Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2
Tactfully ignoring The World Is Not Enough, Raymond Benson continues the adventures of James Bond with the second book in what became his ‘Union Trilogy.’ This novel takes Bond to Morocco where he becomes embroiled in the ambition of the maverick Spanish politician Domingo Espada to take over by popular force the British enclave of Gibraltar.
The narrative of Doubleshot is remarkably simple. In fact it’s rather obvious; the title itself gives away the central premise that Bond is haunted by a doppelganger and Benson does little to hide the central revelation of his story, even creating a short prologue which virtually gives away the ending before we’ve even started. It is surprising then that Benson succeeds with this novel where previously he failed.
The difference between Doubleshot and all that came before is that Benson finally seems to be interested in James Bond and not simply the violence, sex and comedy which he thinks ought to surround him. There is markedly less action in this adventure and while we know Bond is going to solve the crisis with a quip and a severe injury, it doesn’t feel such a painful hardship getting there.
Forced to take a three month medical sabbatical after his mission to the Himalayas, Bond is drinking heavily and beginning to hallucinate. He’s experiencing blackouts and, desperate, he seeks the attention of Dr Kimberley Feare, who is gruesomely murdered after a night of ill-advised passion. On a slender lead, Bond travels incognito to Tangier, on the hunt for two Union associates.
Benson takes the time to paint a picture of a very troubled 007: “His heart began to pound mercilessly and a blanket of dread enveloped him... for a moment he thought he was having a heart attack.” These symptoms occur time and again. “Blinding headaches” and severe terrifying blackouts (“the dark curtain fell with a crash”) plague Bond throughout the story and lend physical depth to his emotional torment. Finally vulnerable, this Bond is more than “the blunt instrument of death... shut off from every possible emotion.” He’s scared and he’s worried and he’s concerned: “This is personal” he says several times and the Union wishes to make it more so, by employing the psychopath Peredur Glyn to impersonate Bond and discredit MI6.
The idea of a double is a not unfamiliar ruse in thrillers, indeed there was one in Thunderball, the novel/film which most seems to influence Benson, but knowing there is one doesn’t spoil the narrative of Doubleshot. There is a lot of well constructed traditional espionage going on much of it lacking the author’s usual gadgets and visual silliness. In Tangier Bond meets a rough and ready SIS agent, Latif Reggab, who bears a resemblance to past cohorts, like Darko Kerim. This is a studied, jovial and realistic character, a far cry from the one dimensional fare we usually read.
Their journey through Berber country to the blue city of Chaouen is beautifully evocative, “ghostly, luminescent structures floating above ground,” and for once Benson gives us rhetoric which does full justice to the surroundings, concentrating on the incidentals to build the wider picture: “the countryside was hilly and green, dotted with the occasional shepherd... Tangier was famous for its unique decaying character...makeshift shops and food stalls filled the air with smells, noise and spectacle... children were kicking a ball back and forth... navigation by foot, bicycle , motorcycle or donkey cart were the only options in this labyrinth of narrow passages.”
This makes a change from the usual travelogue of blood and thunder and there’s even time to sketch a palpably real villain. Domingo Espada, is a powerful self made politician, who happens to be a despicable underworld kingpin, pimp and racketeer. An ex-matador obsessed by fame, he’s also given to wild hallucinations and spends his evenings “alone in his study, dressed in costume, standing and staring at the stuffed bull’s heads... He could hear the tumultuous applause and cheers, he could see them standing... The empty seats projected the same amount of noise and excitement as if they had been packed full of spectators.”
While Espada’s antics are often distasteful, Benson is at pains to stress his charisma and authority, “devilishly handsome... [with] a Mephistophelean appearance.” He isn’t as pantomime as the previous Roland Marquis. Accompanying him is Margareta Piel, commonly known as the “Mantis Religiosa,” who, like Fiona Volpe, insists on making love to her victims before killing them. She makes a laudable henchwoman, although Benson is preoccupied with her sexual antics rather than her motives.
Bond also encounters the Taunt twins, Heidi and Hedy, two desirable and lissom CIA agents. While their inclusion is diverting it doesn’t serve any narrative purpose. The idea of Bond making love to identical sisters merely seems to tickle the author’s erotic fancy. As such neither twin is given much in the way of personality.
Eventually it is Bond’s (and by definition Benson’s) preoccupation with sexual matters which leads him into further danger, but one feels it didn’t quite have to be that way. Additionally, Bond’s blackouts always occur at the least helpful moment, conveniently allowing the story to alter without explanation. So by the time we reach the climatic shoot out, which is a well devised homage to the Wild West, it’s all a bit of an anti-climax.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the novel is its focus on the nature of twins. The girls get away with being jokey sex objects, although they approach men with opposing methods, chalk and cheese as it were, but Bond shares a deeper understanding with the matador Javier Rojo: “There is a duality between the matador and the bull... The matador must become the bull, and in many ways, the bull does the same... With every pass the bull learns from his mistakes... It is up to the matador to predict what the bull is going to do... It is a dance. In the ring, the bull becomes the matador’s mirror image.”
Peredur Glyn has watched his victim’s every move and is so associated with the original that he insists on being called James Bond. The two of them have been enacting a dance macabre for weeks and are ultimately fatally entwined in the corrida.
However, one can’t hide from the impending insanity forever: even the true power behind The Union, a mystical blind Berber called Le Gerant, retreats into a private four walled domain, like an inmate at a lunatic asylum, touching unseen photographs of 007 “to absorb the subject’s essence.”
There is plenty to absorb here. Amongst all the usual nauseous ugliness of death, the beauty of Doubleshot, is that through Benson’s lucid, unlingering telling James Bond, Domingo Espada and Peredur Glyn all appear at some point to be going slightly mad and it’s a disturbing scenario no amount of strategically placed double entendres can withhold.
6 from 10
Last edited by chrisno1 (23rd Feb 2011 15:09)