Friday, December 10, 2004

Book: Death of a Citizen, by Donald Hamilton (1960)

Here’s how stupid I was as a kid: I actually took Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies seriously. It wasn’t until I got older and my irony gland developed that I realized how lousy they were, jokey send-ups of something (the 007 movies) that would soon drift into parody on its own. The poor quality of the films kept me away from Hamilton’s novels.

But articles in the last two issues of Steve Lewis’ Mystery*File (which you really ought to be reading, and I’d say that even if I wasn’t a contributor) piqued my interest. I found a copy of the first novel in the series on the fifty-cent table outside a used book store and snapped it up.

It’s a nasty piece of work, and I mean that in the best way. Hamilton wrote it without intending to bring Helm back, so he’s unsparing in his depiction of the character. Helm had been a black-bag operative for an OSS-style outfit during the war, a part of his life he has carefully buried. When a face from his past shows up at a cocktail party, Helm is forced to brush off his old skills. He takes to them with chilling ease: “I was through being a model citizen. I was myself again.”

I was also able to snag the follow-up title, THE WRECKING CREW. We’ll see how it holds up.

TV: The Nanny Reunion Special

Let me make this clear. I didn’t set out to watch this. I stumbled onto it while flipping channels. But I can’t resist TV series reunions, especially one filmed in a palatial home purchased with the proceeds from said series.

Late in the special, Fran Drescher shows some video she shot on the last day THE NANNY taped. When it ends, she says, “Isn’t that bittersweet!” Previously, I had only heard ‘bittersweet’ used conversationally when the subject was chocolate. It’s a great fake TV moment, and yet another reason why I’ll always love Fran.