TRASHY TUESDAY: Death of A Citizen by Donald Hamilton (Cornet, 1968)
Death Of A Citizen (1960) was the first novel in Donald Hamilton’s stellar series about American spy and assassin Matt Helm. The books were tough and hard and nothing like the cheesy movies that were very loosely based on the books and starred Dean Martin.
Death Of A Citizen introduces us to Matt Helm, a special agent during World War II who is now (1960) living a quiet, soft life with a wife and three children. The re-introduction of Tina, a fellow agent and lover from the war, into his life drags Matt back into his old ways, as he shrugs off fifteen years of “settled, complacent living”:
“I drew a long breath, held it, and steadied the two guns. I felt it come, the thing that had been missing since the war, the thing that’s very close to love, except that it deals in death instead of life.”
When the books were first released by Gold Medal in the early 1960s they received the typical Gold Medal artwork cover treatment (see below) depicting either an action scene or a sexy girl in various stages of undress being threatened by a shadowy or unseen man. These were individual covers, not readily identifiable as part of a series. By the time of 1963’s The Ambushers, however, the books were all given the Matt Helm treatment with a line drawing of Helm’s head in the top right-hand corner.
In the United Kingdom and Australia, Frederick Muller published the early Matt Helm books, as they did with most Gold Medal paperbacks, using the same art work (with the price in shillings in the top right hand corner).
By the time the above edition was published by Coronet Books (Hodder Fawcett) in 1968 things had changed.
The Cover: the 1968 UK Coronet cover is a photographic one, rather than a drawing. By the late 1960s attractive painted book covers were beginning to go out of fashion and photo covers were coming into vogue. For incidence, some publishers, such as Fontana, redid all their old painted covers with often poorly staged photographic ones. This one by Coronet is nicely composed, but is marginally sleazy and not a strong cover.
Firstly, it has very little to do with the story and is generic enough to be used on a variety of thriller/crime titles. The decision to just focus on the girl’s body, and the very 1960s underwear, is curious, apart from the obvious reasons, and it gives the book a voyeuristic feel that it does not deserve. In someways it could be a photographic close-up of say a Robert McGinnis painted cover, which would have included the girl’s face.
On the positive side, the gun nicely locates the book in the thriller genre and the bullets on the glass shelf, along with perfume, nail polish and creams is a nice touch. I assume that the rose is there to add a touch of much needed class.
Finally, the positioning of the shelf is odd. I understand that if it was at the usual shelf height that it would potentially cover up the girl’s bikini bottom, but having it where it is just makes you think “what a silly, impractical height for a shelf”!
In all, not a great cover and not really representative of the novel, but I guess it would have attracted attention back in 1968.
In future posts I will look at some other photographic covers that have not aged well.