His deep-set eyes stared at me, daring me to act. His hand moved under his shirt. I shot him accurately through the forehead, and he came down joint by joint like a marionette when you release the strings from above.

Matt Helm is a secret agent conjured up in the head of wonderful mystery/thriller author Donald Hamilton. Helm first made his appearance in 1965's New York Times bestseller Death of a Citizen. Since then, he has been at the center of 26 other books, 4 movies, and a television series. He's bedded hundreds of women, killed hundreds of men, and been at the center of hundreds of cases in his long and vast spy career.

Matt's fictional biography (sketched out from details in the novels) indicates he was born in Minnesota and joined the Army at the onset of World War II. There he became involved in intelligence operations, which also led to his marriage to Beth, with whom he had three children.

After getting out and settling down as a novelist and photographer in the New Mexico desert (which is frighteningly similar to Hamilton's own life story), Matt was dragged back into the dangerous world of spying when one of his ex-partners kidnapped his daughter in order to get information from him. Helm got his revenge, but his wife, upset at Helm's refusal to get out of the business entirely, divorced him and took his children away.

Since then, Helm has held a job with the U.S. government using the codename "Eric." He has stopped revolutions in Mexico, broken up nuclear sales in Russia, and killed foreign agents in Sweden. In the meantime, he has met a number of women (some agents, some not) in his search for a bit of peace in between his daring adventures.

In 1966, Dean Martin came on board to play the hero in The Silencers. These movies took the book character in a new and unexpected direction: that of the suave comic spy. Part James Bond, part Derek Flint, and all Dino, Martin's Helm oozed charm and cool that the late 60s demanded. Three more movies (Murderer's Row, The Ambushers, and The Wrecking Crew) followed, and their silliness and satire laid down the foundation for the Austin Powers series of the 1990s. In 1975, Matt Helm was again revived for a TV series starring Tony Franciosa of The Pleasure Seekers fame. It only lasted one season, but again recast Helm into that of the debonair turtleneck-wearing businessman by day, hero by night (a trend repeated in "Remington Steele" and "Hart to Hart.")

Hamilton himself detested the movie and TV versions of his #1 operative, but Hamilton also left flaws in the Matt Helm series that are too egregious to ignore. First off, in 1966, Helm was 45, and yet he spends the entire era engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat and taking numerous injuries, yet reacts to it all like a spy 20 years younger. Also, the treatment of women leaves something to be desired - most of them are sexually open, double crossing agents who have no qualms with abusing Helm's trust for a million bucks or a job. Such simpleminded misogyny is easily excused by the lack of a feminist movement, but it's still worth mentioning.

Matt Helm book list

There have been rumors of a new Matt Helm book The Dominators for nearly a year now, with nothing to show for it. Also, Dreamworks Pictures optioned all of the books in 2002 for a possible film in 2005 or 2006. Let's hope that our favorite secret agent makes another appearance to save the world soon!

Much thanks to http://members.aol.com/MacBorden, which has a ton of info on the books, the character, and the author.

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