It was with glee that I picked up the cardboard package that had arrived from Amazon a couple of months ago. The coveted contents comprised Sebastian Faulks’ much hyped new 007 offering. It was only a few days prior that he had been on Radio 4’s Today programme discussing the ins and outs of how the novel has come about. For those of you who are unaware, it was to mark the centenary of the spy-thriller godfather Ian Fleming.
From what Mr Faulks said on the radio, it seemed that he had already excelled in the preliminary stages of the publication of the book. The critics were generally pleased and the Ian Fleming Foundation and other groups had given the book their blessing. Most importantly, the family of Ian Fleming were very pleased with what Faulks had produced – a member of the Fleming family reportedly stated that ‘the old spy is back’.
Indeed, the old spy is arguably back. Breaking away from the modernisations seen in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig movies, Devil May Care takes us back to 1967 with Faulks picking up where Fleming left us. As Peter Millar writing for The Times puts it: ‘This is vintage Bond, in a very real sense.’
Bond has been on an extended vacation in Jamaica but is naturally called back to London to take on a new foe who is increasingly becoming a cause for concern for the Service.
The Bond-villain is perfect and beautifully in keeping with Fleming’s miscreants. Of course, he has a physical deformity – a monkey’s hand – and is a cheating sportsman. His henchman is a psychopathic, Vietnamese war criminal who has undergone primitive brain surgery leading to him no longer having any sense of pain.
Faulks takes us through a number of settings with each being beautifully romanticised. He mixes typical Bond locales – such as Rome and Paris – with seemingly unlikely Iran (or Persia as it was in the 1960s). This is most probably to create a link with today’s audience as a considerable portion of readers will have no first hand recollection of the Cold War 1960s.
Of course, where would a Bond novel be without a plot to destroy the world or sizable chunks of it? Fear not, it’s all here complete with an incredible concept vehicle that was actually invented and used extensively by the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
The only real problem with this book is that it never really hits a climax. The build-up is executed with finesse and the plot is just marvellous but I felt that its lack of subtlety leads you to a flat plateau when you should really be at a sharp peak. This build-up is then seemingly prematurely dismantled and the key deaths occur as the prose peters out. The reader is expecting a mighty twist or turn but it never comes.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read and I recommend you get your hands on a copy. However, perhaps because it’s too akin to Fleming’s slightly stuffy novels, it doesn’t stand up to the other spy-thrillers on the shelves of bookshops today. Still, Bond is a somewhat unique franchise and I therefore wouldn’t say that it is overshadowed by the likes of LeCarrÃ© or McNabb.