It’s been a while since my last book review on my blog, in part because it’s been a while since I finished reading a novel. But, finally (okay, after two weeks), I’ve finished the most recent James Bond novel, by Sebastian Faulks, which continues where Ian Fleming’s last Bond Novel left off. Is Faulks a worthy successor to Fleming (or at least the other non-Fleming writers to take on 007 – John Gardner and Raymond Benson)? If he isn’t, how good is the book?
It is the dawn of the “swinging ’70s”. James Bond has been on leave for 3 months since the events of The Man With the Golden Gun (the novel, not the film). However, he gets pulled off his leave early to investigate an heroin smuggling cartel which is suspected to be run by pharmaceutical mogul Julius Gorner, a man who has a unique deformity, one hand is large and furry like an ape’s – but it doesn’t have an functioning opposable thumb. He also has a passionate, fervent hatred of the UK, and only 007 stands in his way.
This is very much a Bond story in the Fleming style. There are little to no gadgets used by Bond. The book pays the same attention to continuity with Bond’s previous novels that Fleming did with his novels. The book had it’s changes from Fleming’s style, some for the worse (which I’ll get to in a second), but this felt like a Bond novel, like as opposed to Benson and Gardner’s novels, which felt like Bond movies.
While Fleming’s Bond novels were products of their times, they never wore the trappings of their times on their sleeves the same way this did. I never felt like they were beating me around the head and shoulders with “This is the ’60s.” In part, this is because the 60s and late 50s were current when Fleming was writing, in the same way that the late 1800s were current when Bram Stoker was writing Dracula, and including such cutting edge technology as Dr. Seward’s dictated diaries on wax cylinders, and blood transfusion. Here, on the other hand, Faulks tries too hard to remind us, the reader, that the book is set in the ’70s. This leads into some problems which I’ll get into under the Ugly.
In short, Faulks tries too hard. he tries too hard to establish that the book is set in the ’70s, and play up Bond’s dissatisfaction with the times (remember Bond bad-mouthing the Beatles in Goldfinger – sort of like that). They play up the US’s involvement in Vietnam, though they never go there, and the dirty tricks of the Nixon presidency – and they end up becoming political, more so than Fleming ever was in the Bond novels. Now, I have no problems with books being political, but the politicization of this book actually took me out of it some what.
Additionally, Faulks villain, Gorner, is actually too evil. It’s not just a matter of fighting drug smugglers (Mr. Big in Live and Let Die was proof that Faulks was willing to involve drugs in his plots). It’s Gorner’s immense hatred of everything even vaguely British that goes above and beyond the Nazis’ hatred of Eastern Europe, and white supremacists’ hatred of people of color. It’s the treatment of addicts in Gorner’s plant, and his use of gang rape and murder as punishment for female infiltrators (though he never actually subjects any of the female characters to such acts). All and all, it feels like it’s too far for a Bond novel, and that it instead belonged to something more R-rated.
If you’re a die-hard Bond fan who happened to have this book slip under your radar, go ahead and give it a read. However, if you’re new to the Bond novels after Fleming, someone coming into the novels after just seeing the movies, or just a casual fan who reads the novels every now and then, I’d recommend giving it a pass – unless Faulk writes a second Bond novel, then you might want to check this one out from the library.