(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Donald Hamilton brought the toughness and realism of the Dashiell Hammett detective school to what might be termed spy novels. His series character, Matt Helm, is an outdoorsman, photographer, and writer living in New Mexico, rather like Hamilton himself at one time. As Hamilton picked up boating as a hobby in later years, so did Helm.

The Matt Helm series has done for the United States what Ian Fleming’s James Bond books did for Great Britain—provide the public with a contemporary model of the life and work of a secret agent. Donald Hamilton created a shadowy world of deception and disillusion for his master counterspy, Matt Helm, feeding him a steady diet of treachery to fuel his air of skepticism, and furnishing ample opportunities for him to display his bone-bruising toughness. Helm’s introduction signaled the birth of a novel character in espionage fiction—the consummate professional who willingly subverts all sentimentality when it interferes with the greater good of the mission. At the time of his creation, Helm was a strong departure from the antihero, “amateur spy” protagonists then in vogue. One critic has described Hamilton as “the Hammett of espionage” for his role in reshaping the espionage novel.

Crime novelist Robert Skinner has cited Hamilton as a primary influence on his own work and said that Hamilton influenced Loren Estleman, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, and James Sallis. Hamilton’s early work featured main...

(The entire section is 415 words.)