My three favorite espionage writers are Graham Greene and Eric Ambler
and Donald Hamilton. The work of Greene and Ambler is always in print
but not until the fine Titan Books began reissuing Hamilton was his Matt
Helm series readily available.
In many respects Hamilton is not only a superior spy writer he's also a
superior hardboiled writer. So much hard stuff is fake and obvious.
There's a scene in the latest reissue, THE REMOVERS, where Helm sees
his two young sons after the absence of a year--and on the ranch of the
man Helms wife married after their divorce. Most writers, even the hard
boiled ones, would imbue the moment with at least some warmth.
Not Hamilton. He's happy to see them but he's most happy to learn that
they have learned to ride horses and are becoming men even though
they're eight and ten. Anthony Boucher was correct when he said to
understand Hamilton you have to go back to Dashiell Hammett, that
same emotional distance that only heightens the horrors of the goings
And what goings on in THE REMOVERS. As usual few of the characters are
who they claim to be. Not the former mob soldier; not the hit man; not
the dope dealer and killer and not even the dog of the beautiful young
redhead--he seems tame but later on we learn better.
Helm does double duty here. He responds to his ex-wife's plea to
come to the ranch because she believes her husband is in trouble--and
therefore his children being in possible danger--but not until after several violent
events does he realize that Russia may well be involved here.
Hamilton was not only a master storyteller he created a literary voice
like no other. The man was as good with words as Helm was with spies.