RARA-AVIS: Donald Hamilton

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 04 Jun 2004

I just finished THE STEEL MIRROR (1948), Donald Hamilton's second novel. It came out twelve years before the first Matt Helm story, a series that I really like. This one is also a spy story, but in some ways very different from a Matt Helm.

It's set in 1948. The hero, such as he is, never served in the war. He's a chemist (the American kind, not the British pill-dispensing kind), and worked in a lab and never went overseas. He's been beating himself up for that ever since. The heroine, such as she is, was captured in France and is unsure whether or not she ratted out her husband and their resistance friends. The war is very recent, and the spy stuff is a bit different, a little off, from the usual Cold War business we all know from later books. That's a nice and refreshing to a reader now.

There are lots of twists and turns, especially at the end. It's not quite as smooth as the Matt Helm books, but then Helm isn't narrating. It's still a damn fine story. My copy's a Fawcett Gold Medal from about 1965--shouldn't it be a Gold Crest, which was their reprint line? In any case, it's one more time that Gold Medal didn't let me down.

I see from the Donald Hamilton Worship Page [1] that Hamilton himself was a chemist who worked in navy labs through the war. I didn't know that. It doesn't look like he had much in the pulps before his first novel came out, but the bio on the page says he spent a lot of time writing short stories to train himself.

The last time we talked about Hamilton, someone said he was living in Sweden. Anyone know how he is now? He's 88 this year.


[1] http://bobcat.webappcabaret.net/ntpcug/hamilton/hamilton.jsp

William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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