Saturday, February 2, 2013

Welcome Back, Mr. Helm

Titan Books' re-issuance of the popular Matt Helm series by Donald Hamilton finally kicks off next week with the first two titles in the series—DEATH OF A CITIZEN, and THE WRECKING CREW. The covers look slick and snazzy, complete with a blurb from Tom Clancy (apparently to give the whole undertaking a contemporary boost) so it appears Titan is putting a serious effort behind this program.

For my money, a Matt Helm book in even the drabbest cover (and, let's face it, some of those Helm covers from the 60s—especially compared to the Gold Medal covers being done for MacDonald, and Signet's Carter Browns—sure didn't knock anybody's socks off) is still cause for celebration. Since the Helm series occupies an honored space on my bookshelf, I have read all the titles, some more than once. So this new kick-off by Titan Books is cause for excitement to me only in the sense that I hope it will introduce the best operative from the spy craze days (and, yeah, that means you too, Jimmy Bond) to readers who haven't yet discovered him. Helm, simply put, was the real deal: Tough, remorseless, a pro all the way. And Donald Hamilton's writing skill can stand shoulder to shoulder with any author in any genre.
The Big Wish for me is that these Titan re-issues prove popular enough to culminate in the publication of Hamilton's final, as-yet-never-published Helm—THE DOMINATORS. Now that would be cause for celebration!

On a personal note: I had the honor to carry on a brief correspondence with Mr. Hamilton in the late 1980s. I think we exchanged two letters each. On the occasion of my first published Joe Hannibal novel, THE BURNING SEASON, I felt emboldened enough to send a copy to Mr. Hamilton (don't remember how I got his address) along with a basic fan letter telling him how much I enjoyed his work. He responded, thanking me and wishing me well with my own efforts. Subsequently, I got a second letter from him that arrived shortly after his wife had passed away. I remember the line in which he informed of this: "Things are less than well around here as I have just lost my wife of 48 years … "
I was struck by the stoicism of the words—Things are less than well around here—and from then on I always knew that the toughness at Matt Helm's core was more than just the fictional touch of an author.
His words continue to resonate with me on an even deeper level since the loss of my own wife. February 4 will mark the fifth anniversary of her passing.
Things are less than well around here ...
Yeah, Mr. Hamilton, I sure know what you mean.
But I can always count on old friends like Matt Helm --- not to fill the void, but at least to help fill some of the empty hours.

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