The Ravagers

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Matt Helm: The Ravagers by Donald Hamilton | Coronet Books/H… | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

The Ravagers is the eighth novel in the 27-book strong Matt Helm espionage series. It was first published in 1964. It is probably the best espionage series ever written and decidedly unlike most other spy series. There’s no secret warehouse filled with scientists inventing ever cleverer gadgets, few fancy sportscars, no orbiting satellites, or secret teams of deadly industrialists with armies of henchmen. When Hamilton wrote this series, he strived for realism and authenticity. He got it.

The Ravagers is a carefully crafted story about Helm trying to fulfill his duty and ensure that false documents make their way into the enemy’s hands. His mission is important and he is told that he is to use any means necessary to carry it out and not to cooperate with other agencies who may not be privy to what his mission is.

The book begins with Helm walking into a hotel room and seeing the results of an acid job on the man he has been called in to replace. The story carefully and cautiously takes Helm step by step on his mission through the high plains and the Canadian woods, playing cat and mouse with other agents and his quarry, with him never letting slip what his real mission is.

Some of the wittiest scenes in the book are his verbal parrying with his quarry who is convinced that he must be some government agent and that the escaped convicts he beat the crap out of are other spies sent in to stage a scene with him.

What is great about this novel and the series as a whole is Hamilton’s close attention to minor details such as how uncomfortable Volkswagens are, how fifteen year-olds in braces and curlers look like aliens, how women should dress (and undress). The tone of the story is witty, ascerbic, and, although great gun battles and hordes of paratroopers don’t spring into action every time he runs into trouble, the story moves along swiftly.

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