#71 – The Silencers, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

August 28, 2018


There’s something strangely alluring to me, in fiction, about the border towns of Mexico. It’s puzzling why this should be but it is so and I shall attempt to reason it out. Before I go any further, why don’t you have a quick look at Robert Rodriguez’s [1] mariachi trilogy, of which the second – Desperado – is my favourite

Cool, no?

Many early hardboiled detective stories were written in the 1930s by writers based around LA so it was a common theme to have border-hopping as a plot convenience. Murders could flee south to escape the law, or smugglers could infiltrate north from Juarez. This built upon earlier Western novels that used the Mexico-US war as spice to it’s own Wild West.

There’s something sweaty, grimy and desolate about the border region. Even the wilderness is fraught with danger to a cowboy on his horse: thirst, rattlesnakes, bandits…. somehow it’s more exciting than the desert country in North Africa. Then of course we get to the border towns themselves.

Who could ever forget the Titty Twister?

This fourth Matt Helm book, The Silencers, gets off to a flying start in Juarez, Mexico. A female agent has infiltrated a strip joint to observe the operations of a suspected Soviet spy but her handler now worries she’s turned into a double agent. Matt Helm is sent down to El Paso so he can hop over the border, meet his connect, then extract the agent.

Dead or alive. Hence the title.

Stepping off the south end of the span, I was in a foreign country. Mexicans will tell you defensively that Juarez isn’t Mexico – that no border town is – but it certainly isn’t the United States Of America, even though Avenida Juarez, the street just south of the bridge, does bear a certain resemblance to Coney Island.

I brushed off a purveyor of dirty pictures and shills for a couple of dirty movie houses. I side-stepped half a dozen taxi drivers ready to take me anywhere, but preferably to the house of a lady named Maria who had lots of girls, it seemed, one of whom, at least, was the girl I’d been looking for since birth. If I didn’t like girls, there were many interesting alternatives. I was surprised to learn how many.

This daytime trip is merely a feint to see if he picks up a shadow. He returns the next evening for his mission.

Outside, we ran the gauntlet of taxi drivers and shills and the porteros of the various joints we passed who did their best to collar us and haul us into their respective establishments. A tall, gaunt, evil-looking character with a knife-slash across his nose was playing safety man for the Club Chihuahua. We let him make the tackle. It took him less than fifteen seconds to get us seated at a table in a dark room with a bar at one end and a girl undressing on a lighted stage at the other.

They are joined by two hostesses and the female agent takes the stage for her strip.

Matt Helm The Silencers

“All the way, Lila!” somebody shouted from the back of the room.

She smiled. The bloodhounds might be on her trail, but she was going to do her stuff regardless. The kid had guts. Well, I knew that. She’d tried to jump me, the time we’d got our identities confused in San Antonio. I’d been holding two guns at the time, like Wild Bill Hickok, but she’d jumped me anyway.

“All the way!” the M.C. yelled, and the loud speakers threw his voice at us from the dark recesses of the room. “All the way, baybee!”

She made her corner and passed across the front of the stage, swinging away from us. Her back turned toward us, she reached up and did something feminine and provocative with her hair, teasing, before she reached for the zipper. As the yellow dress opened from top to bottom, baring her back, a knife, coming from nowhere, buried itself to the hilt just below her left shoulder blade.”

And so begins a tale in which Helm attempts to track down a Soviet agent named Cowboy by baiting him with a microfiche of atomic test plans and a missile launch he intends to hijack. It’s good stuff, like a James Bond story at a lower pay-grade of spooks. All the usual Helm themes are there: gritty purposeful action, strategic deception, utterly untrustworthy women, and impersonal cold-blooded murder.

In the late 1800s it was all about Mexican bandits and revolutionaries. In the 1930s it was wetback dope smugglers and pimps, and by the 1960s its cold war duels. Lately the border town action is the drug cartels. The six primary border crossings into the US are now the scene of unprecedented carnage as cartels fight for control of these lucrative routes. The recent Sicario movies are a good example of how the old story structure has adapted to new villains and cultural tone. As are the Don Winslow novels.

Border towns appeal to the bottom-world grittiness of a hardboiled story. They have a geographical tone you couldn’t get in a Bavarian castle or a Yukon forest. There’s a sweaty, degenerate sexual vibe. It’s tequila, mosquitoes, sombreros, and street walkers. Love it.

If you like your degeneracy of the realistic sexual type, consider my products here.


Very sleazy book

[1] Rodriguez is a pioneering filmmaker in shooting big movies on tiny budgets. He was among the first to use digital cameras and do edits and scores himself. He also famously had Johnny Depp star in Once Upon A Time In Mexico by cramming all his scenes into three days of filming to get him cheap. Sadly, RR is just another Hollywood degenerate.

One Comment

  1. I’m confused Nick. You usually say to steer clear of degeneracy and cultural decline but here you seem to be praising it. It’s not a criticism it’s something I struggle with also. I would like to get better at meeting girls but I have strong traditional values and am a proud nationalist of my country (Hungary). What you suggest? [This book is about good guys killing bad guys, and strongly K. It is simply set in an intriguingly degenerate location, and the author isn’t validating the degeneracy. K.]

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