#77 – The Ambushers, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

September 14, 2018

The Ambushers

It gets hard to think of interesting things to say about a series of books that follows a formula. So, I thought I’d make the formula itself the topic of today’s musings. This is the sixth Matt Helm book, The Ambushers, and except for a brief Euro Jaunt in book two, the slick cold war assassin has remained in the USA the whole time.

Except this one starts off in the jungle of an unnamed Central American country that isn’t Cuba but is meant to make you think of it, particularly the Bay Of Pigs fiasco of 1961, a real-life event that occurred just two years before this novel was published. Castro had only been in power four years since Donald Hamilton was writing so the ruination he’d bring to Cuba wasn’t fully-formed. You could make a case then that he’d be quickly overthrown by the CIA, rather than his eventual long extended run as dictator [1], even running the country while dead for a while [2].

It’s funny how things pan out in history and put a completely different complexion on a book that the author couldn’t have guessed at the time. We had the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962, a very recent and shocking Cold War standoff where half the world were shitting bricks wondering if we were to be annihilated in nuclear war and civilisation destroyed [3] and JFK would be assassinated until a couple of months after this novel was published. This book leverages the missile panic.

So, Donald Hamilton was caught in the middle of history, talking about Cuba without realising Castro’s son Justin Trudeau would soon lead Canada and surrender it to the globalists. What a Matt Helm plot that would’ve made. And how much I’d have liked to read that soyboy Canadian traitor getting tortured and killed by Helm.


Anyway, I digress.

Helm is in Costa Verde to assassinate a rebel general who has formed a small army in a jungle stronghold and plans to overthrow the president. He takes him down with a sniper rifle from an overlooking cliff-side while his local militia comrades nip into camp to rescue a female fellow US agent who’d been captured and tortured in a previous failed assassination attempt. She recovers and becomes his partner for the rest of the book. It turns out the rebel general had gotten hold of a small soviet nuclear missile, kinda like a SCUD, from Castro and was about to sell it to a Nazi.

The Ambushers still

I don’t remember this scene in the book

See, this is what’s cool about reading books written in 1963. It was just eighteen years after World War II so that set-to was still fresh in readers’ minds. It feels distant now but to readers of The Ambushers, WWII was as recent to them as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre [4] is to us. This was an era when many high-ranking Nazis had escaped capture and fled to South America, so many spy novels had them creating revenge plots or seeking to reestablish a Fourth Reich.

You see, the Nazi bad guy here was a torturer, murderer, and battle-scarred war veteran. Later in the book Helm is chasing down another escaped Nazi, a mistress of a high-ranking SS camp commandant. Compare this to 2018, where the crimes of Nazis include things such as voting Republican, not using gender-neutral pronouns, and disagreeing with a Jew about anything at all. The Matt Helm Nazis are way cooler. They are proper Nazis [5]


Make Nazis Great Again

Oh, I digressed again.

Helm gets back to the US and is immediately sent out to recover or destroy the missile, by running down the main Nazi in his hidden compound at the Mexican border. He forms an uneasy alliance with two Mossad Nazi hunters chasing the same man. There’s the usual betrayal, torture, and then a showdown in a canyon archaeological dig-site where the missile has been transported. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

So let’s return to the formula. I finally figured out the Helm story formula, which always goes like this (more or less):

  • Small mission to kill someone goes sideways. Either new information is found (such as here with the missile) or somebody, not necessarily Helm, has fucked up and given the enemy the advantage.
  • The enemy is always the Soviets, even if they are fronted by locals. It’s kind of like how in the 1940s Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie, the criminal was always the man with the German-accented English.
  • Helm’s handler Mac cancels Helm’s holiday and forces him to go handle the new threat, over Helm’s grumbles.
  • Helm is assigned or falls in with a female agent of questionable competence and/or moral character who he ends up banging.
  • After driving into some small town, usually in the South West, and looking around a bit, Helm deliberately gets himself coshed and captured. It’s a ruse to draw the enemy out of hiding.
  • Helm manages to extricate himself, usually by the gift of the gab.
  • Helm and his partner run down the bad guys at their main lair mostly due to his expert second-guessing of their psychology and careful reasoning process based on what he’s learned. In this respect it resembles a hardboiled detective story.
  • Events conspire to force Helm to willingly walk into the lion’s den again, because he has a cunning plan to reverse it all.
  • He kills the bad guys and falls out with the girl. He returns alone to DC to get reamed out by Mac who is secretly pleased with him, despite all the hand-wringing from DC politicians over events they don’t have clearance to hear the details of.

Once a writer strikes a winning formula he tends to keep to it because it makes writing new novels so much easier and the audience likes the familiarity. Speaking personally, I know exactly how these Helm stories are going to go but that’s why I read them. I don’t spot all the twists and little change-ups, but I’m comforted by knowing at least a couple of commies will be tortured, a silly bint shagged, and a few shifty locals shot.

If you’d like to read a reassuringly familiar tale with the same thing happening over and over again (silly bints getting shagged) then try my memoirs. All my books are available at my product page here.

[1] Which he apparently milked shamelessly to become one of history’s all-time players / rapists. That said, I think this article is at JMULV levels of lying.
[2] Because Raul was secretly running it but they hadn’t announced his death.
[3] The other half were in India, China, and Africa which at their 1962 level of development, frankly a nuclear blast might not have been noticed as there was no civilisation to destroy.
[4] Sorry, Center.
[5] Sadly not as cool as the old Wolfenstein Nazis though. They had occult powers and could summon demons from hell. Makes you wonder why they didn’t try that at Kursk or Ardennes and actually win themselves the war.

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