The Ian Fleming Estate won’t let just anyone write a James Bond novel, and I think that’s a good thing. Sebastian Faulkes made a decent job of it, and now Anthony Horowitz has taken a very similar tack of moving everyone’s favourite hard-drinking, hard-smoking mysgonist spy right back to his roots, dropping Bond right back to the start of his career just after World War II. (If I remember rightly, Faulkes’s outing was set in the sixties).
Following the murder of 007 in France, the British Secret Service is forced to promote a new agent fresh out of training: James Bond, a decorated war hero from Naval Intelligence takes the dead agent’s number and travels to France to avenge his death. It’s pretty much the standard Bond adventure: find the woman, find the villain, sleep with the woman, kill the villain. And as with all the 007 books, it’s not so much the plot as how it’s told. Horowitz tells it very well. The genius of setting the story in the mid-forties is that it immediately restricts you: there are no satellites for electronic surveillance, no invisible cars that can shoot missiles … nope, in the good old days, all Bond had was a pistol and a radio (and he was lucky if the radio worked). So without the gadgets then Bond is a much better read.
We still have the excellently drawn locations, we still have the larger-than-life villains (though in the good old days, they just wanted to sell drugs, not destroy the planet while establishing a colony of supermen in space), and we still have the car chases through the stunning countryside, but in the first days of his career as an assassin employed by His Majesty’s secret service, we see a Bond without the arrogance, whose a little less sure of himself around confident, older women, and with a greater sense of his own mortality. (The first time it looks like he’s about to lose his life, he pretty much craps himself). Strange to think he started out human. The characters are well-defined and not always what you expect, and as I said, the location settings are detailed and brilliant, making for a very atmospheric read. The prose is simple, and direct; I think it would probably do well as a YA read, if not for the occasional throat stabbing. I would describe the pace as somewhat leisurely; Horowitz takes his time to build the story, and things don’t really speed up until we reach the last few chapters. So, in that regard, very much like a Bond movie really.
If you’re a Bond fan, then read it. If not, you should read it anyway. It’s a fast read and a very entertaining spy thriller.