Monday, 23 December 2013

What I'm reading: the new JAMES BOND

William Boyd: SOLO

William Boyd's contribution to the 007 'canon' ignores Jeffrey Deaver's recent attempt to re-brand our hero in the style of the Daniel Craig movies. Boyd's Bond, like Sebastian Faulks's five years ago, takes Ian Fleming's (you could almost say Sean Connery's) Bond back to the 1960s. M sends him to the West African state of Zanzarim to intervene in a brutal civil war. Surprise, surprise, Bond is soon working with a gorgeous and intelligent black girl who, of course, comes with the requisite air of mystery and removable garments.

The mission reaches a messy climax two-thirds of the way through the book. Ignoring M's orders to stay out of it, Bond flies to Washington D.C. to investigate the organization that was linked to the breakaway faction in Zanzarim under the guise of a humanitarian operation. I doubt if I am the only reader to second-guess what's going on before the 'big reveal', but the plot has a few twists and shocks.

Ian Fleming would, I think, be very pleased with Solo which slots chronologically immediately after Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun (1968). Like Amis (who used the pen-name Robert Markham for his Bond book), William Boyd gets the style and the tone just right: that mix of mission and travel adventure with a couple of saucy ladies falling into Bond's path. John Gardner got it right some of the time (he wrote fourteen new novels and a couple of 'novelizations' of movie scripts). Raymond Benson's efforts were like novelizations of future movies (none filmed so far); Jeffrey Deaver took too many liberties, like the writers of the Daniel Craig movies. Sebastian Faulks got the tone right, but Devil May Care had somewhat the feel of a parody. One line in Solo read like a piss-take: Bond's Jensen Interceptor starts up with a 'virile baritone roar' - a 'girlish baritone squeal' wouldn't make much sense, would it?

If Solo has a serious flaw it is that Bond's chief adversary, despite facial scars and displays of ruthlessness, is more like a henchman than a full-blown mega-villain. In fact, no other writer since Fleming has come up with an adversary of the calibre of Dr No or Goldfinger or Hugo Drax. The new breed of opponent may be closer to the guys our real-life MI6 agents come up against, but I'm sure I'm not the only reader who feels a painful nostalgia for Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Still, if points are to be awarded, I give William Boyd 008 out of ten for this one. The ending of Solo hints at a sequel. I hope the publishers let him have another crack at it.