Thriller Corner: Death of a Citizen by Donald Hamilton #BookReview

Somebody opened my coffin that night in the middle of a cocktail party. I’d been all but dead these 15 years, turned into a household pet by a wife and kids.

But now the girl whom I’d known by the code name Tina had walked back into my life — and 15 years of settled, complacent living slipped away. I was back in that time when our world had been savage and alive, when I had been a lethal young animal trained to kill in cold blood — and she had been my partner.

And I knew that I was ready to follow her again to the depths of that private hell we had shared.

Title: Death of a Citizen | Author: Donald Hamilton | Series: Matt Helm #1 | Publisher: Titan Books| Pages: 240 | ISBN: 9780857683342 | Publication date: 12th February 2013 (originally published 1960)| Source: Purchased

‘Death of a Citizen’ is the first of the Matt Helm novels, of which there were 27 between 1960 and the early 1990s. Helm is sometimes considered to be the American equivalent of Fleming’s James Bond. He’s witty, quite happy to slip between the sheets with whatever women are available, and able to spring in to action whenever required.

What makes his first outing work as well as it does is the setup. Rather than being a super spy, Helm starts the book as a rather boring, middle class, middle aged man. He’s a writer (of westerns), a loving husband and a devoted father to three children. He’s also, it turns out, a former agent who tore things up in wartime Europe fifteen plus years before. When he bumps into a female agent he worked with during the war at a suburban party, his settled life is turned upside down and he finds himself wrapped up in a world of intrigue and violence again. It feels a bit like the Geena Davis movie ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’, only with a (slightly) more realistic take on things and a nice 60s vibe.

Helm is a really entertaining hero and narrator. Somewhat in the hard boiled mode, but less misanthropic. Hamilton manages to make him fun to read without being ridiculous; and believable without being to dry and dull. He’s more Travis McGee than Jason Bourne and all the better for it in my opinion.

This is more a tale of intrigue and double crosses than it is violence, but when it kicks into action it does so with a bang. There’s plenty of sex too, and while there isn’t any danger of the book passing the Bechdel test, the main female character is just as confident as Helm and gives as good as she gets. ‘Death of a Citizen’ was an entertaining introduction to Helm and sets things up well for the rest of the series. Good thing too as I just bought them all…


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