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Topic: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Following on from my well received threads

Bond Novel Reviews
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/33508/bond-novel-reviews/

and Bond Continuation Novel Reviews
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/34464/bon … l-reviews/

I am now continuing my series with Volume 2 of the continuation stories. This will start with Raymond Benson's six novels and three movie tie-ins and continue with Charlie Higson's Young Bond series.
Unfortunately I am not in posession of any of Benson's 3 short stories; but given they were magazine fodder I am not too disheartened. For those who want to learn more about Blast from the Past, A Midsummer Night's Doom and Live at Five, I'm afraid you'll just have to look elsewhere. Sorry.

The first review should be up in a couple of days.
Feel free to check out the links above for my previous reviews.
As before, please don't publish any reviews of your own on this thread as this disturbs the flow. Many members appreciate my reviews and enjoy offering feedback and this is always welcome, but it isn't an open thread.
Sorry. ajb007/bond

Chris.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

can't wait

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. "
-Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

ZERO MINUS TEN
10/1/2011

http://s1.postimage.org/36fv1wq9w/zmt.jpg

1997

Raymond Benson is a James Bond fanatic, with a background lecturing in film theory and directing New York theatre productions. Whether this necessarily qualifies him as a literary successor to James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, will, I suggest, always be open for debate. These few bare facts however do have implications over the material which comprises his first 007 novel, Zero Minus Ten. Here, more than any previous book, is an adventure tailored to read like a prospective Bond movie rather than a bona fide Bond novel.

So the opening chapter bears little relevance to the story itself, almost resembling the famous pre-title sequences. There is a clear briefing, surrounded by jokey banter with Moneypenny and Q. Like the movies of the late-eighties and mid-nineties, the tale itself has a slightly picaresque style. Bond is portrayed as a bit of a rogue agent, blithely ignoring his boss’ orders and being deliberately foolish; his actions endanger both himself and his companions. The violence is swift and perfunctory, much of it unnecessary. The romance is unimaginative. Bond wins M’s approval. Done and roll the credits. Tellingly there is a whole page of acknowledgements.

This seems to suggest Benson doesn’t elaborate on his research. It certainly leads to paragraphs of dull technical jargon like: “Li’s Sealine Statesman 420 was a high quality British import equipped with twin 370hp Volvo diesels and had a cruising speed of 27.7 knots...etc.” All very interesting if you like that sort of thing, but Benson doesn’t tell us what it looks like or sounds like or how it feels to control a flashy speedboat in Hong Kong harbour. Similarly, when he describes Uluru, it’s as “the big red heart of Australia... the 348 metre high monolith was indeed a breathtaking sight” which doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. I expect better from an author. Benson’s gathered the ingredients for the cake, but he hasn’t made it. 

This half baked feeling permeates though the whole novel. While I appreciate the early sections, where Benson attaches 007 folklore to his version of James Bond – he hints at four past adventures in chapter one alone – his generally terse style began to grate about a third of the way in when he narrates at length a game of Mah Jong. I’m not familiar with the game and the way Benson describes it, I’m not sure I ever will be. His technique is to pile in the information, which confuses the reader, when he ought to be concentrating on the four characters involved. Fleming was very astute about these confrontations: it is the behaviour of Drax and Le Chiffre which make his card games so memorable not the machinations of the game itself; this showdown is simply turgid. For insight, Benson merely gives us a series of questions, a ruse he uses time and again in an attempt to build tension.

At the end of this stupefying episode a gang of machete wielding villains arrive and kill most of the spectators. This should be a terrifying moment of lurid violence, vivid colour and harsh agonising sound, yet Benson is thoroughly withdrawn. As “the room filled with the screams of victims and there was blood everywhere” all Bond has to do is ask more questions. Twenty one of them on one page, actually.

There is no mention of the effect of death, of wounds, the sight of hacked limbs or the smell of blood and gore. The prose is striking because it is so bereft of character, so oblique; I almost likened it to cartoon violence or to comic book illustrations or, of course, to an action movie.

For on this evidence, Benson’s 007 exists firmly in the unreal world of the cinema. Gunfights, fist fights, chases and sexual liaisons occur for the most spurious reasons, while the protagonists, from see-through baddie Guy Thackery to Triad kingpin Li Xu Nan to whore-made-good Sunni Pei, are all easily castable caricatures. Even Bond’s doomed assistant T.Y.Woo is a patronising Chinese spoof of Kerim Bey. It’s all as one dimensional as the storyboard for a blockbuster Bond movie. 

This flat prose reveals a lack of literary expertise. Used occasionally, blandness can have a positive effect on a narrative, particularly when describing a place or scene; used all the time it merely becomes a series of sign posts (e.g. “Bond ran... Bond shot him...”) without the wider picture. When he does try to elaborate Benson is either sketchy (for instance, a cherry picker is only “apparently” used to clean windows) or over complicated (Li’s fight with a baddie is told thus: “If it hadn’t been a life or death struggle it would have been one of the most impressive displays of Eastern fighting techniques imaginable.”) He’s equally fond of colloquialisms. Expressions such as “some kind of” or “sure enough” crop up a lot, as do lines like “He was quite dead” and, on catching the nasty General Wong in a compromising position, “The look on his face was priceless.”

There is a school of thought that suggests this is good technique, that it allows the reader to form images in their mind, but what it’s really doing is leaving the picture in black and white. I know the General’s expression would be startling, but I’d like to know whether Bond saw his teeth, if Wong was sweating, if he froze. The lack of an effective simile at such a moment is at best arrogant, at worse incompetent. 

Anyway, in a tribute to the author, I’ll ask a question – does Zero Minus Ten have any redeeming features?

Well, not many. I did like the plot, about a mad businessman planning to detonate a nuclear bomb during the ceding of Hong Kong to China. It’s a topical, modern idea, which hasn’t really dated even if the historical moment has passed. Also Benson’s Bond doesn’t globe trot as much as Gardner’s, being based mostly in Hong Kong, and neither does his M, which also felt very real. Some of his action scenes, while being badly executed, were certainly imaginative [one of them even predicts Daniel Craig’s assault on an embassy in Casino Royale]. There are two or three inventive contretemps between Bond and Li Xu Nan, only marginally spoilt by being dialogue heavy. But that’s about it.

I rather enjoyed Zero Minus Ten when I first read it in 1997, but this time around it was a very lacklustre affair, saddled with a dreadful, drunken baddie, who even the heroine recognises is having an extended temper-tantrum, and a series of action set pieces which would probably look better than they read. The climax is Goldfinger (1964) all over again, with the unlikely addition of Sunni Pei karate kicking a top assassin to death. Throughout, Zero Minus Ten is reminiscent of James Bond’s book and film adventures but doesn’t bring anything significantly new to our hero, who is a blunt hit man, given to musing about life and death when he isn’t killing people or having energetic un-erotic sexual encounters.

Two things stand out for me. Latterly, Bond has to endure a walkabout in the Australian Outback. It’s a brilliant conceit and Fleming would have made so much of this potentially life and death situation. Benson handles it rigorously, but too swiftly, and we get none of the long, drawn out stagger of starvation, dehydration and death I would have expected. It’s desperately disappointing. And that feeling is summed up by my ultimate response to the first few lines of the novel:

“Someone long ago had called it the Undertaker’s Wind but hardly anyone on Jamaica referred to it by that name anymore. The Undertaker’s Wind was supposed to blow the bad air out of the island at night. In the morning the Doctor’s Wind would come and blow the sweet air in from the sea. The Undertaker’s Wind was certainly at work that night, whipping the long red strands of the Englishwoman’s hair like the flames of a torch.”

Ah, it all started so well...

3 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (19th Jan 2011 01:34)

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

sadly I have to agree..reading Benson is like reading the worst of Gardner to me. Both are a chore because of lazy writing from Gardner or ineptitude from Benson.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

TOMORROW NEVER DIES
13/1/2011

http://s1.postimage.org/fzet0gn8/tnd.jpg

1997

Easily digested, Raymond Benson’s adaptation of the movie Tomorrow Never Dies quickly followed his first James Bond novel Zero Minus Ten and takes place in much the same part of the world, South Asia, this time focussing on Saigon and the China Seas.

While the machinations of the plot need no introduction, it is worth noting that Benson chooses to withdraw the villain’s main goal (global media rights) for a sort of coup involving an effeminate descendant of the last Chinese Emperor. That this new dimension hardly features hints that he may be writing from a script that was subsequently discarded or heavily altered. He also includes a few scenes that exclusively involve the heroine Wai Lin and this round out her character much better, offering us a more studied background than the paper thin effort on screen.

In fact, overall, I rather enjoyed the sections of the adaptation where Benson drifts away from the movie as we know it. He starts vigorously, keeps his details to a minimum, and gradually drip-feeds his explanations as the novel progresses. So we learn that Wai Lin is a loner because “she likes to be the aggressor... that was not the norm.” Bond’s restlessness marks him out as a man with flaws, but his boss forgives them “in favour of the fortunes.” Elliot Carver is a ruthless media magnate who has suffered stress from a young age, manifesting itself in TMJ syndrome, but has refused a simple cure and masochistically “went on with his life in chronic pain.”

This condition seems to be addling his behaviour, as he makes one poor decision after another, starting with the murder of his own wife. The eventual reveal of Carver’s history is much more telling than the idiosyncratic performance offered by Jonathon Pryce. Benson explains how his lust for power was built on the back of parental rejection; and subsequently there is something carelessly ambivalent and believable about his attitude towards those around him – at one moment harsh, the next kind – which matches his own persona “weary and exhausted... at the same time anxious and wide awake.”   

Paris, his wife, comes across as a more rounded figure too, as the author has to fill in the blanks of her and Bond’s affair as well as the breakdown of her marriage, two subjects the film hardly broaches. Most intriguing is her death scene where Benson describes Bond’s emotions not as a reaction to her murder, but as recognition of Carver’s turpitude: “he had seen Carver’s blood boil... the depravity of the man.” Bond blames himself for seducing her for “it was exactly what he planned.” The irony is that Paris considers Bond a better choice than her husband; 007 is the embodiment of “a real man... a man who cared” – and yet she has been used by both men. Ultimately Bond’s restlessness, his feckless attitude to life, has come to haunt him with death again.

Sadly Benson doesn’t often touch these heights of insight. He’s more interested in how character’s bounce repartee and swap jokes as they fight and chase each other around Hamburg and Saigon. And not all those quips work either.

The dumbest note struck is Benson’s insistence on suggesting Stamper, the security chief, is a hapless fool. He’s called “a moron... a buffoon... a cretin... a muscle-bound, retarded, psychotic freak, a mutant...” and his only pleasures are killing and making snuff movies (much the same thing, I guess). He’s certainly preoccupied by slaughter, but Benson turns his sickening kink into something of a sexual tease: “This is a special treat for Stamper,” chuckles Carver at one point. It isn’t funny. Stamper is given scant attention (“some kind of aura... a menace behind his eyes”) and subsequently fails as a heavy. We just don’t believe he’ll be a threat to our heroes.

When the action comes it’s described in a fairly acceptable manner. Sometimes Benson’s a bit cumbersome, such as the confusing climax; other times he omits specifics, often using karate terms to describe people’s fighting manoeuvres, at which point I had no idea what he was writing about. While the HALO jump feels like an opportunity missed, Bond’s scuba dive is well described: “the silence of the sea broken by the rhythmic bursts of bubbles...the pilot, bloated and white, the eyes plucked away... the torch cast streaks of yellow over the darkness, creating eerie shadows... predatory fish were feeding on the cadavers.”

Disappointingly, the climax of Bond and Wai Lin’s underwater adventure is a bit antiseptic. There’s no sense of imminent danger or of blessed relief. Phrases like “together they put everything they had into it” and “they broke the surface... the sun was beating down” tell us what is going on, but do not elaborate. There was similar one dimensional prose used in Zero Minus Ten and I fear it will be a recurring problem.

Benson’s better when describing places and things, but he has a tendency to read like a service manuscript or a travelogue, so descriptions of cars, diving equipment, parachutes, guns, Hamburg, Ho Chi Min City and the diet of the Vietnamese come across as a bit anodyne.

That rather sums up Tomorrow Never Dies, which isn’t a bad adaptation, certainly better than Gardner’s appalling Goldeneye. Trouble is, while the detail is there, I was missing the love.   

3 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (19th Jan 2011 01:35)

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I have to agree with both these reviews.  Benson's work is . . . almost but not quite there.  He has decent ideas, and seems to know what he wants to say, and yet fails massively.  A few paragraphs offer a glimmer of hope that perhaps he's getting it, and realizes he needs to bring every scene to life, and then suddenly he drops something along the lines of "Bond went in the room.  There were three gunmen standing there.  He shot them."  I put equal blame on Benson and the person in charge of editing these novels. 

I wish I could say that the Benson novels can only get better, but this is far from the truth.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I read Benson's ZMT and TND a long time ago, quite early in my exploration of the Bond novels. I remember enjoying them but I guess I wouldn't enjoy them quite so much if I re-read them now. They are still the only Benson books I've read.

I'm still enjoying your reviews Chrisno1, keep 'em coming. ajb007/bond

Golrush 007 Fan Art - http://007fanart.wordpress.com/

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

dlb007 wrote:

I have to agree with both these reviews.  Benson's work is . . . almost but not quite there.  He has decent ideas, and seems to know what he wants to say, and yet fails massively.  A few paragraphs offer a glimmer of hope that perhaps he's getting it, and realizes he needs to bring every scene to life, and then suddenly he drops something along the lines of "Bond went in the room.  There were three gunmen standing there.  He shot them."  I put equal blame on Benson and the person in charge of editing these novels. 

I wish I could say that the Benson novels can only get better, but this is far from the truth.

Somewhat worryingly, you are not far from the truth, at least from the two novels I've read so far. Your line

dlb007 wrote:

"Bond went in the room.  There were three gunmen standing there.  He shot them."

is very close to what you actually read in Benson's novels, which if I'm honest is a style I find almost insultingly childlike. I expect more from a writer. It doesn't bode well for the remaining novels, but you never know....

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I've never read TND and have no wish to do so.With ZMT I agree with the review,On its first reading I thought it started of quite well but soon went down hill.And agree that his other Novels don't get much Better.

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Why put yourself thru it Chris No1?

Bond: Mr. Mathis, there's something that's been worrying me...
Mathis: Yes?
Bond: Well, you're a French police inspector, yet you speak with an Italian accent.
Mathis: Mamma mia, it worries me, too.

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Sadly, I think Zero Minus Ten was one of Benson's better books.

Funny you mention the line “The look on his face was priceless.” While I loved The James Bond Bedside Companion, I always noticed that Benson was really fond of that phrase. It struck me as a bit irritating.

Here's my take on Gardner and Benson: Gardner was a good writer who didn't quite get Bond, while Benson gets Bond but isn't a very good writer.

—Le Samourai

A Gent in Training.... A blog about my continuing efforts to be improve myself, be a better person, and lead a good life. It incorporates such far flung topics as fitness, self defense, music, style, food and drink, and personal philosophy.
Agent In Training

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Napoleon Plural wrote:

Why put yourself thru it Chris No1?

Because I am now into uncharted territory, Napoleon, I feel I am venturing where no chrisno1 has ever ventured before, into the land of Benson Volumes 3 - 8... I boldly go where I have never been before. Is this the darkest hour of my retrospective?

Four chapters in and The Facts of Death is almost disabling me.... will I have to enter an unreal reality to survive? Will I need my own version of 'The Menagerie'?

I've only ever read 3 of Benson's novels before... This is a pretty big challenge!
And I'd hate to back down on a challenge.   
Gonna need a stiff drink at the end of it all. ajb007/martini ajb007/martini ajb007/martini ajb007/martini ajb007/martini

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I know what you mean.  There were several parts during The Facts of Death that had me nearly on the floor with fits of laughter . . . and not in a good way.  I can understand how a newbie like Benson could come up with certain ideas, but how they were checked over and decreed to be good ideas by IFP is beyond me.  I struggled through the entire Benson catalog, but I did survive, and am hopeful you will as well. 

For those of you who do write (whether it be professionally or just for fun) I implore you to read anything by Raymond Benson.  You'll feel like Hemingway when looking over your own work.

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THE FACTS OF DEATH
19/1/2011

http://s2.postimage.org/sbtjxlt0/Facts_Of_Death_1.jpg

1998

Packed full of incident, The Facts of Death is a composite James Bond novel, its characters and scenarios bearing many familiar traits from previous books and movies. The famous adage ‘There are no original stories, simply new ways of telling old ones’ could hardly be applied any better; indeed the novel ends with a coup d’état of its malefactor, the mathematical genius Konstantine Romanos, who befalls the same fate as his noble predecessor Pythagoras. You can’t get much older than Ancient Greece.

James Bond feels conspicuously old in this novel too. Not by his actions, which are vigorous and virile throughout, but by his manner and his musings, which seem curiously out of step with the late 1990s. While Benson is careful not to specifically state that Bond’s adventures hark back four decades, he implies it by constantly referencing Fleming’s novels and the film franchise. It doesn’t help that Benson’s London is stuck in a time warp of post war manners. Early on Bond attends a cocktail party which reads like an ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ for secret agents. Everyone is shocked M has a lover, the food is sumptuous and through boredom Bond attempts to bed his secretary. The writing is as stilted as any BBC costume drama: “Sir Miles’ damnably clear blue eyes looked up from his weather beaten face and actually twinkled.”

So there’s a slightly antiquated feel to our hero, reinforced when he has to deal with the opposite sex. His conquests in this story are swift and numerous, the proceedings unromantic and unerotic  – one of them takes place in Q Branch’s new Jaguar XK8, another at a sperm bank. Oddly, Benson suggests Bond never seeks female attention, he merely attracts it, like honey to bees, or more crudely put: “Women are like stamps, the more you spit on them, the more they get attached to you.”

The heroine, an energetic lissom Greek agent called Niki Mirakos, recognises Bond’s sexual foibles and is sensible enough to ask that “after the assignment is over...before the very last time we make love... tell me. Don’t just leave without saying a word.”

Her circumspection is noteworthy, for this James Bond is an empty, dispassionate man. Unable to emotionally connect, a night of physical desire becomes “a shadow of a memory.” To retain a semblance of normality in his life, Bond is self-absorbed, treading “a thin line between sanity and becoming a sociopath.” Everything must be to his likings, from martinis and cigarettes to cars and girls. Bond yearns for the pleasures of his Caribbean hideaway, yearns for the soft life, and yet cannot escape facing danger. “You’ve become jaded,” intones the astute Niki, “You’re not looking forward to going back... It’s like withdrawal from a drug. The threat of death hanging over you is what makes you tick.” This is a very melancholy James Bond.

To lighten the proceedings Benson introduces a series of over the top action sequences that owe more to the movie series than the novels. A whole section of the story is set in Texas for no discernable reason other than to reintroduce Felix Leiter, who is now wheelchair bound and features in the silliest stand off and shoot out imaginable. These chapters serve nothing to the plot for, while Bond’s trip to the sperm bank is lightly amusing, the events could have been played out at the identikit donor clinic and research centre in Greece. These irreverent American escapades are generally charmless, soulless and unsubtle. The obvious bad girl, Ashley Anderson, is so closely based on Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct,’ I even expected her to cross her legs and flash some flesh.

Benson blatantly references this infamous movie again when Bond is about to be castrated by the unhinged Hera Volopoulos, a thinly disguised reimagining of Fiona Volpe, even down to her red hair and preying mantis seduction techniques. Hera’s love of violence has sprung from years of teenage abuse and revenge is her primary motive, yet there is something sensual in her chosen method of killing: “She seemed fascinated by Bond’s face... traced the nose with the blade... ran it along his lips... repeated these patterns of sadistic massage for what seemed like an hour.” Like Niki, Hera identifies Bond’s love life as his Achilles heel, “Your heart was broken... you are not a happy man, nothing completely satisfies you.”

The scene is well crafted. In fact the novel brightens considerably when Bond’s pursuit of Romanos takes him to Athens, Cyprus and the Isle of Chios. The novel starts well here with an investigation into twelve corpses, all twisted together, “the tableau of pain and suffering might have been a freeze frame from a macabre dance of death.” Later there’s a decent underwater battle which benefits from Benson’s oblique fashion, lending speed to what would be a slow fight scene. The author occasionally builds scenes of interest and intrigue and captures the essence of the Aegean well, “a magical place in another time... the narrow streets were walkways between the tavernas and churches... the zig-zagging stone steps took visitors to the upper town, virtually in ruins, pieces of buildings still stood facing the sea.”

What spoils it is Benson’s own Achilles heel: his inability to sustain tension. Having built the suspense, he often resolves Bond’s situation in one sentence: “There was a buzz on the intercom... Bond drew the gun and fired...There was a loud rumble then a crash as the stones in the ceiling fell.” Even a game of psychological warfare played out over the baccarat table passes with little notice. It’s so good natured and gentle it could be an extension of that London cocktail party. This simplistic technique first materialised in Zero Minus Ten and while occasionally it succeeds – the afore mentioned underwater tussle proves it does – the author is prone to employ it when least necessary, when deeper description would offer greater insight into people, places and perceptions. It’s a frustrating puzzle and as the novel rolls towards an explosive climax, it’s not surprising Benson spends almost as long explaining Romanos’ mathematical conundrum as it takes Bond to solve it.

The Facts of Death isn’t all bad. In essence it’s a rerun of Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There’s a hypnotic villain, a big yacht, a ‘virus omega’ style plot and a fledgling terror cell called the Decada which is clearly inspired by SPECTRE. Bond’s wanderings around the donor clinic are similar to his investigations at Shrublands and Piz Gloria. We’re well acquainted with these scenarios and they mask much of what is risible.   

There are signs of literary improvement. There is certainly more concentration on character and atmosphere, but Benson’s bravery with his representations is negated by wild and ridiculous set pieces, flights of fancy not helped by shorthand storytelling or being laced with laboured and frequently sexist humour; even this melancholy James Bond is prone to espouse dreadful single entendres.

Benson wanted to call this adventure The World Is Not Enough, another reminiscence of Ian Fleming, but was prevented from doing so due to an impending movie release. His title The Facts of Death was rather stumbled on. In all honesty, his novel’s a stumble most of the way too.                 

3 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Are you going to release these as a blog, Chris No1? To tie in with the new novel's release in May?

Oh, and what on earth is the scene with the sperm bank? That postage stamp analogy is horrible.

Bond: Mr. Mathis, there's something that's been worrying me...
Mathis: Yes?
Bond: Well, you're a French police inspector, yet you speak with an Italian accent.
Mathis: Mamma mia, it worries me, too.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Bond visits a place called "Repro Care - Infertility Therapy & Cryo Centre." The hole of chapter 9 is set there. I wont go into the gory details, suffice to say Bond fills out an application form including all his miscellaneous injuries and poisons, has an interview with a doctor and is escorted to a personal cubicle for a trial donation - videos, porn mags, tissues and all. Obviously he's undercover (is that a double entendre?) and to pilfer a pass card he "seduces" the clinic director, Ashley Anderson. I use quote marks cause it's hardly a seduction, and not in the least erotic. Yes, it happens in the personal cubicle and they even smoke cigarettes afterwards. The early stuff (the form filling, etc) is quite funny, but the sex scene is, well, horrible....

Felix makes that crass remark about women and postage stamps. Hope he dies in f%%%%%% Texas if that's his attitude.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Oh no.  I do believe the task of reading the Benson novels has killed the poor man.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

ajb007/lol

Needed a breather.....

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

ajb007/lol I definitely understand where you're coming from.  I felt I needed to be hooked up to an IV while I was reading them.  It feels like a chore reading them.  High Time To Kill is interesting only in that it is an original setting for a Bond novel, but the novel itself seems rather pointless.  Doubleshot, Never Dream of Dying, and The Man with the Red Tattoo are equally appalling; not to mention the horrid novelizations.  Why IFP let Benson write as long as he did is rather simple: No one else wanted to.  If they could have wrangled someone better they would have after reading the first draft of Zero Minues Ten.  Having said all that, enjoy the remaining books.  I know I look forward to the reviews.  They provide quite a chuckle.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Let's face it, the IFF need their license revoked. I mean, why not Christopher Wood? I dare say he would  have jumped at the chance and his writing is Fleming. Who are these guys and how did they come to have such jurisdiction.

Bond: Mr. Mathis, there's something that's been worrying me...
Mathis: Yes?
Bond: Well, you're a French police inspector, yet you speak with an Italian accent.
Mathis: Mamma mia, it worries me, too.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I hope the case was that IFP weren't interested in paying a big name, and that's why they stuck with Benson.  If they actually thought he was good, I'd be worried.  Wood is a nice choice, if he had been interested.  Hell, even a fed up Gardner is much better than Benson.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

like you guys, I'm not entirely convinced IFP has the best interests of its chief character at heart. They seems to allow some very shoddy product through (Devil May Care anyone?). I wonder who proof reads the submitted novels? I remember when DMC was released, Paul Morley, who is a 007 fan, heavily criticised the book as being a pastiche of the Fleming novels, while other critics less versed in 007 history considered it rather fine. I think IFP ought to find a few "interested parties" to proof read Deaver's novel... maybe people like Morley, Timothy Dalton, Martin Amis and Charlie Higson, people who have an understanding of the character and how he fits into the espionage world. I's just a thought.

Regards my reviews, planning to re-embark next week....

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

HIGH TIME TO KILL
16/2/2011

http://s2.postimage.org/25l19xa90/n28131_1.jpg

1999

Raymond Benson’s High Time To Kill starts in Nassau with a flurry of action, both violent and sensual. This is a very satisfying opening, recalling Bond’s previous two visits to the Bahamas, in Fleming’s short story Quantum of Solace and his novel Thunderball. Bond is holidaying with his secretary Helena Marksbury, a love affair fully against Service protocol, but their sojourn turns nasty when the world wide terrorist network The Union assassinates an aging politician during a cocktail party.

This all encompassing criminal syndicate has the hallmarks of SPECTRE: a mysterious leader known as Le Gerant administers summary justice with ease and no conscience, a secret meeting place harbours an inner circle of top members and a far reaching web of agents have their fingers in every nation’s espionage, political and military pies. These are grand extortionists with a grand plan. And they lack ethics; even a Russian Mafia kingpin suggests “they have no loyalty to customers,” a curiously free-market statement.

Bond’s mission becomes a virtual re-run of his first meeting with SPECTRE in the afore-mentioned Thunderball: 007 is despatched to find a crashed aeroplane. It is believed one of the dead passengers holds the formula for the latest in untested military technology, a carbon fibre called Skin 17, which will allow aircraft to withstand speeds in excess of mach 8. The major difference here is that Benson has his plane crashing in the Himalayas and Bond is forced to join a mountain rescue party led by an old, and hated, acquaintance, Roland Marquis.

That Marquis turns out to be the villain of the piece is hardly a shock. What does surprise is Benson’s inability to provide the main antagonist with a shred of decency and menace. Marquis is a spoilt brat of the highest degree who, despite being an RAF officer and the most experienced climber on the expedition, exhibits minimal leadership skills and doesn’t even recognise when he’s suffering from severe altitude sickness. Bond initially meets Marquis over a frustrating round of golf, and the character is set in stone from this point. Bond declares him “a complete bastard who thinks he’s a superior being... [he] inherited his family’s snobbishness... he’s an egotistical over achiever.” By the end of the novel, partially redeemed, Bond surprisingly allows this idiotic man to die at peace atop the sacred mountain Kangchenjunga, chastened as he is by the Himalayan Gods: “Marquis had betrayed his pact with the deities who controlled the elements in this cold hell.”

Curiously, Bond has also ascended the mountain, yet he is allowed to live; there is no explanation why – it’s a given. And much of the novel is also exactly as expected. There’s an obvious traitor at S.I.S HQ, Bond beds every woman he meets, his cohorts all die unwelcome vicious deaths and Bond survives despite potentially crippling injuries. Benson’s rather good on the rough stuff, especially in the first half of the novel, which nominally climaxes in Brussels and feels much more like a spy story.

The latter half, which also bears a striking resemblance to Alistair MacLean’s Night Without End, is notable for being entirely different, both in setting and execution, to any situation Bond has been subjected to before. That doesn’t mean he acts any differently, still making love and war with equal aplomb, even at 7900m above sea level.

The action has a ‘cinematic’ quality to it. As you read the words, you’re able to conjure the pictures, but Benson isn’t an author about to embellish his images with more than one adjective. This is very plain prose which occasionally succeeds, such as a mystical description of the undersea world, “an alien landscape... silent and surreal, yet full of life” or when he switches to a documentary style, a journalistic interpretation of events, which expands the plot without slowing the action. Disappointingly, he still flounders over physical, aural and visual descriptions. He even offers contradictory statements such as “There was silence... The wind was screaming”  and turns to self-parody - at one point Bond paraphrases a famous line from Goldfinger (1964): "Shocked... I'm positively shocked."

James Bond is also here a mass of emotional contradictions. Struggling to reconcile and then terminate his relationship with Helena Marksbury, he seduces a pixie-ish aide in Belgium and then celebrates his triumph by copulating energetically with the nymphomaniac doctor, Hope Kendall, a woman who cares for their flirtation only for as long as it lasts, which suits Bond’s cruel demeanour. Other than her sexual voracity, Hope is an uninteresting heroine, saddled with cryptic dialogue and provoking another seed of discontent between Bond and Marquis. When they part, our tough guy hero hardly misses her, “a wave of melancholy... a familiar friend, a bittersweet companion for his wretched solitary life.” Bond links better and more humanely with the Ghurkha Sgt Chandra, and Benson uses their relationship to explain Nepalese culture. But no amount of philosophy stops him acting on macho impulse when confronted by Marquis’ scathing comments.

At the novel’s end, 007 is left alone, considering “the cruel realm of espionage” but he is really contemplating “his own hardened heart” and the fate of the traitor within. Benson’s Bond never seems to appreciate how he affects the people he meets, how his actions have consequences. Explaining his failure to M, she admonishes him “like a mother hen... as if she held him more accountable than her other children.”

So is Bond as adolescently inclined as his nemesis, Roland Marquis? It might appear so. Cars, mechanical toys, testosterone fuelled games of one-up-man-ship and lusting after beautiful women are the recipe for this James Bond’s life. M recognises it and Benson emphasises their ‘prodigal son’ relationship  - Bond is a wasteful agent who returns each time head bowed but unsullied - which is heavily influenced by Pierce Brosnan’s and Judi Dench’s witty performances in the film franchise. The humour though sits uneasily next to some of the more horrific moments, all slit throats, cold blooded murders and beheadings.

High Time To Kill is something of a mixed bag. At times it’s very good, intriguing, topical and genuinely thrilling. The prose is often spartan and pictorially evocative and there are even one or two well disguised double crosses and enthralling turns of events. At other times its slap-dash and hurried, offering nothing more than glib descriptions of people and places.

Ultimately, the first half of the novel (the better half) reads like a completely different story to the second and while both have some merit, neither entirely succeeds. There is plenty of narrative invention, but that alone cannot overcome the lack of any decent characters that have little of much interest to say.

A brave failure, I feel.

4 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (17th Feb 2011 19:43)

24

Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
21/2/2011

http://s2.postimage.org/4lmiyuec/386px_World_Is_Not_Enough_Novel_1.jpg

1999

Short and unfussy, Raymond Benson’s adaptation of The World Is Not Enough is about as straight forward a transposition of a screenplay as you can get. It provides a not unpleasant reminder of a fairly robust movie, but doesn’t lend itself to close examination.

While Benson’s original novels all tend towards fawning homage to Fleming’s books, or more often the film franchise, it’s surprising that here he eschews all recollection of James Bond’s past adventures. As such The World Is Not Enough sits rather isolated from everything that has come before it. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but unfortunately Benson is working from a very creaky premise. After some initial flourish in Bilbao and London, where he expands the proceedings and makes a clever comparison between the Guggenheim’s “cauliflower on LSD” and the Millennium Dome’s “gigantic robotic beetle” – Bond prefers the former, although both seem equally out of place – the author settles into telling the story virtually verbatim.

Hence there is no mention of his secretary, Helena Marksbury, and their doomed affair, not even when he carries on an equally unethical seduction of the female medical officer, or when he reveals another traitor within. There is also no indication that Bond has ever loved and lost. This seems surprising as the central conceit of the story is Bond’s attraction to the wastrel tragic billionaires Elektra King. Desperate for a decent analogy, Benson references Fleming again: Elektra is “a bird with a wing down... for all her bravado she was still a victim.” Some of the holes in the relationship are plugged in an expanded casino scene, suggesting the building sexual frisson between them. Occasionally it’s overplayed, but at least it makes sense, unlike the turgid original script, which Benson seems disdainful of: asked how he survives life’s terrors, Bond offers a better answer than the hopelessly ineffective “I take pleasure in great beauty” by explaining he “never looked back.”

Benson’s pedigree suggests at this point he’d write about Tracy Draco, but Bond’s dead wife is oddly absent from the thoughts of his hero. As such there is a startling lack of dimension to James Bond in The World Is Not Enough. He’s not alone. Most of the characters are given only a few cursory lines, which do them little justice. They swan in and out of the action, but are never the focus of the author’s, or the audience’s, attention. Not so the chief villians, the brooding Renard and beautiful, vengeful Elektra King, and for once Benson’s deliberations have an air of truth about them.

Renard is a lost soul, a wretched psychopath, unable to feel compassion he’s even disowned his family. Having at last discovered the passion of love and lust, he has cruelly had his faculties taken away from him by a bullet lodged in his skull, eating into his soul, “a living thing... throbbing, anxious to burrow itself further into his brains.” He becomes delusional, imagining “looking down upon the world... separated from his physical self.” Benson is very sympathetic towards Renard, who watches over the object of his adoration with jealousy and regret. Aware his illness leaves him unable to make love with the tenderness and passion Elektra desires, he surrenders his own sorrowful life with a wave of the hand. This is a very accurate portrait of a man ill at ease with the world, his lover and himself. Bond in comparison is passionless.

Elektra King meanwhile is “a harpy with blood in her eyes.” As equally emotionless as Bond, she uses her intellectual cunning to manipulate those around her. Confronted finally with the realisation she loves Renard, Elektra is stupefied, torn “as if a part of her spirit was clawing its way out of her body.” Like Bond, she “coldly cast away whatever warmth she still had in her soul.” That Elektra ultimately fails to be as interesting as Renard is mostly due to Benson’s constant references to her body, variously: “magnificent... vibrant and glamorous... pouting... a young Jacqueline Kennedy.”

Indeed all the women seem to be from the same mould, supermodels one and all; hence the nominal heroine, Christmas Jones, pales into insignificance; other than her “extraordinary figure” and ridiculous name, her only attribute is being that she is a nuclear physicist.

It’s just as well the action is suitably fast and keeps the reader occupied, as there is little else in the way of insightful prose. Worryingly, as Benson fashions a portrait of modern Istanbul, he has the audacity to quote Ian Fleming:

“One of the most fabulous views in the world. On one side were the still waters of the Golden Horn and on the other were the dancing waves of the unsheltered Bosporus. In between were the tumbling roofs, soaring minarets and crouching mosques.”

That paragraph is directly lifted from chapter 14 of From Russia With Love and I felt both shocked and cheated. While Benson has never claimed to be a sophisticated wordsmith, his rapid fire, abrupt style, does have some redeeming features. However when he dips his toe in the descriptive water, he often appears to be imitating Fleming in disguise. This blatant copy reveals him as devoid of any original thought at all, which is disappointing given the effort he has put in else where.

The World Is Not Enough is okay, but, put simply, this sort of tinkering isn’t fair enough. Benson, a Fleming scholar, should know better than to throw good at bad.

2 from10

Last edited by chrisno1 (26th Feb 2011 01:44)

25

Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I have been reading and enjoying your reviews Chrisno1. 
Word of warning though, you are about to enter a place of no return- the worst place in the history of Bond literature, "Never Dream of Dying" and "The Man with the Red Tattoo".  Both are utter garbage (or rubbish as my friends across the pond would say).  To this day, I think "NDOD" is the worst book I've ever read.  Get a stiff drink ready for these, you will need it!  What an absolute outrage to the Fleming legacy.................

This is where we leave you Mr. Bond. (Pilot, Apollo Airlines)