#85 – The Shadowers, Donald Hamilton BOOK REVIEW

October 6, 2018

Matt Helm

Not lacking essential vitamins

Another bloody Matt Helm book. I think I could start writing them myself at this point, so familiar am I with the formula. Surprisingly, I’ve started to realise they are more like murder mysteries than spy thrillers. Jason Bourne this isn’t. Whereas the latter is all about double-crosses, triple-crosses, chase scenes and whatnot, these Helm books nearly always come down to a small cast of suspicious characters, one of whom is the Soviet agent doing all the mischief. Helm’s primary exertions are always based on smoking out the opposition so as to identify them. Once he does so, killing them is the easy part.

I guess that’s the advantage of operating on home ground. He hasn’t yet been asked to go behind the Iron Curtain.

Helm doesn’t get any rest, I’ll tell you that much. I just finished my thirtieth day of residential daygame coaching yesterday and I’m a bit tired by it. It’s intensive stuff because I spend all week with a guy [1] as we go through a high-pressure activity. The client is fully committed and ready to work hard, as am I, so we get a lot done. At the end of each in-field day our legs ache and our brains have melted.

I’ve done it six times this year and don’t for a moment think I’m complaining about being overworked or something. However, six bursts of frantic high pressure activity is rather draining, and that’s just chasing skirt. Imagine doing the same six jobs but the subject was Cold War espionage and you were up against highly-trained merciless assassins. That’s rather more stressful than having a silly tart give you an eye-roll blowout.

The Shadowers is the seventh Matt Helm book and he’s getting all this done in less than four years. I think he should have a word with his shop steward or the ACLU. He might have a case for compensation due to unsafe working environment and excessive hours.

This story begins with Helm on a well-deserved holiday in Florida and it’s obvious that if he’s paying his hotel room monthly then he’s wildly optimistic. His girlfriend has a high-speed night-time car accident, running her coupe off a corner and tumbling down a hill. It looks like an accident [2]. Distraught, Helm asks if there are any jobs going around that could take his mind off the grief. Yes, there is. His boss Mac sends him off on a counter-intel op. Word is out that a nasty old Jew [3] – famous for running effective spy networks for the Soviets – has set up a new ring in the USA. The plan is to shadow key employees of the US Government and armed forces so that they can all be murdered in one small window of opportunity, preventing them defending the USA from Soviet attack.

Think of it like this scene in Breaking Bad, but with world domination at stake.

So Helm is given a cover identity to marry a key female scientist and he must then spot her Soviet shadows, capture one alive, and get information leading to the current identity and location of this nasty old Jewish spymaster [4].

As you’d expect, the story proceeds with misdirection, dark manoeuvres, and Helm trying to ascertain just who among a short list of suspects is the Soviet agent. He displays his usual trade craft in second-guessing everyone, setting clever traps, and playing possum when threatened. I really like seeing it. Donald Hamilton has a way of making it all feel real and blindsiding you without cheating. You always get the feeling Helm wins because he’s more experienced than the opposition and can out-think them. It’s never like The Destroyer or The Executioner who simply rely upon being faster on the trigger.

It’s fair to say that if you’ve read one Matt Helm book you’ve read them all. I’ve done seven in a row now and they are each of about the same quality and same structure. Yet I’m still not tired of them. As soon as I closed this I wanted to move onto number eight in the series. I think I’ve found my favourite spy series.

If you live in the USA and would like a cheap, no-fuss way of buying my books in full colour you should have a look at my new sales site here. Sadly, the company cannot yet fulfil orders sent outside the USA. For that, consult my usual products page.


“Matt, there’s a Jewish agent who has infiltrated the USA and set up a network of young traitors who are working tirelessly to seize control of the US Government to turn it against Americans.”

[1] Who has paid me an obscene amount of money that I have to justify by the quality of my coaching.
[2] What, you suspect foul play? Damn, you’re good at this espionage racket! Nothing gets past you, buster.
[3] Not Diane Feinstein, or Paul Krugman, or Bernie Sanders. That trio of traitors are much too high-level threats to the USA for a man of Matt Helm’s paygrade. Helm assassinates mid-level traitors such as a Ben Shapiro or a Jordan Peterson.
[4] I know, he’s better off just posting something on Twitter and then seeing who reports him to the Safety Council.

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