A few early Matt Helm novel highlights


With the news that Titan Books plans on bringing Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm novels back into print in 2013, those unfamiliar with the stories might wonder what the fuss is all about. So we thought we’d present a Helm sampler.

Helm isn’t so much a spy, as a counter assassin — he goes after enemy targets, with the intention of making a “touch” before those targets can harm U.S. interests. He had done during this World War II, then spent 15 peaceful years before his past caught up with him. A few quick highlights of some of the early books:

Death Of a Citizen (1960): Family man Helm is at a party in Santa Fe, New Mexico, when in comes “the girl we called Tina during the war.” Helm, back when his code name was Eric (possibly a reference to his Scandinavian heritage), he and Tina had performed an assignment during World War II.

She drags Helm back into the business, but things aren’t what they seem. We’re introduced to his old boss, Mac, with his “gray and cold” eyes who is still in business. Eventually, Helm is blackmailed, with one of his children as hostage. Helm is not somebody to be trifled with but Mrs. Helm also discovers the truth. As the book ends, “I wondered how soon Mac would get in touch with me again…I sat there and wondered how I’d answer him, when he came. The terrible thing was, I didn’t really know…”

Death Of a Citizen was done as a one-off. An editor at Fawcett Gold Medal called up author Donald Hamilton, suggesting a name change from George Helm and killing off the wife would result in a series. Hamilton renamed the character Matt. Mrs. Helm survived but the marriage would not.

The Wrecking Crew (1960): At the start of the second novel, Helm has had a refresher training course and is sent to Sweden to go after a Soviet agent called Caselius. Once more, things aren’t what they seem. Eventually, Caselius has a hostage and tells Helm to give up his weapon. “I let him hear me laugh. He was running that gag into the ground. He must really have been watching American TV, the corny ideas he kept kicking around.”

Shortly thereafter, Caselius attempts to surrender. “Like I say, he must have been watching TV.” Helm makes the “touch.” Hamilton reportedly took an unfinished story he was dissatisfied with, rewrote it to insert the Helm character.

The Removers (1961): It’s a year after Helm separated from his wife. He travels to the Reno area to visit his ex- and his kids. The former Mrs. Helm, however, seems to have a weakness for men with a secret past. She’s now married to a former mob enforcer, who’s being pressured by his former associates.

Meanwhile, the trip isn’t entirely personal. Helm’s quarry is Martell, a Soviet operative who has been embedded with the mob. This was Hamilton’s first story where he knew from the start it was part of a series. There’s also a scene where Helm goes to the “recognition room” to study up on adversaries. Among the dossiers he studies, “There were Dickman, Holz, Rosloff, Martell and a deadly female we only knew as Vadya, all with the highest priority.” Thus, Hamilton lays the groundwork for future adventures.

As for the title, Mac does the honors in a flashback scene where he addresses some trainees. “If you were working for a criminal organization, you’d be known as enforcers. Since you’re working for a sovereign nation, you can call yourselves…well, removers is a very good word.”

The Silencers (1962): The early part of the story includes seedy settings, including a strip club in Mexico across the border from El Paso. It ends up getting into Ian Fleming territory where a Soviet operative has smuggled into the U.S. an electronic device that will seize control of a U.S. missile to kill some VIPs. Hamilton’s smooth writing sucks you right in. The novel also introduces Gail Hendricks, a woman who has gotten involved in the middle of all this. Helm falls in love with her, but again Hamilton’s smooth prose doesn’t make it sound outlandish at all.

Murderers’ Row (1962): Helm is behind the eight ball right from the start. His assignment is to beat up a fellow woman agent; that agent is supposed to be interested in defecting and the beating is to make it all look good. Also, she is to get a cast, as a way to have a hidden weapon.

“I wasn’t halfway through the scientifically brutal roughing up program Dr. Perry had laid out for me when she died…she’d trusted me to know what I was doing, and it’s no fun to find yourself holding a corpse and wondering what the hell went wrong.” Things go downhill from there. Helm makes a number of wrong guesses and assumptions but works his way out of it.

“You lucked out, didn’t you?” Mac asks near the novel’s end. Helm has to admit he did and attempts to resign. But he relents when he finds out he didn’t kill the woman agent.

The Mister 8 Web site a couple of years ago did a more detailed analysis of DEATH OF A CITIZEN and THE WRECKING CREW.

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Mister 8’s May Madness final: Tara Chace vs. U.N.C.L.E.

Fellow COBRA Mister 8’s May Madness competition is nearing its conclusion. It appears the finale will be Tara Chace/Queen & Country vs. Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin of U.N.C.L.E.

The Web site hasn’t officially started voting in the finals yet, but U.N.C.L.E.’s semi-finals match against Harry Palmer was scheduled to end at midday, May 31, and U.N.C.L.E. had a 102-26 lead. Tara Chace steamrolled to the finals over James Bond, The Avengers and the Impossible Missions Force. U.N.C.L.E. reaches the finals after a two-vote win over Get Smart (leading Maxwell Smart, one supposes, to say, “Missed it by that much!”) and wins over Jason Bourne and Len Deighton’s spy (unnamed in the novels but getting the Palmer name in the Harry Saltzman-produced movies).

Who knows? Maybe somebody will give a rat’s ass (the words of a posted in a reply to this earlier posting about May Madness concerning Tara Chace’s defeat of 007).

UPDATE: As A.S., the webmaster of Mister8 notes in his response, the Tara Chace/U.N.C.L.E. match is on. he has the URL in his reply or YOU CAN CLICK HERE. Voting lasts until June 9.

007’s defeat to Tara Chace, what it means

Yesterday, James Bond went down to defeat in a vote of fans at the Mister 8 Web site. It got us to thinking about the nature of fandom and how one fandom can vary to another.

For some fandoms, there’s a sort of intimacy. Tara Chance/Queen and Country writer Greg Rucka used Twitter.com to urge fans to vote for his character and it apparently contributed to Tara outpacing 007 258 votes to 56. It was a case of a creator reached out directly to his audience. There are other examples of this. The makers of the two Iron Man movies used comic book conventions to help sell the movie to fans, helping to create positive word of mouth before either film opened. This general model goes back to Gene Roddenberry talking to college audiences in the 1970s to keep Star Trek interest strong, eventually leading to production of new movies and television series.

Meanwhile, a post on this weblog got linked in some of the Twitter postings, which generated traffic for us. One tweet in particular said in part:

Bond fans predictably, “who cares?”

That’s a reference to one of the responses to our post from yesterday.

Bond fandom is more like a series of corporations, where some fans argue who was the first “professional fan” Eon Productions never went the fan convention route until 1994, part of an effort to revive fan interest after a hiatus in making 007 films that began in 1989. There’s never been a lot of direct outreach to fans. That doesn’t mean it’s right or wrong, but Bond lacks the direct connection between creators and fans found elsewhere.

The creator of the Mister 8 site, in a response to one of our posts said his “May Madness” competition” among fictional spies is, “all a lark, in good fun.”

He’s right. It makes some amusing reading. But it also shows different fandoms operate, and that can be interesting to observe, as well.

UPDATE: For those unfamiliar with Tara Chace and Queen & Country, JUST CLICK HERE.

To view an article from the HMSS archives about The Sandbaggers, the inspiration for Queen & Country, CLICK HERE.

Things looking bad for 007 vs. Tara Chace in May Madness

Ernst Stavro Blofed couldn’t do it. Nor could Goldfinger, Dr. No, Scaramanga or Largo (both versions). But it appears James Bond is about to go down to defeat against Tara Chace in Mister 8’s May Madness.

With less than two hours to go before voting concludes, the Greg Rucka-created Chace leads 007 248-55, gleaning 82 percent of votes cast.

This may seem like a surprise but on reflection probably shouldn’t be viewed that way. Chace fans have responded to tweets and a blog message from Rucka. Many Bond fans, meanwhile, have always considered themselves above that sort of thing. Several years ago, another Web site had some kind of fan-favorite poll and fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. organized themselves to vote.

UPDATE: As of 6 p.m. on May 20 (presumably the final results but who knows?), the tally was 256-58 in favor of Tara Chace. We already have a “who gives a rat’s ass” response, which reinforces the previous statement that much of Bond fandom considers itself above this sort of thing.

Mister 8 May madness update: 007 trailing Tara Chace

The No. 1-seeded James Bond is trailing Tara Chace, 197 votes to 45 in fellow C.O.B.R.A. Mister 8’s May Madness. That’s as of about 4:30 p.m., New York time, May 19. Voting is scheduled to conclude late morning of May 20.

How did this happen? In a post on the Commander Bond.net message board, Mister 8 provided this report:

A POTENTIAL MAJOR UPSET! After a personal plea via blog and Twitter from creator Greg Rucka, Tara Chace has managed to lap James Bond to the tune of 100 votes. Can Bond catch up in the final day of voting?:

Mister 8’s May Madness, or spies face off


Our fellow C.O.B.R.A., Mister 8, has an amusing takeoff on college basketball’s March madness. It’s May Madness, where various fictional spies face off.

There are brackets, similar to those filled out by people who participate in office pools during the basketball tournaments. James Bond has the 1 seed and he’s paired off against Tara Chace. Jason Bourne has the 2 seed, and he’s facing Cate Archer. Other notables include Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin at No. 4 vs. Maxwell Smart at No. 14.

To see all the brackets, and to cast your votes how these titanic conflicts should be resolved, JUST CLICK HERE.

Mister 8 analyzes Matt Helm’s debut novel

Over at the Mister 8 Web site, there’s an interesting analysis of the first Matt Helm novel, Death Of a Citizen.

It’s pretty detailed and recommend it to any fans of the literary Helm and his creator, Donald Hamilton. Back in August we posted about an academic paper that compared Hamilton’s Helm to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.