Sunday, 18 October 2015

Wot I'm reading: James Bond - from Pussy to Jeopardy!

Anthony Horowitz: TRIGGER MORTIS


As the creator of teenage Bond clone Alex Rider, Anthony Horowitz was an obvious author from whom to commission a 007 adventure. He has delivered the goods! This is a mission Ian Fleming would surely have put his seal of approval on.

In the early chapters Horowitz uses some original material found in Fleming's papers, a story in which Bond - improbably, it must be said - is coached up to Grand Prix standard in just a few days to challenge a Russian driver who's attempting an assassination for Bond's old adversaries SMERSH.

Yes, we're back in the Cold War. Trigger Mortis (daft title) follows directly on from Goldfinger, with Bond falling out of love with Pussy Galore (hard not to picture Honor Blackman, isn't it?). Surprisingly it's only after the racetrack scenes in Germany that the story gathers momentum, as Bond encounters a new squeeze-in-waiting, Jeopardy (very daft name), and a new adversary, a Korean billionaire called Jason Sin (fairly daft!) who's planning a SPECTRE-sized outrage on behalf of SMERSH, an outrage not too different from the one masterminded by Hugo Drax in Moonraker (the book, not the ultra-daft movie).

The new adversary, it must be said, bears signs of recycling: a mixture of Fleming's Dr No and Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun. But he's a villain of suitably mega-nastiness with a creepy pack of playing cards that determines the fate of anyone who crosses him (echoes of Mr Big?): Bond draws a particularly grisly card and has his closest brush with death since Diamonds Are Forever (cinema version). The climax, which is seriously thrilling, borrows elements from the movie Speed and also features an Oddjob moment (from the film of Goldfinger).

So, yes, rather like the last few Bond pictures, this book is a mish-mash of ingredients we have seen before cooked to a new(ish) recipe. But, in its favour, the pace is cracking and this James Bond feels like the real thing. Horowitz comes closer than any of his predecessors to capturing the style of Fleming. Some authors have written a parody; Horowitz's is definitely a 'hommage'. 

Welcome home, James.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Wot I'm reading: Syria's looted billions

Daniel Silva: THE HEIST


My third Daniel Silva this year - can't get enough of him! Gabriel Allon is the best action hero since Modesty Blaise.

Called in to investigate the savage murder of a rogue art dealer in Switzerland, the Israeli super-spy thinks he could be on the trail of a Caravaggio masterpiece that disappeared (it really did) from a Sicilian church in 1969. But his enquiries soon uncover something bigger than the fate of one painting: the acquisition of a stash of stolen treasures by minions of a murderous Syrian dictator who has looted billions from his war-weary people. The Syrian dictator is not named in the text, but he has a back story that most readers will be familiar with.

The adventure starts as almost a "caper" like Topkapi or one of Peter O'Donnell's literary comic-book Modesty tales, but quickly morphs into a high-octane conspiracy thriller. The surprise ending - alas, without the dictator brought to his knees (we can only watch and hope) - is subtle and richly ironic. 

Audacity is Daniel Silva's middle name, and The Heist finds him, once again, at the very top of his game.