Friday, May 16, 2008

12. Night Walker by Donald Hamilton

Bad Company pictureI have toyed with Donald Hamilton in the past. It was a reading encounter with great promise that led to a real deflating letdown. He is best known for the popular Matt Helm series of manly paperbacks found in drugstore racks in the 60s and 70s. His early books were also said to be a big influence on the Parker books (written by Donald Westlake under the nom de plume Richard Stark), otherwise known as the best crime books ever. There were one or two books in particular whose titles I forget that I did read and they really did kick ass. I was so psyched because Hamilton had written so much more and they are so easy to find. I even had hope that the Matt Helm series might be competent. Unfortunately, something happened to Hamilton along the way and the other books I read by him had lost the tight, cold intelligence that had attracted Westlake. They were, instead, pandering to the audience (obvious macho tropes) and, far worse, demonstrated inefficient and emotional character behaviour. So I had to let the other Hamilton books on my on deck shelf and let go of that relationship.

I found Night Walker in a box of paperback discards that Lantzvillager was trying to get rid of (though there were many attractive covers there, they didn't quite reach the high standards of his paperback collection shelf). This looked like it might have come from the early Hamilton and I needed a book for the flight home, so I gave it a whirl (I think Lantzvillager was hoping I'd take more than one book).

It's about a Navy officer after the war on his way back to the base after leave. He is really reluctant to go back. His reluctance is given temptation as he gets a lift from a friendly salesman, who then knocks him out and leaves him for dead in the burning wreck of the car. He also leaves him his identity for some reason. Our narrator finds this out when he wakes up in a hospital room. He decides to take on the identity and see what happens. It's an interesting moral situation with an intriguing set-up and I got caught up in it.

In the end, it is a decent read. It reminded me a lot of a non-Travis McGee John D. MacDonald novel, in the setting, the situation and the nature of the ultimate antagonist. I'll put early Donald Hamilton back on the list of books that won't be too painful to read on the plane.

(Note: the edition I got is the original, not the Hard Case crime reprint. I just couldn't find the image online and didn't have time to scan it. Hard Case Crime is doing great work in any case.)

1 comment:

OJ Simpson said...

Btw, Richard Stark is a great American author, i concur with your take on him. I'll have to look for "Killy" -- my library doesn't have it.