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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

chrisno1 wrote:
Polar Bear 0007 wrote:

4/10 ?  I certainly thought it was marginally better than NDOD, but not a 4.  Regardless, I think few will argue that Benson is by far the worst writer to get near Bond.  Thankfully, his plug was pulled after this "effort".

Your reviews have been a great service to the forum- I'm sure I am not alone in saying "thank you" for sharing these detailed reviews...............

Thanks.
As I've said before, we all have opinions. I try to offer mine as honestly as I can.

Having said that, I just re-read all of my Benson reviews and there is too much negative stuff in my take on TMWTRT for it to warrant a 4.
I just downgraded it to 3 from 10.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

And the chasing after mosquitoes on a train makes it a 0 ajb007/lol

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dlb007 wrote:

And the chasing after mosquitoes on a train makes it a 0 ajb007/lol

While I admit it's "daft" (I quote myself) there is a lot of other stuff going on in TMWTRT and much of it is good. I enjoyed the insights into modern Japanese culture and generally Benson's descriptive abilities seem a bit more in tune this time around.
Benson doesn't actually rate TMWTRT, he thinks it's his worst novel, but I'm surprised by that as he gives us a solid narrative (not, note, a solid villian's plot) with a good central antagonist in Yoshida. It's a worthwhile effort and quietly builds to a climax, albeit a rather lacklustre one.
I agree there is plenty of tosh here  (yes, the mosquitoes, and the Kappa) but at least Benson hasn't turned Tiger Tanaka into the chief baddie (I spent most of the book praying it wasn't going to happen, and thank god it didn't) but I can't ignore what is good as well.
There is much more thought involved in TMWTRT when you compare it to NDOD, which is frankly a second rate production of dire proportions, and I can't knock it down so completely.

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chrisno1 wrote:

Sorry, Napoleon, slight misunderstanding!
Mind you, IMO Amazon's has a rather over enthusiastic rating system...

I see what you mean   ajb007/biggrin

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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xboy614 wrote:

when are you reviewing the young bond novels?

Well, not yet, I need a rest. I'm thinking of starting in April.
To be honest with you, I have been very surprised by the length of the YB series, each book is well over 300 pages, quite long haul for young fans. Never mind, once more into the breach and all that.

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cool

“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

RAYMOND BENSON SUMMARY

After a brief respite, I thought it was time to offer a brief summary of Raymond Benson’s catalogue of 007 continuation novels.

It’s sad to report that I wasn’t over impressed with the collection of six original stories and three movie tie-ins. Benson seems to have a grasp of what makes James Bond’s adventures special – beautiful women, mad villains, even madder plots, violence, sex, a bit of jokey banter, exotic locations – but he seems to slot these into his narrative with little regard for how the eventual product will read.

Most of his tales are inspired by Fleming’s SPECTRE trilogy, repeating scenarios and featuring characters (or similar characters) to one’s we’ve met before. Unfortunately the narratives are less involving and the persona’s less detailed. There is a lot of sketchy writing here. Benson seems more interested in explaining how Bond operates the multitude of gadgets Q-branch offer him than how he out thinks his antagonists.

In fact the real loss to the series isn’t so much the sub-standard plotting and people, but the disappearance of James Bond altogether, who here has become an almost robotic, testosterone fuelled entity, so ready is he to fight and Freddie Uncle Charlie Katie his way out of any situation. There is little time for contemplation and reflection in Benson’s world. When it does come, it feels slightly fraudulent, as if I’ve already read the words and phrases somewhere before.

This is another slightly worrying aspect of Benson’s writing. He has a tendency, whether in tribute to real quality or through recognizing the paucity of his own ability, to paraphrase or even quote Ian Fleming and the movies he inspired. This isn’t only lazy writing; it’s rather insulting to the reader. Did he think we might not notice?   

Galling enough, but when Benson starts to interfere with decades of legacy and turns one of Bond’s oldest allies into a villain, it was surely time for a rethink. His treatment of the character Marc Ange Draco in Never Dream of Dying was curious at best, downright insane at the worst. The problem wasn’t that I can’t believe a character could turn from hero to villain, but that there was no discernable reason for it to happen, certainly not to Draco. That the Corsican – who despised Blofeld’s SPECTRE in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – should suddenly fund a fledgling organization established on similar principles seems remarkable. That he raised his son to be such a criminal mastermind when he was happy for his daughter to lead a life away from crime and, eventually he hoped, to escape it with Bond, seems contradictory to his nature. Benson also seems to have completely forgotten how cleverly he was developing the character of Le Gerant, a blind soothsayer of the highest degree, and his solution to the conundrum he created is sloppy and, frankly, cheap.

That all of this is wrapped up in turgid, plain prose and even duller dialogue doesn’t make me want for anything.
There are a few glimmers of excitement. The first two Union novels, High Time to Kill and Double Shot, offer a little more intrigue, either through unique settings or through investing a bit more time in the characters (the latter features probably Benson’s most astute understanding of 007 and of the villains). Meanwhile The Man with the Red Tattoo recalls the travelogue style of You Only Live Twice and we are at last immersed in a locale rather than skimming the surface of it. It’s disappointing the madcap plot of this one lets it down.

Benson’s women are as robotic as James Bond. Energetic lovers one and all, there is not a single woman who doesn’t flirt with our hero. Even the ugly ones seem to notice his devilish good looks. These routine love affairs, with their sort of slap and tickle seduction technique, are boring beyond belief. It says something when Benson’s most interesting female character is Wai Lin from the movie adaptation Tomorrow Never Dies.

Indeed the people who populate this novel seem much more real and defined than most of Benson’s output. The less said about his other tie-ins the better; he shows little interest in them and they are nothing but a cheap and quick reminder of expensive and long films.

The slightly disconcerting thing about Raymond Benson is that he fails to elaborate on a series of very good ideas. He genuinely wants to create a worthwhile story, with all the prerequisite ingredients of Bond-like derring-do, but he gets so caught up in the latter he forgets all about the former. He is influenced for the worse by the movie franchise and by other modern heroes, often cinematic ones.

His novels bear little relation to the literary James Bond, who rarely engaged in three page fist fights or extended car chases and whose supporting cast was capable but never so physically involved. Perhaps the most telling observation is in High Time to Kill, when Bond and his nemesis Roland Marquis, having both been horribly injured, still manage to summit a 27000ft mountain. It stinks of Die Hard all round.

These are not books I would recommend.

It’s hard to know if the casual reader or the dedicated fan is best served here. I fear neither would finish one of Benson’s opus very satisfied.



For what it’s worth, my personal order, 'from best to worst':

1.    Double Shot
2.    High Time to Kill
3.    The Man with the Red Tattoo
4.    Zero Minus Ten
5.    Tomorrow Never Dies
6.    The Facts of Death
7.    The World is Not Enough
8.    Die Another Day
9.    Never Dream of Dying

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Very well said Chrisno1 ajb007/smile

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

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As promised, I am continuing the series with the 'Young Bond' novels...


SILVERFIN
18/4/2011

http://s1.postimage.org/1mjg3q5qc/silverfin.jpg

2005

Charlie Higson’s first novel to feature a school age James Bond was very well received when first published. Retrospectively, and in the context of children’s novels, Silverfin just about does all right. In the context of James Bond it’s very rough and ready. Other than providing new questions and answering old ones about Bond’s upbringing, there’s very little to interest an adult reader.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the book is its fantastical Frankenstein-like plot. With overtures of Arian supremacy and genetic engineering, it is much more science fiction than espionage thriller. Kids will no doubt love it.

The fantastic events only take root in the final third of the book, when Bond and his new best mate Red Kelly decide to investigate the goings on at Loch Silverfin, where Kelly’s cousin mysteriously disappeared – this latter event covered in a well described opening chapter. The eventual denouement is a mix of tree climbing, Dr Moreau style experiments, cave swimming, devilish drugs, arson and horses. Add into the mix a power mad villain, Randolph Hellebore, who is the father of the school bully, and a crazy scientist, Perseus Frend, and all the traditional bases are pretty much covered.

The problem with the novel isn’t the finale, but what comes before it. The first two thirds of the novel are ordinary beyond belief, a ‘rites of passage’ sequence, as Bond learns about Eton, wins a triathlon, learns to drive a car, learns about his parents and discovers a father figure in his Uncle Max, who handily turns out to have been a spy during the war.

There’s nothing original in this. Cleverly, Higson dresses up some of this extended prologue as an educational exercise for his readers: he describes Eton and its traditions, breathing techniques for athletes, how to shoot a rifle and the workings of the internal combustion engine. Oh, and there are a few mean scrapes for our young hero to endure, but it’s nothing compared to Tom Brown’s roasting, and when Bond finally decides to “lose his temper” it hardly seems worth his effort.

Higson improves dramatically towards the climax. Captured in a horrific laboratory, the young James Bond is forcefully injected with a steroid serum while Hellebore regales him with his nefarious schemes. This well-constructed episode has the stamp of Fleming all over it, intertwining torture, revenge and ambition with a healthy dose of idealistic politics. Hellebore’s obsession with creating a master race stems from the Great War and this tallies neatly with the onset of Fascism: “We are living in a new age, forged in the horrors of war, and your ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, no longer have value. Now there are only weak and strong, quick and slow, the living and the dead, the rich and the poor… Which would you rather be?”

Higson’s Bond, unfortunately, is only a boy, and his reply “I’d rather be anything than a stinking cheat” takes the edge off what is probably the best constructed scene in the whole novel. And that’s the major issue with Silverfin. It isn’t badly written, but it is written for children and young teenagers.

Higson is hamstrung by the need to stay succinct and elementary in his prose. I sense he wants to do more, but recognizes the restrictions of his genre. A good children’s author should be more ingenious, both with language and narrative. Higson, sadly, is pedestrian at best. For the most part the tale is told in a straightforward uninvolving manner and with the barest glimpse of authorial technique. The occasional simile brings a smile, but they are tempered by the blandness of “expression of pure murder” and its ilk.

It’s a recurring problem and subsequently the story lacks depth of description and insight. The contradiction between Uncle Max’s abhorrence and Hellebore’s adoration of war remains the sole hint of any conscience in the story, which is hopelessly impassive. Later, in attempt to bring some emotion to the proceedings, Higson resorts to a Jedi-inspired ghostly portend which is simply unbelievable.

Like his continuation predecessors, Higson also tries to introduce us to 007 folklore. He fills in the perceived gaps in Bond’s life, which might please or agitate seasoned fans depending on how familiar they are with Fleming’s original work and John Pearson’s The Authorized Biography.

Unlike Raymond Benson, who seemed to alter history for spurious reasons, Higson seems to be gently poking fun at the legacy. He even paraphrases the opening lines from Casino Royale. I found Higson’s technique as mystifying and disagreeable as Benson’s.

For all that I can understand why children would be enthralled by the novel as it has most of their prerequisite expectations: growing up fast, a pretty girl, cheerful pals, a nice cozy old couple, a couple of big bullies, monstrous goings on and a few monsters to boot. For adults it is best left well alone.

3 from 10

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Looking forward to the rest, chrisno1....I'm just about of adult age and I have to say I enjoyed SilverFin immensley...it's not perfect...but a good "Boy's Own Adventure..." style novel.

YNWA: Justice For The 96

Sometimes no news is just bad news taking it's fvcking time

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I don't have the eloquence of Chrisno1 and have enjoyed his reviews but have to disagree with "High Time To Kill" as one of Benson's Best. It's total Crap. ajb007/lol a real drudge of a read. I'd take the worst of Gardner over Bensons work anytime.

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Thunderpussy wrote:

I don't have the eloquence of Chrisno1 and have enjoyed his reviews but have to disagree with "High Time To Kill" as one of Benson's Best. It's total Crap. ajb007/lol a real drudge of a read. I'd take the worst of Gardner over Bensons work anytime.

The review probably doesn't do my thoughts full justice. To note:
The plots quite simple and first half of the novel is rather fine. I thought; the goings on in Brussels are far superior to the Himalyan episode. Benson picked out two unfamiliar locations and generally utilises them very well.
The aspects which really let the tale down are his chief villain and the gory ending - all those fights at altitude, oh pleeeassssee stop him writing!  ajb007/crap I thought.
It may be one of Benson's best, but it still only gets 4 from 10, which hardly does Mr Benson any favours. ajb007/rolleyes

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Love your reviews, Chris. I might put in that I enjoyed Silverfin more then you did, then again im might be suited more to my age. I've read the rest of the Young Bond series and i might put in that some of his work really do Fleming justice, even though he isn't as good as Fleming. Looing forward to reading more of your reviews :)) :)

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

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I can't say I have any interest in reading the Young Bond novels.  I feel like I wouldn't be able to relate, though I probably would have enjoyed them in my younger days.  Keep up the good reviews though Chris.  At least this way I can avoid doing the reading myself ajb007/smile

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BLOOD FEVER
29/4/2011

http://s1.postimage.org/1z89oenyc/bloodfever.jpg

2006

Blood Fever starts in a similar manner to Charlie Higson’s first stab at ‘Young Bond’ – with the murder of an innocent, or in this case innocents, as Amy Goodenough witnesses the murder of her family by the pirate Zoltan the Magyar during a sailing holiday in the idyllic Cyclades.

From here on we proceed through another dull series of schoolboy scrapes in and around Eton before James Bond finds himself in Sardinia and on the trail of the Millenaria, a strange secret society versed in ancient Roman ritual and led by a ruthless Count, Ugo Carnifex.

There are clear parallels to The da Vinci Code which are best left forgotten, including an entirely inconsequential love of populist art works by the chief villain. There’s also a bizarre and slightly pedophilic subplot involving the adolescent Amy and the troubled Zoltan. Higson is at pains to stress that the pirate’s interest isn’t sexual, but we don’t buy it for a second. We also find it unlikely James Bond would fight off the romantic overtures of a gorgeous wild Sardinian banditolera, who is given the prophetic name Vendetta.

There’s plenty of action in this story, none of it particularly original: a gladiatorial boxing match draws on pugilistic folklore by having the school bully Fitzpaine carry weights in his boxing gloves a la Jack Dempsey; a gun battle in the Nuragh caves bears striking similarities to the climax of You Only Live Twice (1967); Bond goes mountaineering around castle walls; the destruction of a dam brings to mind fifties war movies; Carnifex’s parades around a palazzo fortress; two horsemen joust like extras from El Cid. The ingredients make a veritable soup of incident which any novice reader will thoroughly enjoy.

As to character and motive development, well it’s minimal. The double crosses seem as unlikely as they are expected. There is an intriguing older woman, Jana, a rampant cougar of the first degree, who sits on “an upright armchair, for all the world as if it was a throne.” Her attachment to Bond is as ickysome as Zoltan’s to Amy’s. Ugo is as deranged and fanatical as most Bond-ian baddies, so used to death he’s “forgotten what a man’s blood looks like.”

Ugo is more interested in man’s weaknesses and trusses James Bond in a marsh full of parasitic mosquitoes, hoping to infect his blood with malaria. Higson is vividly impressive here, “a crowd around his head, filling the night with a ceaseless whining drone… he was horribly aware of his blood flowing around his body, taking their poison with it.” Delirious, Bond hallucinates, “Pett Bottom, cosy and safe… Aunt Charmian was bringing him a cup of coffee… but she spilt it and it fell on the bedclothes, seeping through and scalding him… there was no escape to this reeking swamp.” His nightmare is ended by the beautiful Vendetta, to whom he later imparts a frantic full-on kiss. Unfortunately, Bond doesn’t yet speak Italian; young love and lust is not without its complications.

Higson occasionally shifts gear out of the adolescent stance his prose takes, usually to make the proceedings more visually shocking. A murdered guard’s desiccated chin is described as “like second mouth cut into his throat” and Zoltan describes the Tommy-gun as “beautiful but evil; a machine for killing… so simple and so deadly.”

The two villains are not only fighting over the pristine prettiness of Amy Goodenough, who encompasses redemption for both of them, but for a fortune in buried treasures. James Bond is clever enough to recognize the buried stolen art works Ugo and Zoltan discovered represent their entwined history: “Generations of men had fought and died here in these mountains, the soil was fed by their spilt blood.”

For all that blood, the eventual ending is unmemorable. Higson’s extended family of characters leaves a lot of ends to tie up and he handles each one swiftly and with some alacrity; even the blowing of the dam passes with barely a rumble.

Blood Fever is better than Silverfin and without the Eton sections it could pass off quite reasonably as an old fashioned adventure story – for adults as much as children. The school boy elements rather hold it back, just as they did in Higson’s first effort. Still it was good fun while it lasted.

4 from 10

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DOUBLE OR DIE
6/5/2011

http://s3.postimage.org/1o72tsngk/doubleordie.jpg

2007

Double or Die has a misleading title.

While playing and winning the card game ‘Hearts,’ the young James Bond is actually advised to “shoot the moon.” When he ventures ill-advisedly into the illicit Paradice casino and wins over seven hundred pounds at roulette, he isn’t advised to do anything, making his own lucky rash decision to bet on his favourite number, which unsurprisingly turns out to be 7. This small quibble aside, Charlie Higson’s third continuation novel carries on pretty much where the other two left off by following a fairly generic pattern.

Once more there is foul play amongst the Etonians. This time the science master Alexis Fairburn has been kidnapped by Russian Communists who want him to construct a number crunching code breaking machine called Nemesis, a very basic and exceedingly large computer. James Bond and his pals Perry Mandeville, Pritpal Nandra and Red Kelly are first forced to solve a baffling crossword and then battle London gangsters and Soviet hard men.

It’s an untidy mix. The faffing about with coded letters, secret societies and cryptic clues reads like something from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. The dealings with the odious villains meanwhile feel palpably real, much more so than in Blood Fever, which was an agreeable cut above Silverfin. What sets Double or Die apart from all that came before in Higson’s world is his protagonist’s sudden preoccupation with death.

The chief villain, Sir John Charnage is a drunk, a gambler and an idealist. All three Achilles heels were formed during The Great War (“He never understood how any government could send its young men off to die like that…the country that sent [him] to Gallipoli… the men who rule this world are nothing but a bunch of gangsters”). I suspect his name should be pronounced with a silent ‘h’ to reinforce his anger and remorse. These experiences turned him into a communist and were fundamental to his seed of treason. Unfortunately, as Higson saddles Charnage with a love of material success, there is a contradictory pattern to the man’s behaviour that renders him ineffectual as a Bolshevik, a point emphasized by Colonel 'Babushka' Sveda, a wicked black-eyed bitch of a woman, who ultimately tempts James Bond to murder. The young Bond is not yet equipped for that sacrifice: “He felt cold and alone.”

This young man is clearly growing up. He may still struggle to cope with the attentions of the impish Kelly Kelly, a ragamuffin of a girl who clearly takes a shine to our Master Bond, but he also understands that the rich can be as embittered as the poor and “people were pretty well the same the world over.” The annoying rich boy-poor girl romance has overtures of Titanic, but I think it’s worth glossing over this dumbed down romantic mini-subplot as it is clearly designed for light relief amongst a very bleak story.

James Bond however, is a quite different fish however; one of his friend’s eugolgises that he’s “a magnet for danger,” a comment he does nothing to refute. He also has several moments of inner reflection, for his Aunt, his uncle Max or his deceased parents; Christmas is a bleak time “swallowed up by the black shadow of sadness.”

Unlike the previous adventures, James Bond comes ever closer to his own death, nearly crushed between boats, nearly killed in a car crash, nearly shot, nearly poisoned by gin. The latter scene is wonderfully described, as the virtually teetotal James Bond is forced to down pint after pint of gin until “the room began to spin, greasy and dizzying…the blood roaring and whining in his ears… the fumes were coming back up his gullet and shrouding his face in a foul mist.” This clearly explains why Bond prefers vodka and not the traditional gin martini.

Equally he experiences much more. He finds a scientist dead at his desk (“a lump of flesh… the only part of Peterson that was alive was the bacteria in his stomach… already it was beginning to rot and decay”) and witnesses a man shorn in half by the whiplash of a tug rope. Twice he wanders the streets in a daze, unaware of where he is or what he is doing, as if his agony only has one end, “his body was numb, he had lost all feeling, he felt calm and peaceful. He wondered if this was how it felt to die.”

Even Highgate Cemetery, “a city for the dead,” is losing its fight against the inevitable, “like the corpses beneath the ground it was rotting and returning to chaos.” Indeed death is even stalking the living; one of the Smith Brothers, a pair of evil henchmen, resembles a living skull, and James Bond is constantly aware of his death-like appearance. It even haunts him in the Cabinet of Curiosities at the Royal College of Surgeons:

“underneath your skin was a grinning skeleton. Sooner or later we all die. If violence didn’t get you, disease would, and if somehow all diseases in the world missed you, then there was only old age to look forward to and the slow decay of the body.”

This feels very Fleming and I can only applaud Higson in his efforts to render something of the Master’s writing, his awareness, his melancholy, and frame it for the younger reader. This is perhaps best encapsulated by the prologue, seven pages of almost sublime indifference as a frightened man considers life and its consequences:

“The human brain is a remarkable object. It contains a hundred billion neurons, all talking to each other via tiny electrical sparks, like a never-ending fireworks display inside your skull… the brain is a hungry machine. It never shuts down. Even when you are asleep it is awake, keeping your lungs breathing, your heart beating, the blood flowing through your veins. Without your brain you can do nothing… Alexis Fairburn was painfully aware of this because there was a pistol pointing at his head.”

This is a bravura opening to a thriller, one to rival Fleming’s own for Goldfinger, and I immediately began to identify with the character of Fairburn. The later revelations from James Bond also made me much more aware of the adolescent growing, learning to be a man, and in the most desperate of fashions.

It’s a pity the labored Agatha Christie-ish crossword plot occupies so much Double or Die, because there are some genuinely provoking thoughts among the balderdash. For all that, many of the spine chilling scenes of violence and torture don’t seem suitable for very young readers. Higson has raised his game, but he seems to be aiming at a different market altogether.

5 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (7th May 2011 13:51)

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You may not be aware of this, but i actually adore your reviews, and usually come on AJB, quickly to see if you've typed up a new review.

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

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xboy614 wrote:

You may not be aware of this, but i actually adore your reviews, and usually come on AJB, quickly to see if you've typed up a new review.

I can only say thanks for the compliment. ajb007/smile
I'm planning to post one review in each of the next two weeks, which will finish Higson's series and then it'll be hold yer breath time for Carte Blanche! ajb007/bond

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Excellent his reviews may be, but can Chrisno1 spell teetotal? No, he can not.  ajb007/wink

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Napoleon Plural wrote:

Excellent his reviews may be, but can Chrisno1 spell teetotal? No, he can not.  ajb007/wink

Never trust your spell checker!
Haven't edited that one yet... thanks for the hint.

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Yeah, I sent off a feature with the phrase 'free reign' recently...  ajb007/crap

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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chrisno1 wrote:

Double or Die has a misleading title.

That's not quite a surprise as the title of this novel was put to a public vote....and you can't trust the public ajb007/lol

YNWA: Justice For The 96

Sometimes no news is just bad news taking it's fvcking time

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HURRICANE GOLD
11/5/2011

http://s1.postimage.org/2zi051blw/hurricanegold.jpg

2007

Hurricane Gold is a picaresque novel. The young James Bond is in Mexico on an educational holiday with his Aunt Charmain. Thanks to an unwelcome storm, which is clearly a hurricane but is never referred to as such, Bond finds himself separated from his aunt and lumbered with the spoilt teenage brat Precious Stone, a girl straight out of Just William, and her little brother, J.J., all of them fleeing across Mexico.

I don’t know what to make of this novel. Higson juxtaposes the childish antics, the behaviours, the pouting prissiness, the arrogance of Precious with the violent, blood thirsty attitudes of a car load of gangsters, led by the icy Theda Glass. The two simply don’t mix. On the one hand James Bond tries to placate and educate Precious, on the other he’s confronted with enough death and destruction for a lifetime. What makes the mix so poor is that Higson seems entirely detached from it all. I never once sensed any authorial interest in his characters or the situations they find themselves in. There’s a fresh incident every chapter, which makes about thirty of them, and the book becomes dully uniform. As James Bond tries to reach Vera Cruz and safety from the storm he encounters numerous strangers and invariably has to escape their clutches. He’s frequently recaptured. Out of the frying pan, then…

The latter third of the novel takes place on Lagrimas Negras, an island hideout for criminals ruled over by El Huracan, ‘The Hurricane,’ a mad man who believes himself to be a Mayan God: “I am king, chancellor, judge, jury and executioner. There is no law but mine. My word is absolute… here I am God.” El Huracan makes quite an impression on James Bond, for “there was coldness, a stillness, a watchfulness about him that made him seem more reptile than human… His name put one in mind of raging destructive chaos but his eye was the eye of the storm.” Ultimately he’s just a rich, bored, disillusioned, dissatisfied old man.

Unable to escape the island, Bond and Precious decide to enter the ‘Avenue of Death,’ an assault course of the most deadly kind. A collection of nasty, gory, terrifying obstacles, this episode brought to mind John Gardner’s O-Kee-Pa which climaxed Brokenclaw. It’s a distasteful, horrific scene which would be more at home in a slasher movie than a teenage thriller. That Higson describes it all with the minimum of detail suggests he knew he was entering very adult territory. He’s more appealing when Bond struggles with Strabo in the jungle, throwing the dwarf into a hive of insects, “his body was twitching and racked with spasms… he was disappearing under a living carpet of ants.”

As for James Bond, well, we learn he’s not very patient, and that he’s a tough little critter, more used to the grown up world than his peers will ever be, after all he’s “seen enough of the world to know that good men die as easily as bad.” His adventures have changed him, even his “cold grey-blue eyes were strong and sharp [and] his heart beat strongly.”   

Precious Stone changes also, becoming a resourceful and dangerously vengeful young woman. At one point she likens herself to the mythical Furies, “I may not have snakes for hair, but I am not going to stop… till the death.” If the change in Precious is dramatic, the colourless band of villains which surrounds them is dramatically one dimensional.

Only the man mountain Japanese Sakata [oh, very clever, Charlie, call your next heroine Andress] comes across as anything like human. The injured gunman Manny goes crazy, and Higson’s quite effective here, but once you know he’s easily confused, the tension in Manny’s wild behaviour evaporates.

The gangsters are nominally seeking the McGuffin of the piece, a leather satchel crammed full of U.S. Naval secrets and stolen from the safe at the Stone family house. The root cause of everyone’s trouble, even El Huracan recognizes the satchel is “touched by the hand of death” and he’s only too pleased to return it to Bond and Precious.

Indeed El Huracan shows more mercy than the fates and, once they negotiate the dreaded ‘Avenue of Death,’ he allows the two youngsters to leave his island, along with Precious’ errant father. Reflecting on their shared adventures, Precious imparts her new found wisdom:

“I’ve learnt not to give in to love. I’ve learnt to keep my distance from something I really wanted with all my heart because, as far as I can see, everything you love gets taken away from you.”

She’s talking about her dead mother, her deceptive father and the young James Bond, who will soon be returning to England. Ultimately, we know she’s paraphrasing the adult Bond’s philosophy, but with all the death and toil on show here, Higson’s forgotten to show how James Bond comes by his own life affirming emotional doctrine.

Disappointing.

2 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

a great review of the novel. ajb007/martini  It's the only Young Bond I've read and didn't like it at all, it put me off even trying the others in the series. ajb007/lol

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Chris, do you think Higson would be better off writing an adult Bond adventure?  I've never read his books, but your reviews seem to indicate that he struggles writing a teen-Bond adventure.  Or, is he like Benson and simply hopeless?