DONALD HAMILTON – The Menacers. Gold Medal d1884, paperback original, 1968. Several later printings.


   This is Number 11 in the long-running Matt Helm series, and while any of them will do, this is a fine example of why Donald Hamilton made a lot of money for Gold Medal books over his long career. Matt (known as Eric to his superiors) is in Mexico for this installment, chasing down rumors of flying saucers, which in 1968 was still a hot topic to build a spy adventure around. (I haven’t heard much about them recently.)

   It seems as though whoever is aboard the saucers has been attacking anyone who comes across them, and with US insignia plastered all over them, they’re (in the process) making it seem as though the US is behind the attacks. Hidden agenda: causing an international (south of the border) crisis.

   Before you start thinking it would make a fine vehicle (hmm) for a Dean Martin movie, well, no. This is serious espionage business, and Hamilton as an author is as hard-boiled as they come. Quoting from page 156:

   … I turned the gun around and shot her. She stared at me, uncomprehending. Then she died and fell back against the right hand door. I thought that was rather nice of her. At least she’d had the decency to stay off the controls.

   There are a number of women in the story, many many different varieties of them, and who this one happens to be, I will leave you to discover. Some of these ladies are good, some are bad, some very bad, and some are in-between. Here’s a description of the first one he encounters, his initial contact in Mexico:

   My contact was there, all right, in the Mazatlán terminal, in her snug white linen pants and her crazy palmleaf hat. She wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. She looked like a kid. I don’t mean the cuddly, blonde, lisping, baby-face type, but the slim, dark, big-eyed, hollow-cheeked kind of young girl who doesn’t seem aware of the fact that’s she’s going to be beautiful some day.

   So, OK, reading a Donald Hamilton book is not like picking up the latest by Le Carré, but you do have to keep thinking, and I mean all of the time. Matt Helm tells the story, but he won’t tell you everything, or at least not right away. He will give you the facts, and it’s up to you to make of them what you will.

   The middle of the this one sags a little, and Hamilton is a little vague about patching a couple of seams together, but the ending certainly makes up for it.

— March 2004