Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Removers - Donald Hamilton

I took my hand out of my pocket and gave the little snap of the wrist that flicks that kind of a knife open if you keep it properly cleaned and oiled and know the technique. Opening it two-handed is safer and more reliable, but it doesn't impress people nearly so much. Tony's eyes widened slightly, and he stopped coming. This wasn't supposed to happen. When you pulled knives on suckers and squares, they turned pale and backed off fearfully; they didn't come up with blades of their own.

Fawcett Gold Medal books. 
Yup, it looks like Tony has really stepped in it this time. Matt Helm returns in 1961's The Removers, the third novel of the series by Donald Hamilton. This novel is best enjoyed if you've read Death of a Citizen first. Without having read that novel, the reader will miss out on much of the tension in the relationship between Helm and his ex-wife, Beth, who plays a major role in the plot.

It's been about a year since the events of that 1st novel, and Helm is summoned to Reno Nevada via a tersely worded note from Beth asking for help. She's now remarried to a man named Lawrence Logan. Helm isn't particularly eager to revisit old wounds with Beth, especially under the roof of a new husband. But he owes it to his children and clears it with Mac, his boss in Washington. Mac gives permission and tells Helm to check in with another agent named Paul upon his arrival in Reno. Clearly, there is something afoot in Nevada, but just what that may be is based on a need-to-know basis, and for the moment, Matt Helm doesn't need to know. Mac does go on to inform Helm that he has misgivings about Agent Paul's ability to carry out his assignment, and that perhaps Helm can be of assistance should Paul need any.

But, as readers discover in these novels, Mac is always a few steps ahead of Helm in sending him on seemingly routine assignments. Helm meets Logan, the new husband, and is politely but firmly warned off the premises. It's clear that Logan has a dark past of his own. But to hell with it, Helm figures, if Beth has decided to trade in Helm for another man of mystery, that's her problem. Adding to the reunion is a young woman named Moira Fredericks, who just happens to be the daughter of a powerful racketeer. So what's the connection between Logan and Fredericks? Well, that's something Helm is going to find out. Helm returns to his motel where he finds Paul, his fellow agent, dead from having been recently tortured. He learns from Mac that Paul's assignment was to learn what a mysterious enemy agent known as Martell is doing in Nevada working guessed it, Fredericks.

So now you've got the recipe: mobsters, assassins, an ex-wife and a horny young woman who just happens to be the daughter of a gangster. It's all very nasty, and full of the brutality that saturates Helm's world. In no time flat he beds Moira, knowing that will bring down Frederick's henchmen upon him, and eventually get him closer to the mysterious Martell. Helm is a particularly cold-blooded and ruthless bastard in this caper. He lets an agent die to avoid blowing his cover, allows himself to be tortured, and offers up others around him get tortured and mistreated and in one instance even raped in the process. 

Beth was sobbing helplessly, less with pain than with sheer terror. The sound annoyed me. I don't want to sound hard-boiled or anything, but I'd been taking a beating for several hours. Logan was on the cot with a badly injured leg. We all stood a good chance of dying if we didn't work together properly, and here she was making a big fuss about something of relatively little importance. 

The Removers is an excellent example of a tightly wound, suspenseful plot. It moves faster than the second novel, The Wrecking Crew. Helm is now fully realized as a cold-blooded assassin here, having permanently shed his past as a civilian. From here on out, it's all business in the spying game.


  1. This is my favorite Helm novel. Tighter,faster and meaner than most any other, and graced with some of the best chapter-ending sentences I've ever read. Lines that make stopping reading at the end of a chapter harder than stopping in mid-page.
    "When I woke up, Martell was there." I almost dropped the book.

  2. Peter, you are so right about this one being lean and tight. This novel is a perfect example on how a suspense novel should be done and done right. And yes, I don't know anyone who could put the book down after that sentence about Martell!