'On His Majesty's Secret Service' by Charlie Higson (2023)

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  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    Barbel said;

    Finished it about 90 minutes ago. Rapid pace, plenty references to Fleming (OHMSS, of course, but others too) and more surprisingly Gardner.

    _______________________________________

    how do the Fleming references work if this Bond is 30something in 2023?

    did he still play cards with le Chiffre in 1951 or so, for example, or has that event been moved to somewhere in the relatively recent past?

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    That sounds very interesting. I'm especially intrigued by the references to Gardner. I believe Charlie Higson gives the pronunciation of both of the more unusual names in the second interview with Catching Bullets posted below:



    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent

    I must watch that, I'd like to see an in-depth with him.

    I think Caiboche is a wonderful name for a Bond baddie 😁 Does it have any meaning for US readers? I'm not sure if they use it there.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    I've watched both interviews and they're great and spoiler free. It's nice to know a bit of the background before you delve into the story. Caiboche is a good name. Gardner similarly had Caber while Faulks had Chagrin.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Le Chiffre doesn't get a mention. OHMSS isn't mentioned by name, obviously, just Bond recalling that he learned about heraldry for a job a few years ago. Quite a few, as we know.

  • Miles MesservyMiles Messervy Posts: 1,762MI6 Agent

    I have no idea how to say her name! I kept thinking he was going to hit us with a clever nickname but it never arrived.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent

    mtm sez:

    I think Caiboche is a wonderful name for a Bond baddie 😁 Does it have any meaning for US readers? I'm not sure if they use it there.

    ________________________

    I think ... to put the Kibosh on someone is to put an end to their run of luck

    I'm in the next Colony over, but its certainly a phrase used in plenty of American films and tv shows. I'm sure Seinfeld said it, maybe even Bogart.

    its a bit similar to Jinx, isnt it, also a Bond character name

    how is this unpronounceable BondGirl's name spelt?


    barbel sez:

    ________________________

    OHMSS isn't mentioned by name, obviously, just Bond recalling that he learned about heraldry for a job a few years ago.

    ________________________

    this makes sense, the sliding timeline. keep dates vague so long as theres no real-world context needed. Blofeld's bioterror plot could just as easily have happened yesterday, maybe even more likely as genetic monocultures have become so prevalent in agriculture round the world, cashcrops today would be even more vulnerable,

    and I can see why Bond'd be reminiscing about his heraldry training given the context of this book, even if he doesnt mention the rest of the adventure with Blofeld.

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    think ... to put the Kibosh on someone is to put an end to their run of luck

    I'm in the next Colony over, but its certainly a phrase used in plenty of American films and tv shows. I'm sure Seinfeld said it, maybe even Bogart.

    Ah great, thanks; I couldn't think of hearing it in a US context but was aware I may have just missed it.

    how is this unpronounceable BondGirl's name spelt?

    It's Ragnheiður, which seems to be pronounced Rrrag-n-heydur I think.


    Curiously her full name is Ragnheiður Ragnarsdóttir, which is the name of a famous Icelandic swimmer-turned-actress. Not quite sure why he's done that.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    @caractacus potts, it has a probably unique character in it which is not on my keyboard so I'm not going to try.

    I should have mentioned above that there are a few expies of real life people in it. This is as active people in the book,as opposed to mention being given to, say, Putin, Macron, Trump, etc. I have what I hope are good guesses as to who they're based on, but opinions may differ. The only real person with an active part is, of course, King Charles.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent

    here's Crazy Joe Devola accusing Jerry of putting the kibosh on him in a classic episode of Seinfeld (seriously I could recite the dialog of most of this episode from memory, its the one where they go to the opera)

    Seinfeld may use a wider range of exotic vocabulary than the typical American sitcom, though. Theres another one where Elaine says "blimey" for no apparent reason.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent

    how to pronounce Ragnheiður Ragnarsdóttir ???


    I think this may be a mission for @Special Agent TwoFour, he's friends with all them Vikings

  • The Red KindThe Red Kind EnglandPosts: 3,246MI6 Agent

    One slight criticism - it could have done with another proofreading but given the timescale involved that's easily overlooked.

    Yes, @Barbel, I think CH mentions this in his interview with DZ, that he wishes he'd had more time to proofread, or it contains a few errors or words to that effect.

    "Any of the opposition around..?"
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    While Norwegian and Icelandic obviously are related, the two languages are so different I have to speak English when speaking to Icelanders. Icelandic is much closer to Old Norse than the modern Scandinavian languages. However when I visited the country I found I could understand (or guess at) a good portion of the written language. I also learned a bit about Old Norse at school. So I'll try:

    Icelandic uses hard consonants, for example the R's will be closer to a Scottish pronounciation (and then some). When it comes to vowels the A is pronounced much like in "barn". EI is said like in "Geiger". The letter that looks like small D only exists in Old Norse and modern Icelandic and it's said like TH in "the". U is said like the last sound in "new". The ò in dòttir (daughter) I think is pronounced like the O in "born". The I is like the I in ..... "in".

    I don't know if it matters, but the name means something like "luminous/pure decision" and "daughter of Ragnar".

    Now I'll cross my fingers and hope no-one who really knows Old Norse or Icelandic ever reads this ... 😂

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff
  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,981MI6 Agent
    edited May 2023

    I've read the novel on and off over the last couple of days, finished it and liked it. It's a good short read. Despite the topicality and contemporary setting of the novel, Higson's new Bond feels like Fleming's Bond to me, reassuringly familiar. The book tries to be as faithful in spirit to Fleming, in its way, as those Bond novels by others - principally Horowitz - which are conceived as period pieces and imagined as insertions in/ extensions to Fleming's continuity. Indeed, post-Horowitz, Higson's different method of transposing to today a determinedly Flemingesque Bond, M and OO section (section, surely, rather than "department"), in a re-booted continuity, seems like the most viable way forward for Bond fiction.

    Higson's reference to a previous case involving knowledge of heraldry suggests a past for his new Bond which, though not the same as Fleming's Bond's past - how could it be, given the generational difference? - somehow mirrors it. That's clever. And Higson seems to go out of his way to emphasise that Bond and the new Bond girl are not the marrying kind. This not only sets out a marker of difference from Fleming's 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' but also, possibly, fires a literary shot across Barbara Broccoli's bows, given Eon's installation of Craig-Bond (dec.) in a family unit.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    All that is true, @Shady Tree A nicely observed swift review

  • Shady TreeShady Tree London, UKPosts: 2,981MI6 Agent
    edited June 2023

    SPOILERS


    Thanks, @chrisno1 I've Just read your own thoughtful review, from earlier in the thread. I'd go along with most of your criticisms, though the novel's flaws probably bother me less.

    There's a deep vein of satirical comedy to Higson's conception of the villain, AEthelstan, an almost (Boris) Johnsonian, self-aggrandising caricature, mendaciously trucking - for cynical, selfish ends - with extreme right-wingers (themselves imagined like sponsors of some para-military wing of the Tory ERG!)

    Had the novel been longer there might even have been scope for including a Liz Truss figure, perhaps as an Irma Bunt-type consort for AEthelstan. Indeed, at one point, when conveying AEthelstan's secretly held, contemptuous opinion of his acolytes, Higson uses the phrase, "useful idiots", echoing the insult reportedly used about Kwasi Kwateng in 2022 by city traders who saw the opportunity to make a killing from his/ Truss's disastrous fiscal project. (Incidentally, Higson's AEthelstan devotee Lord Bonkers, in his pink trousers, somehow conjures in my mind, probably unfairly, an image of the Johnsonite Rt. Hon. Member for Lichfield!)

    Pitching Bond against AEthelstan - and against the fruitcake stall of extremists and mercenaries AEthelstan aims to deploy and exploit - Higson vaguely situates our hero, by contrast with the villain, in the conservative (with a small c) centre ground of politics, the most appropriate place for him and implicitly where the films have tended to locate him too (sexual licentiousness and license to kill aside). Higson's characterisation of Bond is, as we agree, largely Flemingesque, yet his centre-ground positioning sheds from Bond personally the excesses of an imperialist mentality sometimes evident in Fleming's OO7, transposing the lion's share of reactionary rhetoric to the villain - and his ridiculous entourage - instead.

    This is a more sophisticated, satirical work of its title (a title which ajb-ers had predicted last year, albeit for a film, when Charles III succeeded to the throne) than the humourless, 'The Day Of The Jackal' type of approach to Coronation Day that one might have expected or got. In the coda, Higson's dramatic business with the poisoned ink pen flirts as closely with an actual 'royal incident' as the Palace might be happy with. ("King Charles III became frustrated with a leaking pen when signing a book at Hillsborough Castle, an official residence in Northern Ireland ... remarking on how the pen was leaking." - BBC News, 14th September, 2022) This is all part of the joke, making Bondian fantasy out of nothing of consequence, using something trivial that had already occurred before the book's publication rather than depicting mayhem on Coronation Day itself.

    Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 53 years.
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent
    edited January 1

    I'm reading the novel right now, and there's much to like. But I just discovered a stupid error, and maybe others have discovered the same long ago. "Ærhelstan wrestled with the G36. It looked like he'd emptied the cartridge already."

    Anyone who knows the basics of guns know this is all wrong. G36 is a German assault rifle. When you fire a gun the propellant inside the cartridge explodes and pushes the bullet through the barrel and towards the target. The case that held the bullet and propellant is thrown out. Every time a shot is fired a cartridge is emptied. But all assault rifles have 20-30 rounds (cartridges,) in the magazine, including the G36. I'm sure the author meant "magazine" when he wrote "cartridge", and authors can make mistakes like this while writing a whole book. But it's comparable to writing a gambling scene where a player plays a card and imediately folds because the writer didn't know the difference between a single card and a whole hand. The publisher should've helped the writer and letting someone who's at least fired a gun to fact check would've been smart.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    I think we can put that down to the speed with which the book had to be written and the associated lack of (or very rushed) proofreading.

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    Probably.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited January 2

    That's interesting and I'm not sure that even a careful proof edit would have spotted such a mistake. It may have done I suppose, but I'd tend to have my doubts. I think it's largely a generational thing - Bond authors like Ian Fleming, Sir Kingsley Amis and John Gardner all lived through and were involved in World War II in various roles. All had some familiarity with guns and other weapons of that war which the generations born since (particularly after the abolition of National Service in the UK in 1963) have never experienced. Therefore, younger authors (relatively speaking of course) like Charlie Higson (born in 1958) and arguably the editorial team too don't have this vital military and gunmanship background that earlier Bond authors did have. I myself (aged 39) wouldn't really have a clue about these types of technical details, however glaring they may appear to one who knows about guns or has past military experience. I have fired a shotgun, an air rifle and a crossbow (once!) but that's about it. Unfortunately they don't teach you much about guns in the Boy's Brigade(!). Of course it could be the case that experts are drafted in by the editors to spot any glaring howlers in spy novels though I'm not privy to that information. It seems to me that if they don't already have this in place, then they should! As John Gardner wrote on his website John Gardner – John Gardner (john-gardner.com) back in 2001 concerning this phenomenon which it could be said afflicts non-military authors of spy fiction or World War II fiction today:

    "I often felt that I was underwriting the books by spending a lot of my earnings on research trips, but the weapons were easy because, as a former Royal Marine Commando, I had already handled most of the lethal items: I had been a small arms expert and also knew a lot about explosives. Knowledge in this direction does tend to sort out the men from the boys, and real experience is a very useful tool that lends itself to the writer of these kind of books. For instance, many years ago I permitted myself a wry smile when I read, in a novel set in World War II by a very well-known author, of the ‘silent’ Sten gun. These weapons only saw the light of day towards the end of the war and I had a very junior hand in testing them in Wales. They were, alas, silent for about ten rounds after which they created a terrible din!"

    Source: Bond – John Gardner (john-gardner.com)

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    Good points. One can also wonder if an American author would have avoided this mistakes because guns are much more common there. Of course Americans ahve drawbacks when it comes to getting the British culture and language right. Soem authors try to visit places they write about and try things they write about, but to get the facts right ancd being able to describe the feel of it better.

    Concerning the silenced Sten Gun. i just finished listneing to the audio book "Report from number 24", written by and read by the legendary Special Operations Executive agent Gunnar Sønsteby. it's a nice experience to hear one of the best agents and saboteurs in WWII (according to SOE) speaking of his life. He and his fellow agent sin the Oslo Gang often brought silenced Stens on their missions, so the weapon clearly wasn't useless.

  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited January 2

    I know next to nothing about guns but I know the difference between a cartridge and a magazine, and I don't think you'd have to have been in WW2 to know the same. In fact I daresay Mr Higson himself is probably well-aware: not only has he done a lot of research into this sort of thing over the years (I wouldn't know what a G36 is) but he's probably fired a gun or two himself in his various acting roles and had some on-set firearms training as a result (I can immediately think of Ted & Ralph where he's shooting a shotgun- with cartridges of course). But everyone makes quick slip-ups just like they make spelling errors, which are also in there- I don't think it's a sign of anything more.

    Heaven knows Fleming made a number of slip-ups himself: for example having Bond drive a model of Aston Martin in Goldfinger which didn't actually exist! I'm pretty sure there were some firearms-related ones in there I've heard about over the years too, and his description of Bond's Rolex I think was pretty muddled: he didn't always care much about these things, and of course famously Major Boothroyd was named after a real person to wrote to him to correct him and suggest alternatives. And those books had the luxury of longer lead times!

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent
    edited January 2

    Yes, I think the benefit of the doubt can be given to Charlie Higson given the less than ideal rushed nature of the OHM2S project. The book probably wasn't subjected to as strenuous an editing process as usual given the tight time constraints. I should have added that research can always make up for not having a military or whatever background. Any good author worth their salt visits the location he or she is writing about and tries to experience the things they write about be that firing guns, scuba diving or drinking the right local wines. Even a WWII veteran like John Gardner researched the jet scenes in Win, Lose or Die (1989) by using his flight simulators as practice. There are always new things to learn with the ongoing progress of technology. Every day is literally a school day. You're right about Fleming too - he made mistakes in technical matters despite contacting experts and trying to get everything as right as was humanly possible.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    Lack of time seems like the most likely reason, but this is still the stupidest gun-related mistake I've seen in a novel.

  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    I'd say so. I do wonder if the errors will be corrected in a second printing or possible paperback edition of the novella? I seem to remember Charlie Higson intimating in an interview that the errors would be corrected in a later edition.

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • emtiememtiem SurreyPosts: 5,790MI6 Agent
    edited January 2


    I really don't think it's that big a deal. It sounds like this part is taking place from the Farage character’s point of view, and he probably wouldn’t know what the parts of a gun are called, if that works as an explanation.

    Fleming literally couldn't get the name of a car right and named a chapter after it , which I find a bit stupider! 😁

    Here's a fun article with his gun mistakes:


  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    I think it's written from Bond's POW, but I agree it's not really important. I haven't quote finished the book yet, but I like it so far.

  • Golrush007Golrush007 South AfricaPosts: 3,421Quartermasters

    I spotted quite a few errors but I don't remember noticing that one even tough it seems obvious when pointed out. Perhaps it goes to show how this is one of those mistakes that is easily not picked up even when the reader has the basic knowledge of guns to know that this is an error.

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    A mistake isn't glaring until you see it, that's true! 😆

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