle into worth your while territory. The ‘competition’ may well be James Bond. The first Bond book, Casino Royale, came out in 1953. My exposure to James Bond has, maybe unfortunately, been solely through the films. The early ones especially, are unbelievably dull, cliched, Sean Connery is ridiculously poor and they have not aged well at all. Even the ‘new’ ones, Daniel Craig and ‘his’ Casino Royale aside, really don’t stand up so well to second viewing. This book, is better than the early James Bond films fortunately. It featured on a list of the best spy books I found somewhere, which is why I read it, but the best and the worst I can say about it is, it was “meh!”

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