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A U.S. writer of novels, short stories, and non-fiction about the outdoors. His novels consist mostly of paperback originals, principally spy fiction but also crime fiction and Westerns. He is best known for his long-running Matt Helm series (1960-1993), which chronicles the adventures of an undercover counter-agent/assassin working for a secret American government agency. The noted critic Anthony Boucher wrote: "Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of [Dashiell] Hammett; and his stories are as compelling, and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told."
Hamilton was born March 24, 1916 in Uppsala, Sweden. He later emigrated to the United States, attended the University of Chicago (receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1938), and served in the United States Navy Reserve during World War II. He was married to Kathleen Hamilton (née Stick) from 1941 until her death in 1989. The couple had four children: Hugo, Elise, Gordon, and Victoria Hamilton.
A long-time resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Hamilton was a skilled outdoorsman and hunter who wrote non-fiction articles for outdoor magazines and published a book-length collection of them. For a number of years after leaving Santa Fe he lived on his own yacht, then relocated to Sweden where, as of 2006, he still resides. A number of his Matt Helm novels are situated in the Santa Fe area and American Southwest in general; as Hamilton developed an interest in boating, many of the books began to have a nautical background as well.
Hamilton began his writing career in 1947, as American publishers began to experiment with issuing original paperback fiction. Most of his first eleven novels, published between 1947 and 1959, were typical paperback originals of the era: fast-moving, formulaic tales with lurid covers and limited characterization. The most interesting of them is, arguably, Assignment: Murder, (alternate title: Assassins Have Starry Eyes), in which a mathematician working on nuclear bomb design has to save his kidnapped wife from a pair of shadowy villains. At least three of his novels, however, from this period were first published as hardbacks by Rinehart.
The Matt Helm series, which began with Death of a Citizen in 1960 and ran for 27 books (ending with The Damagers in 1993 although another Matt Helm book, The Dominators, was completed in 2001-2002 and has yet to be published), was more substantial. Helm, a wartime agent in a secret agency that specialized in the assassination of Nazis, is drawn back into a post-war world of espionage and assassination after fifteen years as a civilian. He narrates his adventures in a brisk, matter-of-fact tone with an occasional undertone of deadpan humor. He describes gunfights, knife fights, torture, and (off-stage) sexual conquests with a carefully maintained professional detachment, like a pathologist dictating an autopsy report or a police officer describing an investigation. Over the course of the series, this detachment comes to define Helm's character. He is a skilled professional doing a job that he's good at; the job just happens to be killing people.
Helm's cold professionalism invites comparison with Ian Fleming's James Bond, but he does not share Bond's materialism or hedonism. He has more in common with Sam Spade, the private-eye hero of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, or Stephen Hunter's master sniper Bob Lee Swagger.
General audiences may be more familiar with Matt Helm through a series of popular action-comedy films produced in the late 1960s starring Dean Martin in the title role. These films are only very loosely based upon Hamilton's writings. As of 2006, however, a more serious adaptation of the Matt Helm novels was in the early planning stages, with DreamWorks holding the film rights to Hamilton's books. (Wikipedia)
"Donald Hamilton's toughened secret agent Matt Helm never fails to pull off a first-rate adventure."
-- The Hartford Courant
This series by Donald Hamilton is the top-ranking American secret agent fare, with its intelligent protagonist and an author who consistently writes with high style."
-- Book Week
"One of the few credible secret agents in today's fiction . . . Helm is a genuinely tough and tough-minded protagonest; your reading diet lacks essential vitamins if you overlook him."
-- Anthony Boucher, New York Sunday Times Book Review
"Any of you who go for action stories with spies, counterspies, beautiful women, torture, brutality, violence . . . should forthwith make the acquaintance of Matt Helm, as tough an operative as ever crushed a Russian spy's kidney with a crowbar."
-- Berkshire (MA) Eagle
"Donald Hamilton . . . has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Hammett."
-- The New York Times
"The appearance of a new Matt Helm story is always good news."
"If you have half a dozen thrillers at hand and one of them is by Donald Hamilton, you can either grab it at once or save it for dessert."
"Matt Helm . . . makes British spy James Bond seem like a powderpuff."
-- The Denver Post
2. The Wrecking Crew
3. The Removers
4. The Silencers
5. Murderer's Row
6. The Ambushers
7. The Shadowers
8. The Ravagers
9. The Devastators
10. The Betrayers
11. The Menacers
12. The Interlopers
13. The Poisoners
14. The Intriguers
15. The Intimidators
16. The Terminators
18. The Terrorizers
19. The Revengers
20. The Annihilators
21. The Infiltrators
22. The Detonators
23. The Vanishers
24. The Demolishers
25. The Frighteners
27. The Damagers