THE CREATOR OF MATT HELM LIVES IN VISBY, SWEDEN
by Iwan Morelius
Did you know that the fact is that it could have been Donald Hamilton´s hero Matt Helm who had been on the bestseller TOP LISTS instead of James Bond, Ian Fleming´s creator? Yes, that´s the truth and it was just a small coincidence that Matt Helm wasn´t the NUMBER ONE. Well, being NUMBER TWO isn´t bad either. Had it not been that the President John F Kennedy used to have the latest Ian Fleming book on his night table. When an article told that he had Casino Royale there the James Bond-fever started. But it could have been Hamilton´s Matt Helm.
I myself, had the great pleasure to be a pen-friend (pen-pal) to Donald Hamilton for many years and still am plus that he was kind enough to send me all new books signed to me in Sweden. But it all started when I was collecting a Swedish serie of books called MANHATTAN-BOOKS (a serie of original pockets published in Sweden from the early 50th and with a logo of Manhattan on its cover) ) Donald Hamilton was one of their earliest authors and was a hit at once. In USA his books were published by Fawcett Gold Medal Books in original pocket.
One of the first books was set in Kiruna and Stockholm and I remember that book specially as I had been stationed up in Kiruna, in the north of Sweden on the Army Hunting School. It was a very tough special Army unit and not a school for hunters). The ploy was including a man being murdered in the centre of Stockholm, where I lived many years as a young boy. I think the title was The Wrecking Crew.
Donald had Swedish ancestors so when I first visited him in his home in Santa Fe in 1988 I tested his Swedish. Well, he could understand some but couldn´t speak it fluently. I think he understood more than he could speak . He belonged to the Swedish Count Hamilton family who owned a lot of property in Sweden. So it was with great fun Margareta, my wife, could tell Donald and his wife Kate that she had bought a small farm in the south of Sweden and it was included in a Hamilton area called Lyckås Margaretas farm´s name was Lyckås Farm.
1988 Margareta and I did a 5-weeks tour in USA and we was invited to stay in Hamilton´s beautiful home for close to a week and we had a marvellous time with the nice Hamilton couple and their nice dogs. We visited also Tony Hillerman, Joe Poyer, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Mary Seeger, a professor of Scandinavian languages, Walter Wager, David Osborn and my old friend Otto Penzler.
At the time we visited the Hamiltons in Santa Fe, Donald had just got his first PC and he was a bit frustrated when he couldn´t use it properly. They then lived in a most beautiful Adobe house.
After that visit I continued to write letters to Donald but after Kate died we just lost the contact. I tried to find him but in vain. So, one day, I got a nice message from an old friend and subscriber of my magazine DAST-MAGAZINE (Detective- Agent- Science fiction- Thrillers. Today the oldest magazine in the genre since TAD stopped being published), who was born on the island Gotland in the middle of the Baltic, that Donald had moved to this island and now lived in the only town there, Visby. He had lived there for some time. Visby of all places. I wanted to get in touch with him and soon found out his adress and telephone number. A ring and I was talking to Donald´s son Gordon, who told me everything. My questions How is he? How can I get in touch with him? When can I see him in person? I got all the answers from his very nice son Gordon.
This happened two years ago and this summer (2006) when visiting Sweden (we live in Spain permanently since 1989) I really wanted to see Donald again. And finally I was there, in Visby, standing on the South Square waiting for Gordon. His wife Anna came out from her goldsmith shop behind me and I was introduced to her and her husband Gordon. She was Swedish and they had met in Visby some years ago.
(the photo of Anna and Gordon at the coffe table on the back of the goldsmith shop)
Before we drove to Donald we had a cup of coffe and Gordon told the story how he came to Sweden, Gotland and Visby. It happened that Gordon was in the ship/boat business…you had that story already in the Fan club. I´ve read it.
To end that long story Donald told me he had promised to take care of his father when he was old and now Donald was taken care of and was in an elderly home, the best on Gotland, Gordon told me. It was, I´ve seen it We took my car and five minutes later I was in the home for elderly people and a few minutes later I faced my old friend and favourite author again after so many years. Yes, I think I should have recognized him if we had met in town. His nice face was the same as I remembered him in 1988. Well, just a little bit aged, like a good wine or cognac, if I may say. At the moment he was in a wheelchair surrounded by some beautiful Swedish nurses (like Matt helm in some thrillers). I got a great smile when he saw me and when I asked him if he still remembered me he he said he had a hint. When I told him that Tony Hillerman was with me when I first met Donald he said:”Ah, it was you who introduced Tony to me then!” And it was indeed. They had not met before so I had the pleasure to introduce them to each other.
Gordon had told me that Donald´s favourite drink was a Swedish one called Karlshamn´s Punsch so we had brought two bottles of that liquer (you can see them on the photo) A very human place who allow the patients to have a drink now and then.
(Photo of me and Donald Hamilton at the home for elderly people)
We talked about old memories and I reminded Donald when he and Kate visited me in my home in Strängnäs in 1983. I was divorced then but was able to give them a typical Swedish dinner. It was something called “Kalops” in Swedish and was a stew of nice meat We finished the meal with typical berries and ice cream from the north of Sweden (we had something called “Hjortron” – which is hjortron-berry, a very special berry you can find out on moors) . They survived! The Strängnäs newspaper made an interview and had a photo of Donald standing on my balcony looking tough and hard like Matt Helm. (I´ll be happy to send that photo later on). Hamilton´s were in Sweden for 5 weeks and lived outside Stockholm in a place called Knivsta. Donald just phoned me one day and asked if Kate and he could visit me. Of course they could and we had a nice afternoon together.
Back to Donald and our meeting in Visby. I didn´t want to stay too long, to make him tired, but I am sure we both liked the meeting. “No, there will not be any more Matt Helm adventures!” he told me with a smile on his face when we left him and all the beautiful nurses. It was really nice to me an old friend again, a friend who has entertained me and millions of other Mat Helm-fans.
(Photo Donald Hamilton with his son Gordon)
Iwan (Morelius) (august 2006)
e-mail: Iwan_Morelius@hotmail.com (only summer)
e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org (when in Spain the rest)