DONALD HAMILTON – The Poisoners. Matt Helm #13. Fawcett Gold Medal M2764, paperback original; 1st printing, March 1971.

   This was the first Matt Helm to be publishers in the 1970s, and the one in which some fans have said the series began to lose its initial innate hardboiled essence. While I have not made a point of reading them in order, I would tend to agree. This one clocks in at an acceptably compact 224 pages, but for most of the book the plot doesn’t build up any momentum, and Helm’s digressions upon whatever he feels the need to digress upon do little to help.

   This one begins with Helm being asked to cut short his r&r leave in New Mexico and head to Los Angeles where a female agent he had personally recruited for his undercover US agency has just been killed. His assignment, find out who and why and do something about it.

   And of course the case expands dramatically from there. The title has two meanings, the first of which I can tell you about: the rumored illegal import of cocaine from Mexico. The second is the one the story is really about, and since its secret is essential to the tale, I won’t tell you much about it, but I will say that I didn’t buy into it any further than I can throw myself from here to there.

   There are a number of women in the story, all attractive of course, not all of them are on our side. Question: which are which? There also a notorious criminal assassin involved, but all that is known about him (or her!) is his code name. All this intrigue keeps a man sharp, though, and Matt Helm is still the man to do it — no doubt about it!