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Wednesday, April 12, 2017


5 stars out of 5

Any time I come off of reading a particularly intense, or intensely disappointing, book, my inclination is to reach for something that doesn't require lots of concentration and is dependably good. Now that they're available in Kindle format, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm series fills both of those requirements admirably (this being the third of 27).

Those not familiar with the books may remember the motion pictures starring the late, great Dean Martin; four of them, I believe, were released from 1966 to 1969. The first book, for the record, was published in 1960 (Death of a Citizen), and Hamilton passed away in 2006. Reading the books now (or re-reading, since I read a couple way back when but have long since forgotten which ones) is interesting for two reasons: First and foremost, they're just plain good "secret agent" novels. The other is the time frame; it's fun to see what's changed over the years since 1960 (when I was a college freshman, BTW) as well as what hasn't. Hearing a woman called "baby" or noting Helm's preference for those who wear skirts- ideally with nylon stockings covering their legs - is reminiscent of the old gumshoe books of the '40s and '50s. The espionage game, on the other hand, is pretty much same old, same old.

And Helm is right in the middle of that game here. After enjoying a few years' respite making a living mostly as a photographer to support a wife and children, his wife Beth became quite unhappy to learn what he really did for a living in all those years before she came on the scene and realized he had a heart behind his shoulder holster. Unable to come to terms with that, she divorced him six months ago; and now, looking for something to bring meaning to his life once again, he's been reactivated. 

So has Beth, in a way; she's remarried, this time to an English gentleman who owns a large ranch somewhere outside of Reno, Nevada. Helm's kids live with their mother, as does her new husband's grown son. But now, she's reaching out - sending a note to Helm's boss, Mac, to say she needs her ex-husband's help. Mac passes along the message with one of his own: As long as Helm (code name: Eric) is going to be in the area, how about checking out a young, inexperienced agent?  As they discuss the assignment, they agree that Helm and his ilk are not considered "enforcers," but rather "removers" - from hence cometh, I smartly perceive, the title of the book.

The young agent, alas, doesn't have much to offer about his assignment except that he was tracking an enemy agent named Martell, who's now working for a local mobster under an assumed name. And wonder of wonders, the mobster just happens to be the man for whom Beth's husband used to work (most likely as - you guessed it - a remover just like Helm).

The plot gets thicker and the action picks up as the book moves along - coming to an end that signals a major change in the direction of Helm's life going forward. That, in fact, is one of the most enjoyable parts of this series - watching how events that happen in one book shape what happens in the future. Just for the record, the books I've read so far can stand alone, but I'm sure I'm getting the biggest bang for my bucks - as would other readers, IMHO - by taking it one step at a time. They're short steps, I hasten to add; I polished this one off in just one day.

The Removers by Donald Hamilton (Titan Books, April 2013 Kindle release); 240 pp.

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