You can think of Matt Helm as the CIA's answer to James Bond, though perhaps with less subtlety and fewer moral scruples. Matt Helm featured in 27 books written by U.S. based author Donald Hamilton between 1960 and 1993. Matt Helm is not a spy or a secret agent as such, rather his role is a more straightforward one. He is a state sponsored assassin, employed to kill enemy agents, or anyone else considered by his superiors to be a threat to the U.S.A.
"Matt Helm: The Devastators" by Donald Hamilton was originally published in 1965 and could have been subtitled "Matt Helm Goes to Scotland (and kills people)". Titan Books should be congratulated on republishing the Matt Helm books if this one is anything to go by. The 1960s setting gives a nice period feel to the fast moving storyline, which begins in London before progressing to Scotland. The plot involves an American agent who has been found dead as a result of bubonic plague and a good old-fashioned mad scientist who is a threat to human survival. There are aspects of the book that bring to mind John Buchan's "The Thirty Nine Steps": the journey from London to Scotland; the sense of being pursued; and the threat of great harm being done if the hero doesn't triumph. Though Richard Hannay had fewer amorous encounters during his adventures.
In many ways the most impressive aspect of the book is the way it brings to life aspects of the Highlands of Scotland of half a century ago. I have to admit to approaching the book with a little trepidation. An author based a long way away, writing a book set in Scotland as the latest in a long-running series. Would there be much between the covers that was recognisably Scottish? The surprising an deeply pleasing answer was yes. The settings, on the roads up to Ullapool and in slightly fictionalised areas further north were very convincing, and this reader came way with the very clear view that Donald Hamilton probably used the setting of his books as excuses to go and visit places he would never otherwise see. The account of driving single track roads in the Highlands could only have been written by someone who had actually done it, and while the landscape is always secondary to the action, you do get the sense that the author was here long enough to develop some feel for the Highlands of Scotland.