Donald Hamilton, R.I.P.

In his Hard Case Crime newsletter, Charles Ardai writes that Donald Hamilton, author of the Matt Helm series, is dead.

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.

Back in 2002, Matt Helm fan Frank Sennett wrote a piece for Booklist called The Death of Matt Helm? examining the fate of the final, unpublished Helm book. It’s also a great overview for those unfamiliar with Hamilton.

Charles is right — we’ve lost a lot of the great ones lately.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

6 Comments on "Donald Hamilton, R.I.P."

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  1. In the early 90s, I visited Mr. Hamilton on his houseboat and he was a gracious host, offering up bourbon and a plate of cheese and discussing the early chapters of what would be his last, as yet unpublished, Matt Helm novel.

    When I tracked him down in Sweden a decade later and interviewed him on the phone, he again couldn’t have been nicer, and had many interesting insights to share.

    He was a fine writer and I wish his publisher hadn’t thrown him on the scrap heap. He left a thrilling body of work, however, and I hope someone brings the Helm series back into print one of these days for a new generation of fans to discover.

    When I interviewed him in early 2002, I mentioned that a Newsweek story about 9/11 had referenced Matt Helm and I wondered what the agent would have done about the terrorist plot.

    “He would have stopped it,” Hamilton said, a wry note creeping into his deadpan delivery.

    I have no doubt.

    I’ll be raising a glass to both Hamilton and Helm tonight, but I want only one of them to rest in peace.

  2.' Don Benish says:

    I received an email from Gordon Hamilton a few days ago, telling me of his father’s death. He said that Dreamworks is still dithering about a new Matt Helm flick. He will let me know if he finds out any news and I will post it to the Donald Hamilton Worship Page(link above).
    We will miss the the man and his gritty style.


  3. Keir says:

    Thanks, Don. I’ll be interested to see how things develop with the movie. Hopefully they’ll get the right director and the right actor–not that I know who that is. But still, they’d better not screw it up!

  4. Bill Ott says:

    I suppose not many Hamilton fans remember the Dean Martin-as-Matt-Helm movies fondly, but I do. Campy, sillly, Bond imitations, yes, but still good fun, thanks mostly to impish Deano. Great drive-in fare, for those of a certain age who grew up in suitably small-town environs. Not long ago an old friend of mine organized his own Dean Martin film festival. Not a bad idea at all.

  5.' Timothy H. Willis says:

    Major bummer… (I just got online access and discovered the news of Mister Hamilton’s passing. I’ve been a fan of his since my mother introduced me to the first of the Matt Helm books — mom was a compulsive reader and hooked me on a number of writers back in the fifties and sixties — and I even asked him for permission to use Helm in an alternate history WW2 tale I wrote (still haven’t sold it, more’s the pity). A great loss, and I will miss him. Oh yeah, I still firmly believe that Helm is a far more realistic government assassin than that foppish Jimmy Bond character.

  6.' Mike Gay says:

    I’ve probably read every Matt Helm novel published four or five times, some more. There was something about Matt, cynical, ruthless, efficient, effective, invincible, yet human, touchingly so in unexpected as well as expected situations; a real world touch not found in other serial agents. I’ve greatly missed Matt Helm, (has it really been 1993 since he sent Matt on his last mission?) and will continue to do so. But I have a lousy memory, so will revel in the rereading of the 27 or so Matt Helm novels. How fortunate we are that Donald Hamilton brought Matt Helm into our lives. How sad that age took what enemy agents, and sometimes our own, could not; the lives and existence of Matt Helm and his creator, the incomparable Donald Hamilton.

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