Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

Ian Fleming’s last James Bond adventure – a collection of short stories including Octopussy and The Living Daylights – was published posthumously in 1967.

That wasn’t the end of 007’s adventures in print. Kingsley Amis wrote a well received sequel in 1967 – ‘Colonel Sun’ – and in 1981, Glidrose Publications hired thriller-writer John Gardner to reinvent Bond for the modern era.

What followed were 14 increasingly dreary and unbelievable books which saw an aging Bond gamely struggle through a litany of dumb adventures (the highlight being the rescue of Margaret Thatcher from a hijacked aircraft carrier in 1989’s Win, Lose or Die.)

American thriller author Raymond Bensen was hired in 1996 to continue Gardner’s legacy and the resultant products were even worse – the popularity of the revived film-franchise meant that Bensen cheerfully threw Fleming’s cast of characters out of the window and adopted the movie ones – like an ‘M’ based on Judi Dench’s character.

Things looked a little brighter when British comedian Charlie Higson got the go-ahead to write a series of ‘Young Bond’ books in 2005 – based on Bond’s adventures when he was a teenager at Eton (although Bond was actually expelled from Eton and attended Fettes for the majority of his school career.)

Higson’s books were true to Ian Fleming’s timeline, set in the thirties, and marvelous reads that appealed to adults as much as boys. The start of a great revival?

Apparently so. In 2007, celebrated British author Sebastian Faulks was chosen by the estate of Ian Fleming to write a new Bond adventure to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth. The result? Devil May Care.

Devil May Care goes right back to Bond’s roots. It’s set in 1967, following immediately on from James Bond’s adventures in Jamaica battling against murderous hitman Scaramanga – The Man with the Golden Gun.

The familiar setting is reassuring. This Bond is one you can believe in – young, vibrant and capable. Sebastian Faulks recaptures the voice and feel of Fleming’s writing. Succinct, yet detailed (Faulks, like Fleming himself, was a broadsheet journalist) while confident and experienced in his tastes and personality (whereas Bensen and Gardner’s Bond felt arrogant and opinionated.)

The plot is pure 007. James Bond is balanced on the knife-edge of resigning from the service (a theme examined by Fleming in several books) but is lured back when M needs him to investigate pharmaceuticals giant Dr Julius Gorner – a typical ‘Bond baddie’ with a deformity known as ‘main de singe’ (which means he has a monkey’s paw in place of his left hand.)

Bond’s investigation takes him first to Paris, then to Persia and finally deep into the heart of Soviet Russia as he foils Gorner’s typical ‘Bond baddie’ plan to spark off World War Three.

It’s a solid little adventure story, similar in feel to Fleming’s earlier, ‘better’ books like Moonraker and From Russia with Love. Intentionally or not, Faulks also includes some of Fleming’s trademark lazy errors – such as some glaring inaccuracies in his description of Paris and some rather shaky plot devices designed to move the story forward (although Gorner ‘recruiting’ Bond isn’t nearly as silly as the titular bad guy coercing Bond to do his paperwork in Goldfinger.)

It took Sebastian Faulks six weeks to write Devil May Care and it took me three days to read it. All in all, I was very satisfied – a wonderful (and long awaited) return to form for the Bond literary franchise and a welcome addition to my bookshelf. Now the only question that remains; will Faulks be writing a sequel?


Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Thanks for this, big fan of Sebastian.

Btw Roland - please go and checkout this post and click on the link in it to the Nigella Topless Jug. Don't know why but I just knew this would tickle you as much as it did Stevyn and I!


Anonymous said...

oh, roland! that pic with you and your baby below is adorable! i love the sleeping daddy and baby pics!

that little one is too precious! hope all is well with you guys over there and that you are getting as much sleep as you possibly can! :)