Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Death of a Citizen

This morning, Charles Ardai sent out a heartfelt tribute to one of Hard Case Crime's most jagged authors, confirming the well-tread rumor that Donald Hamilton died in Sweden last November. From Charles' note:

Don was 90 years old. Though his name may be little remembered today, in the 1960s and 70s he was well known as the best-selling author of the "Matt Helm" novels, a series of well-written and popular stories about a ruthless agent of the U.S. government who fought evil in the Cold War world (and eventually -- briefly -- the post-Cold War world). Helm starred in 27 novels between 1960's DEATH OF A CITIZEN and 1993's THE DAMAGERS; he was also featured in several movies starring Dean Martin, as well as a short-lived TV series starring Anthony Franciosa that reimagined the character as a private eye. More recently, Dreamworks optioned the rights to all the Helm novels for feature film development. A final Matt Helm novel exists but has never been published.

Don also wrote a dozen non-Helm novels, including several popular Westerns (including THE BIG COUNTRY, which became the Gregory Peck movie, and SMOKY VALLEY, which was filmed as "The Violent Men" starring Glenn Ford). And he wrote several outstanding noir crime novels, including one -- NIGHT WALKER -- which we're proud to have reprinted last year in the Hard Case Crime series.

In the last decade of his life, Don moved back to Sweden, where he'd been born, and lived there with his son, Gordon. He died peacefully, in his sleep, this past November. Gordon kept the fact of his death private until today, when he confirmed it in a phone conversation with me.

We've lost a number of giants of the mystery field over the past few years -- Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, and Richard S. Prather, among others -- and Donald Hamilton is very much of that caliber. He sold more than 20 million books during his lifetime. But unlike Spillane, McBain and Prather, all of whom were widely remembered at the time of their death, Don's passing has sadly gone unremarked.


That missing Matt Helm novel is called The Dominators and was completed sometime in 2002. Supposedly there's a copy in the UCLA library, the repository for much of the late authors' papers and manuscripts. At least it's a definitive ending for Matt Helm. Since a final copy exists, it's not likely to disappear or become a 'lost novel' in the manner of the legendary A Black Border for McGee, rumored to lie in John D. MacDonald's safe in Sarasota, Florida.

A moment of silence for Mr. Hamilton, then. He was, after all, one of the greatest things we can be in this life.

A paperback writer.

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