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dlb007,
I'll answer that question when I do my summary of Higson's novels. I don't have an straight answer to that at the moment.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Fair enough.  I look forward to your remaining reviews.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

(Drums fingers) And how many of those are there?

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I think 1 or 2 remain.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

1 remaining book, by royal command, this is the type of book you'll ever love or hate...

“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

Hi there, we thought you might be interested to know that we're starting a serialisation of Jeffery Deaver's new Bond novel, Carte Blanche tomorrow (continuing on Monday and Tuesday), plus video interview with the author and poll on the best classic Bond book. You can access is here from 9pm tonight - http://thetim.es/jOw6a7 Hope you enjoy it!

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Thanks for the heads up, I will certainly pick up a copy.

Mind you, shouldn't you guys be promoting it a bit more widely, it's the first I've heard of it and it's late Friday afternoon!  ajb007/tongue

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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BY ROYAL COMMAND
16/5/2011

http://s2.postimage.org/1t7febskk/byroyalcommand.jpg

2008

In Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, M writes in James Bond’s obituary that his Aunt Charmain was asked to remove him from Eton after two halves over “some alleged trouble with one of the boys’ maids.” Fleming does not elaborate; the suggestion is that there was some kind of carnal activity.

John Pearson, in The Authorised Biography elaborates further and explains that it was not a maid, nor a sexual liaison. It was another boys’ “illegitimate half-sister, a very beautiful half-French girl of seventeen he was in love with.” The indiscretion was to motorbike into London one evening to take the girl to dinner.

I raise this literary point because Higson provides us with another possibility in By Royal Command. His explanation is by far the most improbable and while the first four ‘Young Bond’ novels, despite being mightily silly, can at least sit fairly plausibly into a literary timeline, this one seems to be making hay for the sake of it.

Basically, Higson is picking up on the one certain remaining strand of James Bond’s formative life we can be assured comes from the mind of his creator: his expulsion or otherwise from Eton. The story has the usual elements of derring-do, including a snow bound mountain rescue and avalanche, chases around Eton, fights in Austrian castles, a bit of 1930s plastic surgery and the defusing of a fertilizer bomb. We are also reintroduced to two characters from Bond’s recent past, Colonel Sedova and Doctor Perseus Friend. Most importantly for Higson is Roan, a red headed Irish lass, the new maid at Codrose House, Eton, who turns out to be more than a maid, but not quite a love interest. Bond may be in love and Roan may like him, but they are fated never to be together.

The exercise is fairly robust. The early chapters in Austria are perfunctory and swift. Bond’s ski-bound rescue of his school chum Miles is as macho as they come; the author hardly stretches himself until Bond is buried by the avalanche and even then the writing’s nothing to get excited about.

At Eton we have the usual school bully scenario and a fleeting crush on the new maid. There is a nice twist to James Bond’s persona as, embarrassed by Roan’s worldliness, he echoes Precious Stone’s obnoxious contradictory behaviour towards him in Hurricane Gold: “Why did he feel so foolish in her presence, like a small child? Why did he feel the compulsion to be rude and offhand with her when all he really wanted to do was make her smile?” Bond rejects the suggestion he is in love; the reader knows better. But Higson’s pretty bland when it comes to love, even teenage love. At one point he suggests James Bond “couldn’t think of anything to say, but the expression on his face told the whole story.” What story, I asked, and what expression? Hopeless.

Later the author seems to dip into Doctor Who territory as he feels the need to involve James Bond in a moment of history regarding the succession to the throne. Here, the schoolboy Bond first bumps into the future Queen Elizabeth, who speaks “in a manner that told James she was used to getting her way” and then attends a fabulous cocktail party and is introduced to the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson. While it is accepted Edward VIII had some right wing tendencies, Higson is over the top here and appears to be scoring political points just to read clever. During an extend epilogue someone remarks that “if necessary we will see to it that he never becomes king.” That’s maybe stretching history a bit far.

Naturally James Bond thwarts a Nazi plot to assassinate George V which would allow the ‘Fascist sympathiser’ [my paraphrase] Prince Edward to succeed him. Whether Edward’s political beliefs were as prominent as this and whether he held any influence over government administrations seems unlikely and Higson doesn’t seem to mind that he could be feeding imaginative history to his [mostly young] readership. But I’m digressing.

What the author eventually ends up doing is turning James Bond’s experience of Eton on its head. He hasn’t been involved in his recent adventures through bad luck; he’s been manouvred into them by a scheming member of the S.I.S., his own schoolmaster Michael Merriot. This rather sticks the oar in the mustard as far as any literary legacy is concerned, for we now have to accept that Bond was earmarked for espionage duty as early as his teens – mightn’t it have got mentioned in his obituary or in his biography?

I find this conjecture almost as hurtful as Benson’s character assassination of Marc Ange Draco in Never Dream of Dying. The young James Bond has certainly got it tough for not only is he constantly fighting for his life, he can’t tell anyone about it, not even his Aunt Charmain, “he thought how lonely it was to have secrets.” Having raised the idea, Higson doesn’t really follow it up. There’s a dull passage about the beauty of England and the elite’s sense of fair play, but all this does is make the authorities sound pompous and James Bond, well rather like a naive schoolboy.

What he does do is draw the heavy conclusion that James Bond is changing into the hardened agent we know and recognize. He accepts the truth of Roan’s betrayal and deals with it callously, bundling it with all the “plots, counter plots, dirty secrets and lies,” a neat association to Vesper Lynd’s treachery. We also learn that Bond is able to kill. He shoots Colonel Sedova (although she doesn’t die at that moment) and he brutalises the school bully Bentinck:

“James stood outside himself and coldly watched what he was doing. There was something horribly professional and methodical about it as he slowly beat Bentinck into the dirt…He was no better than a bully himself and he was unnerved by how it had felt…calm almost happy.” 

The book ends up in Austria at a Nazi stronghold, but it’s fairly routine stuff by now and the reappearance of Doctor Friend only adds a sense of déjà vu to the proceedings as the set up for Schloss Donnerspitze is very similar to that in/at Silverfin. It’s all a bit of an anti-climax, especially as the opening chapter is very good, following Colonel Sedova on an OGPU mission.

The Soviet spy nicknamed Babushka sums up much of what is wrong with this and the other ‘Young Bond’ novels: “The life of a spy was not as romantic as it was presented in popular novels. Most of her time was spent being bored to death.” That never happens to our fledgling hero and he seems rather relieved to be heading for Fettes College, for “he hadn’t been scared of mere boys for a long time.”

Good thing then; back to reality, Young Mister Bond.

2 from 10

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A HARD MAN TO KILL
17/5/2011

http://s4.postimage.org/2zi09z7xg/ahardmantokill.jpg

2009

Charlie Higson’s Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier is a sort of encyclopedia of James Bond at Eton, covering the five adventures the author created. I’ll talk a little more about this tome during my summary of Higson’s work. My interest in the book lies in the short story that prefaces the dossier, A Hard Man to Kill.

Two things struck me about the presentation of this story. Foremost, the type face is dramatically smaller; this gave me the impression I was reading a proper novel, not one aimed primarily at children and featuring big spaces and wide letters. Secondly, the story is occasionally illustrated and while this has the reverse effect, the bonus is the pictures provide an insight into Higson’s imagination, showing us what he was attempting to realize. The illustrations work wonders for his pragmatic prose.

But what of the story? Well, it is very slight. James Bond and his Aunt Charmian are returning from Mexico on the cruiser liner Colombie. Among the passengers is a state prisoner, the despicable General Caiboche, the butcher of Aziz, and, in disguise, his cohorts led by Emil Lefebvre. Of course, Caiboche is freed and it is up to James Bond to save the day.

While full of several sharp scenes of torture and bloodletting, this adventure also has James Bond acclimatising to the high life, “a leisurely regime of early nights and regular meals… caviar, pate de fois gras and langoustine.” We see him relax over a game of bridge, chat at the bar with his new friend Rene Mathis – although he isn’t drinking, Mathis is – and finally have a genuine friendship with a girl, the returning Wilder Lawless. For that I liked and enjoyed it. I know we all want the thunder and lightning of a thrilling yarn, but the almost gentle, reflective pace this one starts off at puts it head and shoulders above the last couple of efforts. The fact we don’t have to endure a single page about Eton and Eton bullies probably helps.

What also sets this story apart is the strength of its two evil protagonists. Emil Lefebvre is a heartless man, introduced callously mocking one of Wilder’s horses, “the unfortunate beast looked as if it had been grabbed by some giant’s hand.” His main preoccupation is his outward appearance for “it was impossible keeping smart in this line of work [and] he had not dressed for business this morning” – his business being the casual execution of a customs inspector. Later, he is frustrated when losing a few rubbers at bridge; it seems to upset his foppish exterior. Appearances can be deceptive.

Caiboche meanwhile is a monster. He is Higson’s most viciously demonic creation to date: “a man of rectangles… his head was a solid square brick sitting on a wide square neck… he seemed to fill the room and suck all the oxygen and light out of it… there was an eerie stillness about him… a sense of tremendous stored up energy.” James Bond first meets Caiboche just after the General has slaughtered his bodyguards; now his hands are “lying still in small puddles of blood.” It’s an intense realistic portrait of the body and mind of a psychotic. His “soft feminine voice,” is an odd almost familial contrast, God’s amusing paradox, to his beefy masculinity, a fact reinforced when he crushes a man’s skull or when he ushers his soldiers huskily forward “to the death.” He cares nothing for these men who crawl at his feet: “insects, useless insects.”

Higson’s climax to the story is powerful, as Caiboche battles the sea, recalling the hell of his life history. The succinctness of the prose serves the author better than many longer passages in his other work. Indeed, the short story format suits Higson’s prose very well and I wonder if this isn’t where his real forte lies.

A Hard Man to Kill is a slight, but excitingly gripping tale. It has much descriptive merit and isn’t long enough to tire the reader with endless repetitive situations. Narratively, it slots in quite nicely amongst the other ‘Young Bond’ adventures. Best of all, the tremendously compelling villains and the interpretation of a more adult James Bond make this a convincing and more than worthwhile enterprise.

Truth be told, A Hard Man to Kill surprised me. I’d recommend it above any of Charlie Higson’s novels. It’s that good.

6 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (17th May 2011 21:20)

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Interesting review, i probably agree with you on The hard man to kill, so is that the end of your reviews.
(Don't you have the moneypenny diares to 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:

Interesting review, i probably agree with you on The hard man to kill, so is that the end of your reviews.
(Don't you have the moneypenny diares to review)

Oh, god, do I have to?
I'm not over familar with the history of the Moneypenny Trilogy, but I'm not over excited by what I do know. Aren't they more to do with Moneypenny messing about at MI6 HQ and having clandestine (completely unlikely) assignations with James Bond (is he even called James Bond?) while the "author" Kate westbrooke investigates her "mother's" role in MI6 in the 50s and 60s - you can see where I'm going with this.....

Carte Blanche is next up, my friend. Miss Moneypenny will have to wait for another [completely unrelated] thread. At the moment, whatever IFP says (and it took them long enough) I don't consider them continuation novels, more a spin off, and that simply isn't the same thing...

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No 003 and a half, then?  ajb007/wink

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

chrisno1 wrote:
xboy614 wrote:

Interesting review, i probably agree with you on The hard man to kill, so is that the end of your reviews.
(Don't you have the moneypenny diares to review)

Oh, god, do I have to?
I'm not over familar with the history of the Moneypenny Trilogy, but I'm not over excited by what I do know. Aren't they more to do with Moneypenny messing about at MI6 HQ and having clandestine (completely unlikely) assignations with James Bond (is he even called James Bond?) while the "author" Kate westbrooke investigates her "mother's" role in MI6 in the 50s and 60s - you can see where I'm going with this.....

Carte Blanche is next up, my friend. Miss Moneypenny will have to wait for another [completely unrelated] thread. At the moment, whatever IFP says (and it took them long enough) I don't consider them continuation novels, more a spin off, and that simply isn't the same thing...

I've only read the first of the Moneypenny trilogy...again, I rather enjoyed it....as with Higson's Young Bond series you have to read them for what they are, not what they are not ajb007/wink

YNWA: Justice For The 96

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

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CHARLIE HIGSON’S YOUNG BOND SERIES

http://s1.postimage.org/1iez1683o/dangersociety.jpg

2009

I’m not exactly torn here. I didn’t really warm to these five stories for a basic reason and one which Higson outlines himself in the preface to Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier:

“I don’t for one moment think this was the childhood he [Ian Fleming] imagined for his hero. I expect he thought James would have had a pretty normal life before the war broke out. But you lot wouldn’t have wanted to read about James doing homework and playing football and getting a cold and being bored in lessons.”

At the risk of ignoring the literary merit of the Young Bond series, this is precisely the problem. You need to suspend all belief about the character as we know him from Casino Royale and up to Colonel Sun and The Authorised Biography. [Here, I’m excluding the later continuation novels as Higson only references Fleming in his preface. Also Gardner and Benson tend to mutilate Bond’s past to create his present and future; Markham and Pearson do not.] The suggestion has always been that James Bond, while a tough, resilient man, learnt his trade during the war and not before. Pearson hints that he was somewhat notorious, but that his war experiences toughened him up, straightened out his foibles and placed him firmly in the hands of the OSS, who saw the makings of a killer.

Pearson’s novel suggests Bond’s first brush with justifiable murder was an attempt to kill his traitorous lover. This offers a more rounded interpretation of how Fleming’s Bond, the world weary, establishment figure with cool eyes and a cruel mouth, may have come to be. Higson merely provides us with five stirring tales, very much ‘boy’s own adventures’ as a contributor here fashioned them, which, while not without excitement, would have worked much better had they been fully fledged adult Bond stories, either set in the fifties or brought bang up to date.

The scientific elements Higson brings to his stories, the hormone injections and super computers, are as modern as the day and the pre-war political elements of Fascism and Communism could easily be replaced by the Cold War or the War on Terror. That’s not to say he hasn’t done well to make them factually accurate. The Young Bond Dossier enlightens the reader tremendously on the research Higson has performed about cars, guns, locations and 1930s history. He’s a little shaky on the politics, but this only becomes a real problem in By Royal Command when he blatantly suggests the OSS had a hand in forcing the abdication crisis.

What The Dossier also does is provide us with illustrated snapshots of the characters. I found this slightly disconcerting as I already had vivid images in my head. To learn the gorgeously described sensual wildcat Vendetta is only thirteen years old was something of a shock. Similarly Precious Stone looks suspiciously West Indian and Roan Power is the least attractive of the lot, which you wouldn’t expect given the central role she is supposed to play in Bond’s formative emotional life. The villains too seem to be cartoon caricatures and the pictures add nothing to their already sketchy personas.

‘Caricatures’ is a good word to describe much of Higson’s people. While the short story A Hard Man to Kill contains one quite exceptional villain, the powerful Caiboche, there really isn’t much depth and insight to anyone else The baddies always seem to have a slightly demented streak, the girls are or become tough and resourceful, his school pals are a laugh, his teachers rather glum and fussy, many of the incidental characters provide light relief. This is very standard, dare I say it, unoriginal writing. But of course, it doesn’t really have to be anything more as the stories are designed for a youthful, less worldly, readership.

And I mean designed. Each chapter is a similar length, features a modicum of action and ends on a cliff hanger. And there are an awful lot of chapters to these novels. The picaresque style of Hurricane Gold shows how forced this formula is, as James and Precious embark on an extended road trip up the coast of Mexico, supposedly escaping from a band of villains, when the real story is taking place on the island of Lagrimas Negras. The novel could have been half the length and achieved the same effect. There isn’t much teenage spying in it; the book’s more of a western although at the end it has mutated into a horror flick.

The horror genre is clearly an influence on Higson – he does after all write adult horror novels – and this is a trait utilsed to good effect when describing individual moments of chilling brutality, but one which has less success if a whole section of the story is focused on it. Silverfin’s weird steroid monsters and Hurricane Gold’s bizarre ‘Avenue of Death’ are simply too ghastly to be taken seriously. The number of baddies who have suffered irreparable damage to limbs or faces is also startlingly high.

Of the other genre strands, Higson gives a fairly humdrum school drama. Eton seems fairly jolly except for the arrival of a new bully every term. The teachers could have sprung from Goodbye Mr. Chips. The thrills are okay; hit and miss. Occasionally he gets it spot on. Some of the sequences in Double or Die are wonderful: the opening gambit at Highgate cemetery, the sickly gin soaked torture scene and the high octane car chase. Blood Fever also shows promise. But the laboured nature of what occurs in some of the other novels only adds to their unwieldiness.

Higson steers well clear of romance. I know these stories are meant for a young readership, but I was reading Dr No at ten years of age and I think most modern youngsters can handle a bit more than the odd kiss and hug. I would have expected at least one of his heroines to take young James in hand; they are after all generally older than him and, with the exception of Vendetta, need rescuing by our young hero. They have plenty to be thankful for.       

So does Higson get under the skin of the young James Bond? Well, I guess he just about does. It takes him five novels and a short story, but at the end of By Royal Command James has reached a few conclusions about life which will shape his emotional makeup:

“How marvelous it would be not to have to grow up and deal with the messiness in the world. But he knew you couldn’t stop time and you couldn’t keep the world away. Sooner or later it would come looking and find you and drag you kicking and screaming back to its chaotic, churning belly.

“There were ways of dealing with the world. There were ways of understanding it. James would learn the best way… He would protect his heart better in the future. He would grow a tough shell around it. Because he was painfully aware, sitting here, all alone, like some eagle in his eyrie, that this was his position in the world.

“Alone.”

As good a philosophy as this is, it doesn’t help me enjoy the stories anymore. It is a pointer that suggests Higson can do more. The boldness of some of his prose hints at an adult writer trying to bring the adult world to the child’s every day. There’s really too much blood and gore for a younger readership and not enough emotional maturity for older ones. The tales are strung between the two, a sort of adolescent no man’s land.

Here, I have some sympathy with Charlie Higson, who tries but fails to serve two masters. He’s brave enough to try, but it’s a very tricky skill to pull off. We have a better idea of what he’s capable of in the more mature A Hard Man to Kill, where James reads and acts less like a teenager and more like a young man, the veritable ‘Young Bond’ of the series title. That this story is also remarkably concise suggests Higson was required to deliver five manuscripts of a prerequisite length. This could not have aided his storytelling, which tends to meander. Even the competent Double or Die, which takes place over three days, feels like three weeks.     

I’m not suggesting Higson could write a mature Bond novel – although he would probably make a decent fist of it – more that he’s not well represented by the format he’s working too. The Young Bond novels are fine if you like repetitive incident packed adventures. If you like tension and character development, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Leaving aside my misgivings about the continuity issues, the plots we have are ingenious, but the baggage that hangs off them is often tedious and overblown.

Personally, I find Charlie Higson’s brevity of prose in A Hard Man to Kill far more rewarding than the elongated paragraphs of the full length novels. A few short stories, some of spectacular derring-do, others of more mundane school bound hi-jinks, might just have sufficed for this reviewer. Sadly, what I actually have doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Brave, then, but disappointing.

p.s.
If I was a child, I think I’d rather enjoy the Young Bond Adventures, certainly the first three, and it would be a fine introduction to the world of the literary James Bond. You can’t say fairer than that.





FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: TOP TO BOTTOM, MY YOUNG BOND RANKINGS

1.    A Hard Man to Kill
2.    Double or Die
3.    Blood Fever
4.    SIlverfin
5.    Hurricane Gold
6.    By Royal Command

Last edited by chrisno1 (24th May 2011 22:55)

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mmmmmm, intersting, i personally would put
1.hard man to kill
2. By royal command
3.double or die
4.hurricane gold
5.bloodfever
6.silverfin

“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

Please note: this review does feature spoilers. Read with caution.


CARTE BLANCHE
31/5/2011

http://s4.postimage.org/1j5j2qpus/carte_blanche.jpg

2011

Carte Blanche isn’t going to surprise anyone who has read even a small selection of Jeffrey Deaver’s work. As if in answer to his straight laced hero’s constant concerns regarding “purpose and response” Deaver has supplied us with 400 or so pages of adventure which is certainly fit for purpose; whether it will elicit an appropriately satisfying response in its readership rather rests on how much you like Mr Deaver’s storytelling formula.

I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that Deaver isn’t a fly-by-night author. He’s published nearly thirty hugely successful novels. Like Fleming he was once a journalist. He’s an award winner. What he lacks in literary muscle, which Kingsley Amis via Robert Markham supplied for Colonel Sun, he makes up for with a spider’s web of intrigue and interest which puts the efforts of John Gardner and Raymond Benson to shame. The less said here about Sebastian Faulks the better, but suffice to say Deaver’s initial stab at the James Bond legacy comfortably surpasses that dismal homage.   

The James Bond of Carte Blanche isn’t the Bond of Ian Fleming, in that while Deaver borrows hallmarks of his life before joining the secret service (military background, orphan, Chelsea pad, gambler, bon viveur) he doesn’t attempt to chart the course favoured by other writers and merely lump our hero with the same characteristic historical, psychological and personal baggage. For this I applaud him. Taking inspiration no doubt from the film franchises ‘reboot’ starring Daniel Craig, Deaver is cutting his own teeth into the Bond mythology.

So now in the year 2011, Bond doesn’t work for the S.I.S. any longer. Instead there’s an outfit called the Overseas Development Group or ODG, a covert operational arm of the Foreign Office. Although they share information with both MI5 and MI6, the ODG isn’t afraid to “play by a different set of rules... [they] protect the realm by any means necessary.” This fictional organisation is a solid creation, hidden in a side street off Regents Park “a narrow six storey Edwardian building separated from bustling Marylebone Road by lacklustre solicitor’s quarters” and, like most of Deaver’s London, quite believable.

The head of the ODG is nominally referred to as M and he bears more than a passing resemblance to Fleming’s creation, “he wore a grey suit that perfectly matched his eyes… [and] looked steadily at Bond without challenge or disdain.” He’s even an Admiral and called Miles and his office is cryptically called “M’s lair.” This is the first of a series of minor disappointments which jar across the fresh landscape of Deaver’s 007. While the new offices and the new operational procedures are hi-tech and modern, best exemplified by the apps on the amazing “iQphone,” much of the personnel and the banter are startlingly familiar, if more attuned to the movies than the books.

Miss Moneypenny, Mary Goodnight, Bill Tanner and even May the housekeeper are on hand, as if to tell the reader all is well and things haven’t changed that much. Later Bond utilises Rene Mathis’ surveillance team and meets his chum Felix Leiter. Both episodes feel contrived, the latter particularly is an inconsequential few chapters in Dubai, which serve nothing to the novel except to emphasise the villain’s sexual kink. The whole sequence could have been evolved in Cape Town, where the book reaches its climax.       

There is a fetching dalliance for Bond in London, Ophelia Maidenstone, a mouthful of a name for the sophisticated extreme sports loving Intel-Officer who provides Bond with much of his covert information. She’s recently separated and he declines the invitation to bed her because “she was a woman he might let into his life.” Unlike previous incarnations the restraint is noteworthy, especially as Bond’s concern is for her well fare, ill-matched with his “serious face and hunter’s demeanour.” In fact, this version of 007 feels very real and modern, while retaining the edge of the original:

“There’s no shortage of chaps about who know their way around a sniper rifle. But they don’t necessarily fit into other subtler situations. And there are plenty of talented Five and Six fellows who know the difference between a Cote de Beaune and a Cote de Nuits and can speak French as fluently as they can Arabic, but who’d faint at the sight of blood… You seem to be a rather rare combination of the best of both.”

This Bond is astute. His eyes are “hard and set like a predator’s.” He has an insight and understanding of his foes, realising “evil can be tirelessly patient" that “your enemies purpose will dictate your response.” He’s a tough man with a tough uncompromising job. Threatened with detention in South Africa, Bond exudes menace, “his eyes defied them to try and stop him,” while in Serbia he abandons a wounded agent rather than lose his target. He’s not to be messed with and remains unruffled under pressure, “for a man who has killed in battle and nearly died himself is not cowed.” For all that, Bond also displays compassion, and isn’t adverse to a little humour.

While I miss the sexy antics of Fleming’s writing, the fact Deaver studiously avoids the obvious couplings makes this Bond more human and, oddly, more mature than before. His “romantic life was more complicated than most… You can keep secrets from those you’re close to for only so long… Plausible deniability might work at Whitehall but it didn’t last between lovers.” Deaver isn’t very good at sex scenes anyway; he compares the moment of seduction to skiing, “a beautiful but perilous downhill run,” which seems rather macho, though not unpleasant to the recipient of Bond’s attention, Felicity Willing, “a lioness preparing to descend on a herd of gazelles.” She’s much more direct than our circumspect James Bond: “You look reasonably fit” she purrs.

So what’s the adventure all about? Well, Bond is tracking Severan Hydt, a multimillionaire whose money has been made in recycling. Hydt is linked to ‘Incident Twenty,’ a terrorist threat as yet uncertain and M allows 007 “carte blanche” to follow the trail. Here another of Deaver’s annoying traits takes route: he uses italics to emphasise particular words or phrases (e.g. “transparency… most… plausible deniability… carte blanche…”). It’s as if he doesn’t believe we can interpret what we read. The addition of several pause breaks “…” also annoys. This is lazy, almost condescending, writing and I expected better from this author. His prose is good enough for us to grasp any intended meaning and he doesn’t need to remind us. Worse, when Bond lands in South Africa a whole sentence is written in this fashion. It’s supposed to emphasise Bond’s cynicism about both air travel and fate, but there’s no elaboration, nothing as intricate as what Fleming offered us in Diamonds are Forever and the sentence sits abandoned on the page, unloved words among a host of dressy, though ordinary travelogue style paragraphs.   

Indeed Deaver’s descriptive abilities are not generally laudable. He’s best keeping it simple. There’s a well realised train wreck in Serbia which starts in an atmospheric evening haze and later Bond is crawling about in an abandoned military hospital, its ceiling “scored like a cracked eggshell… as if a hand clap would bring the whole thing down.” When visiting the Green Way recycle centre, Bond is reminded of Auschwitz: “an imposing security fence… a stark crescent of metal letters.” The bleak South African townships are “endless paths… all the shacks constructed of mismatched panels of plywood and corrugated metal.” At times he’s almost over simplistic (“Dunne shot him twice in the head”).

The mainstay of a thriller however should be the action, but Deaver also fails us here. Most of it, a couple of hand-to-hand fights excluded, is confusing and ill described, especially a gun battle outside a huge recycling plant, which drags on endlessly without seeming to go anywhere. Some of the violence seems to be inserted for spurious reasons; for instance, I never understood why Deaver introduces a minor subplot involving the firebombing of a cleaner’s house or why he has a Serb intelligence agent trailing Bond across the globe and eventually trying to kill him. Undeniable implausibility, perhaps? The eventual climax is dull indeed, a cowboys-in-a-cabin shootout which takes place near the Twelve Apostle Mountains.

This is all humdrum stuff. These should be moments of tension and terror, but they pass by in a rather unexciting fashion, complicated by too much dialogue and too many shifting points-of-view – another trait of Mr Deaver’s work. Too often he cuts away from Bond’s POV and tells us how his adversary is experiencing the incident. Rather than increasing the suspense, this deflates the reader’s interest, as the story’s focus rests mainly on James Bond and his antics. Used once or twice, for surprise value, the form has merit, but Deaver overplays his hand and the device, which is a literary version of a cinematic edit, occurs at the very start and reoccurs throughout the narrative. By the time it’s employed at the end, I hardly cared anymore and simply raised my eyebrows in mock astonishment.       

To make up for this deficiency, Deaver has concentrated instead on old fashioned espionage and modern technological detail. This is rather heart-warming. M’s lair might be the office of old, but there’s plenty of new blood in the ODG. Bond’s accomplices are remarkably, almost impossibly, swift in providing him with the gizmos and gimmicks he needs to complete his mission, including a pen-come-mobile phone which saves impending disaster – so swiftly applied again that if you blink you’ll not read it. Bond may drive a Bentley Continental at home, but abroad he tries to blend in using a police Jetta and a battered Alfa Romeo. He also uses his wits to unravel the pieces of the villain’s jigsaw when technology is failing him. Bond is well aware of the vagaries’ of spy craft. “The war I’m fighting, the enemy, might even be on your side,” he intones, and is justified after realising MI5 are actually spying on the ODG. As befits a rounded character, he occasionally makes mistakes, contacting the promotion chasing Osbourne-Smith instead of Bill Tanner and failing to spot the flaws in Felicity Willing’s make-up until it’s almost too late.

Once again this is more to do with Deaver’s writing style, which relies on red herrings to keep the reader on their toes. The Dubai episode is one; the vengeful Serbian agent another; mortifyingly he provides a final twist at the novel’s end and the effect is to almost negate everything that has gone before. Other than extending the piece by another forty pages, Deaver’s method completely destroys the centre point of villainy in the novel, Severan Hydt.

Hydt is a mass of contradictions. His business is phenomenally hi-tech and he’s been dabbling in E-warfare, developing the Gehenna machine, a process which scans and reconstructs classified waste material to be sold to the highest bidder. This is an intelligent, modern ruse which sits well in Deaver’s world of computer and satellite communication, intelligence and counter intelligence. Yet Hydt’s true obsession is with waste material, “I love decay, decline, the things others shun,” he remarks, and he’s named himself after Septimus Severus, the last great Roman who sowed the seeds of the empire’s destitution. The neurosis has even spread to his sexual needs and he catalogues photographs of dead bodies, worshipping them, “he was no more repulsed by it than an abattoir worker the odour of blood and viscera.” Deaver’s protagonists often have peculiar urgent eccentricities and I guess necrophilia was next on his list. Bond’s observation that “the man’s got a whole new idea about porn” is a line which strays a bit too far into nauseous humour for Hydt isn’t a pornographer. I was reminded more of Norman Bates, although Hydt, being a multimillionaire, employs others to find his cadavers or do his killings.

That heavy role is supplied by Niall Dunne, a curiously asexual master planner variously described as an “an architect… a draughtsman… a man who leaves nothing to chance.” Despite the moniker, he’s as fallible as Bond, and it’s Dunne’s lack of one hundred per cent security at Green Way which leaves the door open for Bond’s infiltrations. He’s blinded by unrequited love, as obsessed with his amour as Hydt is with corpses. The revelation he and not his boss is the major player in the grand scheme is somewhat unsatisfactory, for at no point does he display the haunting, fearful, abject, corrosive qualities of Severan Hydt, a slice of villainy worth an entrance into the grand canon of Bond Bad Guys. I’d give him a seat just for the audacity of using a gaol door for a desk.

By the end of the novel, all the loose ends tied up, Bond is contemplating a moment of “truth and reconciliation” with Bekka Jordaan, the fractious police officer who eventually aids him in Cape Town. Bekka is another of Deaver’s contradictory characters and she isn’t entirely successful: too argumentative to be attractive, whatever her beauty; too officious to be interesting to Bond or the reader; too docile to be sexually intriguing.

In some respects her messed up home life is a mirror of Bond’s own of lies and death, “espionage, that great landscape of subtext.” Deaver introduces a sub-element to Bond’s world as he learns (like Higson’s Young Bond before him) that one of his parents may have been a spy. This minor sub plot hardly helps the novel. It’s another of Deaver’s red herrings, and he seems to enjoy teasing and toying the reader. No purpose, no response.

Overall, there is much to like in Carte Blanche. What it lacks in action it makes up for in intrigue and character, especially with a more resolute, authentic Bond and a bone fide nemesis in Severan Hydt. There are plenty of minor plot holes and an assortment of red herrings, but these don’t detract from the novel’s overall impact. The eventual climax is a bit of a disappointment and no amount of crackle and spark in the dialogue can hide that, but much of what leads up to it is excellent. Modern thrillers tend to read quite a bit like this and Jeffrey Deaver has provided exactly that, ignoring the previous conventions and treading his own pathway through the field of 007 folklore. Carte Blanche indeed.
 
6 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (31st May 2011 16:20)

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Spot on as always, Chris.  I'd probably give the novel the same rating.  Where do you think IFP will go from here?

Deaver has said it was only a one-shot deal.  Do you see "Project X" carrying on, or do you think it will be another few years until we see another Bond novel, possibly rebooted once more?

I've seen names like Frederick Forsyth, Ken Follet, and Lee Child tossed around as potential authors.  Others have said that it could be those who wrote the introductions in the latest Penguin editions; Deaver wrote the intro for Casino Royale.

Do you have any names that you think would be appropriate?

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

ajb007/crap  Wow!  I didn't read your review Chris, just viewed the 6/10 rating.  I am waiting for my copy.  That really scares me as I have found your reviews spot on.

I really wish you would consider reviewing the Titan comics.  I have found them the best Bond writing post Fleming.:p

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

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Again, this is a classic AJB thread - there's much of interest here to the fan of Gardner and Benson alike!

Writer @ The Bondologist Blog (TBB)
Follow TBB on Twitter: Dragonpol 
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Read a sample TBB article: King Ernst I

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Yeah, Chrisno1 s reviews are quite,something, great,to,read before of after reading a Bond novel. I might review some myself, so you should see a review to nobody lives forever and From Russia with love

“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

I have noticed, with some surprise, that I never posted a review of William Boyd's SOLO. Unusual as I wrote one when i read it. Seems I never bothered to post. It was either an oversight or [SPOILER ALERT] confirmation of disappointment.
Still, here it is, in all its glory and years late...

SOLO
8/10/2016

https://s9.postimg.org/golrs05qj/Solo.jpg

2013

Oh dear.

I’m coming to the party a little late. I’ll be honest and say that from the off there was nothing that excited me about SOLO. It has a rubbish title, a rubbish cover, the premise (featuring an imaginary country – not just the odd politician, casino or hotel, but a whole damn country) has me shaking my head and, without intending disrespect, I am not familiar with Mr Boyd’s work.

Sadly I now don’t want to be.

SOLO isn’t as bad as Sebastian Faulk’s quick knock-off job and I am grateful for that. However, while at times the prose summons faint memories of Ian Fleming, overall it is a thin enterprise which relies much on a long, dull and complicated chapter towards the end of the novel which attempts to resolve almost every thread of the narrative. This is a one-to-one conversation between OO7 and his mate Felix Leiter, a man who still seems to know more about the CIA than the CIA despite not working for them. I was reminded of the chapter in Casino Royale entitled ‘The Nature of Evil’ when Bond and Mathis discuss the devil of the detail. Fleming’s chapter resonates highly because the discussion centres on emotions, the sins of cold war politics and latent human psychology; all Boyd’s long esoteric conversation tells us is that James Bond needn’t have been on the mission in the first place as the CIA had all angles covered.

There is a villain (I think) but I had a hard time figuring out who it was. Initially it seems Bond is being sent to assassinate Solomon Adeka, the leader of the rogue African state of Dahum, but M isn’t clear. It’s never explained why M is reluctant to give Bond a defined objective. This reenacts the worst of John Gardner’s continuation efforts and from the briefing onwards I was searching for cross and double cross and wasn’t surprised when the twists and turns duly arrived. They clunked like empty whisky bottles and had no joy in them for this reader.

Later we find three more antagonists, the brutal Jakobus Creed, the lean Colonel Denga and the arms dealer and fervent political activist Hulbert Linck. None of these supposed bad guys have any menace to them. Creed is perhaps the most finely drawn, but after initially appearing to be an efficient, brutal, callous mercenary, his guard slips badly as he’s forced to allow Bond to orchestrate the defence of Dahum. This completely diminishes the character’s stature as it appears he’s hopeless at his own career and no amount of wielding corpses onto butcher’s hooks can restore it. Incidentally, Gardner also did this neat killer’s signature back in ‘Nobody Runs Forever’ and he did it better too.

There are two women for Bond to seduce. The most interesting of these is a skin-flick actress called Bryce Fitzjohn, aka Astrid Ostergaard, whom Bond clearly fancies, but also exploits. Bond recognizes the similarities in their make-up and their union felt very genuine. I enjoyed the scenes in which she featured. Bond is very natural in these London bound episodes. In fact the best of Boyd’s story occurs in the first few chapters when he is encapsulating James Bond’s home life as our hero reflects on his past through a series of flashbacks.

These scenes have purpose and imagination: Bond is suspicious of the motives of a stranger; he’s unable to relax; he’s bothered about his age; he’s turning into a habitué; he has money and time on his hands; he both likes and dislikes aspects of 1969 Britain; he’s haunted by the past. There is a brilliantly described break in to Bryce’s  home, where he voyeuristically witnesses her undress, and several passages reminisce on the gaudy sleaze of 1960s fashion. I understood this world, one of colour and coincidence, where a chance encounter or a sudden decision can lead to boundless possibilities, moments of love and sex, intrigue and death, all rolling as one.

Sadly by the time Bond has reached Africa and the author believes he had defined our hero, the characterisations become less detailed. The nominal heroine, Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, is your standard double crossing CIA agent who seduces Bond with ease, appears to be a baddie and eventually reveals her true colours at the point of termination. I hardly cared a jot for her, especially as at one point during a fire fight she goes screaming into the jungle and really ought to have been shot dead. This particular scene reminded me of the machine gunning in ‘Dr. No’ and I wondered, why it is that Ian Fleming can create tension and excitement with such a simple premise, but William Boyd can’t. The reason is simple: Fleming’s personas are established early and for the most part he abides by them, introducing nuances and background through the story, but essentially the narrative is driven by how these characters interact. So the excitement in ‘Dr. No’ derives from Bond and Honey’s shared plight, their reaction to it and their interaction throughout it, not from the entanglement itself. Boyd meanwhile chooses the opposite. He’s less interested in the people and more interested in the politic behind them. His characters (even in the London scenes) spend a lot of time talking about what they are doing and why, but not much about how that effects each other. Hence when we have moments of tension they tail off very badly because we simply don’t care enough about these people. And that applies to the dull as ditchwater climax as well.

Bond ‘goes solo’ in the final third and it’s good to see him doing some proper spying a la 1969, but not very much happens and while Boyd is keen to give us thorough descriptions, his lack of memorable metaphors is disappointing. I had no sense of place or atmosphere. Even in war torn Africa, everything’s written if you’d watched it on a newsreel or read it in a paper, snippets of detail with no encompassing sweep, no picture beyond the image laid before us. Subsequently the locations become startlingly bland. Perhaps Boyd’s most notable line (and one still prevalent today) comes when Bond buys weapons and ammunition from a Washington gun store: ‘he marveled just how easy it was to arm yourself in the land of the free.’

I could probably go on, but I feel my disappointment might turn to ire. This is a very sad episode. While the London scenes and the Normandy flashbacks showed great promise, overall the piece is rather unimaginative and for all its length, James Bond doesn’t do much of any importance, he’s simply the lynch pin for everyone else’s machinations.

Oh dear, oh dear…

5 from 10

See also:
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/33508/bond-novel-reviews/
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/34464/bon … l-reviews/
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/36035/bon … ews-vol-2/
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/31479/two … e-reviews/


Edit:
I misprinted this.
It should have been : 3 out of 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (19th Nov 2016 14:13)

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

In my opinion Solo, was one of the worst continuing novels.   ajb007/crap  made the R Benson
Books look good.  ajb007/wink

"Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one."

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

Thunderpussy wrote:

In my opinion Solo, was one of the worst continuing novels.   ajb007/crap  made the R Benson
Books look good.  ajb007/wink

I thought Solo was one of the better latter Bond novels...miles ahead of Benson's for me, TP  ajb007/martini

YNWA: Justice For The 96

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

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

My Benson remark was a joke ( they were bad ) but I honestly found Solo so boring.

"Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one."

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews: Vol 2

I also found solo a bit dull, some good ideas, and I wouldn't have minded reading another where bond finishes off the disfigured south African villain ( forget his name now) 
Really couldn't get on with carte blanche.

It was either that.....or the priesthood