The double 0 in the title is a nice touch in the James Bond continuation novel, SOLO by William Boyd (Jonathan Cape).
There are lots of nice touches in SOLO, which celebrates the 6oth anniversary of the publication of Casino Royale, the book that gave birth to Bond, the bold blunt instrument of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
« Je suis un paysan écossais » parle 007 as he shows off his cunning bilinguals to Felix Leiter as they muse on the geopolitical chess board they are paid to play on.
Shadows and echoes of the Bond canon permeate the landscape of this mission though the book it pays most homage to is LIVE AND LET DIE. That’s the book where Leiter lost his limbs and when Bond first used the alias of Bryce. There’s also a juju man, akin to the Baron Samedi character and a subterfuge plot that has a side bar in heroin smuggling.
Indeed, the title could well have been Live and Let Die Another Day but that would be muddying and mixing the metaphors between movie Bond and literary Bond.
Fifteen years on from disagreeing with something that ate him, Felix sports his new tungsten prosthetic which has ‘the facility to pick the gnat shit out of a pepper’.
Felicity to Fleming not only has Felix back, but M, Moneypenny, the cherished Scottish housekeeper, May, and a re-acquaintance with his original make of firearm, the Beretta.
The Bentley has been booted for a Jensen and its goodbye to Goodnight and hello to Araminta Beauchamp as Bond’s secretary.
SOLO is set in 1969 and begins with Bond’s solitary birthday bash to celebrate his 45thbirthday. After a night of fine wining and dining, he dreams of his war experience, when, not yet twenty, he was part of D Day.
Also celebrating at the Dorchester, an attractive actress, a heroine of Hammer horror, who takes a shine to Her Majesty’s functioning alcoholic henchman, and who of course he is a complete cad to.
Nobody does it bedder, Bond bonks two birds between the covers of this book, the actress Bryce Fitzjohn, aka Astrid Ostergard, and Alesha Belem aka Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, a CIA operative.
The villain of the piece is a Rhodesian ruffian known as Kobus Breed, a ridgeback warrior who delights in lynching his victims with a hook through the jaw, stringing them up like game fish.
The prize in the great game is oil, the fossil fuel that drives malfeasance, waiting under the ground of the Zanza River Delta in war ravaged Africa.
The West wants the wells, a potential paradise of petrol far from the proverbial powder keg of the Middle East with, to quote Leiter, “its goat fuck of Islam, Palestine, Israel, Shia and Sunni” and Bond is sent to stop a civil war so that BP, Shell, Mobil et al can mine and refine.
If Esso sends out an SOS then governments are quick to dispatch envoys of game changers, licensed to kill for Queen and country, black gold fuelling their neo-colonialist quest for carbon.
Just as the film franchise has had its up and downs so has the literay legacy, with keepers of the Fleming flame ranging from Kingsley Amis to Jeffrey Deaver with mixed results.
How on earth did the Ian Fleming estate allow Boyd to do Bond when I remind him of this quote from ANY HUMAN HEART:
“Freya would loathe Fleming. I can’t put my finger on his essential nature. He’s quite a handsome man- dark, lean- but it’s the sort of handsomeness that vanishes on a closer look and you see the flaws; the weak mouth, the doleful eyes. He’s affable, generous, appears interested in you- but there’s nothing in him to like. Too spoiled, too well connected, too cosseted: everything in life has come too easily.”
“Style and substance with my own spy fiction gave them confidence I could do the job” is his swift reply.
It’s a hard task to fill the Fleming boots, to follow in the Fleming footsteps and Boyd does an admirable job – no better than the greats like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE, and no worse than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.