There was a time, long ago – helped by a one-and-a-bit hours each way on a train every day to work – where I’d smash an entire novel, and part of another, during the five day work week. Easy-peasy.
The upshot of this being, when someone looks at the hundreds of books on my shelves and perhaps asks with a smirk, “Have you actually read any of this stuff?” the answer will be, generally, yes.
As the years have flown by since those commuter days, however, there’s a steadily growing pile of books I own and have yet to read, or even still covet purchasing, despite the fact I haven’t read all the books I own. I love the idea of books. I just don’t have the time. And before you say audiobooks, I’m pretty terrible with those, too. I need the conditions to be right for audio, and the conditions seldom are. And so into this mess came a recent thought; “I need to catch up with James Bond stuff…”
Since Bond author Ian Fleming kicked on to the great casino in the sky, Bond novels have been written by a variety of authors. First up, Kinsgley Amis wrote Colonel Sun, under the pseudonym of Robert Markham, in 1968. Then for the the entire 1970s, Bond fiction fell into a heap, with only a ‘biography’ of 007 and a couple of movie novelisations emerging. This changed in the 1980s when a guy called John Gardner wrote a ton of novels between 1981 and 1996. I’ve actually read one of them – the final adventure, Cold – and it was… alright? Not too thrilling. Picking up the baton from Gardner, a chap by the name of Raymond Benson wrote the novels between 1996 and 2002. His output included novelisations of Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, as well as original fiction. I’ve not read any of them.
I had my eyes on the fiction that’s come after Benson, which boils down to Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (2008), Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver (2011), Solo by William Boyd (2013), and Trigger Mortis (2015) and Forever and a Day (2018), both by Anthony Horowitz. There will be a third book by Horowitz coming out next year, too. On closer examination of the books, and to my great delight, it seemed that most of these novels are what I’d call “classic” Bond. Faulks and Boyd are writing a 1960s Bond, for example, while Horowitz’s books are set in the 1950s. Only Deaver’s book is modern – too modern for my taste as it apparently has Bond working for a “post 9/11 agency” away from MI5 and MI6. That sounds utterly horrendous to me, so lets strike that from the list now.
I opened my innings by reading Devil May Care and… yeah. It’s not bad. I guess it’s been awhile since I read Fleming’s novels and Faulks is really trying to evoke his writing style. Indeed, the novel even lists him as “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming”, so it’s not just my imagination. And like I said, it’s not bad. This kind of thing could have been a disaster in lesser hands. It could have felt more like Austin Powers or something, particularly as it’s set in the swinging 60s and even has Bond taking notice of hippies on the streets of London and things of that nature. So thank heavens for small mercies.
In terms of plot, there’s not a lot here. It’s typical Bond fare. A villain with a fatal flaw has an awesome business set up and could presumably just let that business continue in perpetuity and live a life among the 1%. Of course villains can never rest and by the end we have not one, but two, attacks on the USSR underway which will get blamed on the UK. The first half, or more, of the book sets up how Bond will be able to deal with this so although not a great deal happens for half the book (it’s certainly not like a modern Bond film with explosions from the start), there’s a lot of groundwork being done.
Did I like reading the book? Yes, I did. It’s possible to like things that are even a bit rubbish, and this is far from that. I found that I really got into the mindset of 60s Bond. His opinions on cars, women, all sorts of “typical Bond” things filter through the pages and into your head. I noted a few recurring motifs that were quirky, like Bond always ordering scrambled eggs wherever he goes and clean underwear seems to get mentioned, for some reason, more than the reader needs to know about.
That said, in the first quarter of the book at least, Bond seems extremely health-conscious in a way I don’t feel gelled with 007. Some scenes were also a little risque (women being paraded fully naked in front of heroin addict factory workers to entertain them?), while others were just brutal and really didn’t fit the “Bond vibe” if we’re thinking Connery films, or just Fleming’s writing as a whole.
Overall, however, Devil May Care still hangs together and had me turning pages, increasingly faster, “to see what happens next” and that’s surely the sign of some entertainment for a 007 fan.