For most of 2018 this has not been a daygame blog. The reasons are not hard to fathom to my regular readers: I’m sick of daygame and don’t want to talk about it. Is this a periodic revulsion or a sign that I’m finished with it and wish to move on in life? Probably the latter, but I don’t know yet as there are some confounding variables.
I feel a little like my war is over. I’d like to settle into comfortable regular life. Wear a suit, attend some dinner parties, and perhaps drink an aperitif. There’s only so much I can enjoy about flying overseas, lodging in small apartments, and hunting down girls with the help of cold-blooded wingmen.
Clearly, my main passions are reading and writing and that expresses itself in what I talk about on the blog. But, I wondered, is there someway to twist these threads – daygame and reading – into one single rope with which to scale the tower of regular blog content?
In yesterday’s review of the Dark Soul’s companion book You Died I could easily draw parallels between its content and daygame, and thus tease out themes that interest those of you who visit my ‘umble blog just for the skirt-chasing talk. When I get round to reviewing Taleb’s Skin In The Game (which I read three weeks ago) I can easily do so for that book too.
But what about today’s book, Donald Hamilton’s Death Of A Citizen? It’s a 1960 spy novel about a former WWII agent of the OSS who is dragged back onto the job to protect a nuclear scientist under threat of assassination by a rival SMERSH team of Russians. Let’s try, shall we?
I found this book by searching Google for “ten best spy novels ever” and then ticking off all the ones I’ve already read. I love the John Le Carre “Smiley” novels and read a few in Zagreb in 2017 while visiting Lee and John. Equally I like Len Deighton’s “Game Set Match” trilogy of MI6 potboilers even though each novel is just 400 pages of a people talking in cafes and restaurants while the main character tries to suss them out like a poker player reading tells. I also loved Robert Ludlum’s “Bourne” novels and that guy Ian Fleming wrote about, I forget the name.
Donald Hamilton’s “Matt Helm” books were new to me, and there are tonnes of them. Imagine you’ve only ever watched RSD Max or RSD Todd videos, or Johnny Berba, or Deepak Wayne and then you suddenly discover Sigma Wolf and it’s Daygame Nitro, Mastery, and Infinite. That’s how this felt 
The title of Death Of A Citizen refers to the process of Matt Helm being pulled back into the grimy murderous world of Cold War spying. As an OSS operative on a tiny team run by a super-spy coordinator called Mac, Helm was a machine. His assignments took him deep into enemy territory as part of a small murder-squad to assassinate high value targets. It was off-the-book, kept plausibly deniable to the US government. Each “touch” (their term for hit) was a short operation of a couple of weeks, inserted behind enemy lines with a couple of other operatives. They were instructed not to get pally with each other as operational security might require them to leave compromised or injured team members behind.
Kind of like a euro jaunt.
The war changed Matt Helm and he became a killing machine. Always on edge, always scanning for threat, and always reading the angles that people give him. He inhabited a world of deceit, betrayal and ruthless takedowns.
A little bit like a euro jaunt.
When the war ended he wanted out so he got married to a girl ignorant of his past and tried his best to fit in on Civvy Street. He attended cocktail parties, chatted about theatre, and drank aperitifs. The whole time he was denying, to himself, the man he’d become during the war. Was he permanently changed? An outcast forever? Was he now a man only fit for war and unable to adjust to normality? Would he only be comfortable in the company of killers like himself?
I ask myself that about the Player’s Journey. You could liken Matt Helm’s war to a player’s red pill and womanizing career. Is it something you just leave behind? Even if you could smoothly transition back to a world of Netflix, John Grisham novels, and David Guerta songs would you actually want to? Once you see the world as it is, you can’t simply choose to go back to believing the delusions.
Once you’ve experienced the thrill of chasing, and clacking, skirt you can’t really go back to normal dating.
Death Of A Citizen opens with Helm at such a cocktail party in New Mexico, ruminating on his nagging dissatisfaction with civilian life but determined to shake off the echoes of his past. And then a women walks into the room, a former partner in his assassination squad of fifteen years earlier. He experiences a chill, a flash of an earlier life, not unlike I do when a greyhound struts past me and gives a sidelong glance that I log as an IOI. It becomes increasingly clear to him that he isn’t done with the spy’s life.
Matt Helm is about to revert to his real character, the assassin. Comfortable only when on the hunt and outwitting his enemies.
This book was highly successful and spawned a series. Aside from being well-told, it is remarkable for how hard-boiled (or, cold-blooded) it is. Most classic spy novels refuse to look into the abyss and thus although people are murdered in LeCarre or Deighton novels, it happens “off camera”. In Helm books, the callousness is front and centre. By the end of Death Of A Citizen Helm has hunted down a spy who has kidnapped his baby. He tortures her to death to uncover the safe house she’s stashed the kid in, then has the inconvenience of his wife walking in on him as he’s standing over a mutilated corpse with a bloody razor in his hand. Unlike modern novels, it manages to write these scenes without revelling in the bloodshed.
The wife doesn’t like that much, breaking Helm’s last link to his civilian life. He calls up Mac and reenters the service.
I really enjoyed this book and promptly bought #2 in the series. It does to spying what Mack Bolan books do to special forces, but is even more cold-blooded. It has none of the Remo Williams humour or mysticism. This stuff is bleak. In short, it was exactly what I was looking for. I expect to read a lot of them.
 Okay that was quite a reach. I’ll try better with the next allusion to daygame