Saturday, December 27, 2008

Five Best: Secret agents featured in series

Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of A Century of Spies and Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad, named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: secret agents featured in series.

Number One on the list:
Murderers' Row
by Donald Hamilton
Fawcett, 1962

In the 27 paperbacks by Donald Hamilton featuring Matt Helm -- published between 1960 and 1993 -- there is an echo of Raymond Chandler, as when Helm says a character has "the smooth rich tan you get by working at that and not much else." But Helm is not paid to solve murders; he is paid to commit them -- as a professional assassin for a classified U.S. government agency. That puts Helm's work firmly in the realm of the fanciful, but other elements are rooted in the real world of Cold War intelligence activities. In "Murderers' Row" a key element is detecting enemy submarines. Helm's chief orders him to find a missing scientist who designed an aerial submarine-tracking system and either bring him back, secrets intact, or kill him. In a refreshing alternative to TV and movie heroes who worry more about "fair play" than completing their missions, Helm takes the no-nonsense approach: When he subdues a villain, there is no tying him up and hoping for the best; Helm dispatches the poor fellow with a single bullet.
Read about all five titles on Richelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue