Orion, out now
In the wake of the Goldfinger affair, Bond is assigned to protect a motor-racing star – by participating in one of the world’s most dangerous sporting events…
There was a lot of fuss made when Sebastian Faulks was the first of the “celebrity” writers to be invited to pen a 007 tale that he would be writing the book “as Ian Fleming”. His 2008 novel Devil May Care was a good pastiche of Fleming’s style, albeit let down by some inconsistencies in the final part of the book. Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche reinvented Bond for the 21st century and the style was accordingly different. William Boyd latched on to certain elements of Bond for Solo, but his style certainly wasn’t Fleming’s.
Anthony Horowitz, however, has achieved this. It’s not just the surface details that he’s recreated – the use of brand names, the fetishisation of certain elements – but, more importantly, it’s the writing style, the use of present tense for description in particular. “The scent smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning” is the opening sentence of Casino Royale, and it drops you straight into the atmosphere and ambience of the world Fleming is presenting. It’s not that he’s not giving you James Bond’s perspective on events; he’s telling you this as a fact. Horowitz notes that the discovery of a piece of Fleming’s unpublished material helped him with maintaining that style; the afterword tells you where that bit appears, but it’s impossible to tell which parts of that scene are Fleming, which Horowitz.
Horowitz’s writing of Bond is near-enough Fleming too, particularly in a harrowing sequence that by coincidence is echoed in today’s news stories. Short sentences, odd paragraphing, self-directed comments – they’re all there. There’s only one section towards the end that doesn’t feel right, where Bond indulges in some thoughts about the origins of hoodlums that is far too close to scenes in the first Austin Powers film (or at least the British cut of that – the scenes didn’t make the original US version!), and doesn’t really fit with the way 007 acts in subsequent stories. That’s always the difficulty with dropping a story into established continuity: would the characters have acted differently in the subsequent chronological tales if they had really been through the experiences of the new book?
Anthony Horowitz isn’t the first to write a Bond story set in the middle of the Fleming canon (Kate Westbrook/Samantha Weinberg’s less well-known Moneypenny Diaries got there nearly a decade ago), but certainly he’s the first to insert a full Bond adventure into the gaps. In terms of style, and (most of) Bond’s attitudes, this is pretty seamless, except perhaps for the dating: there’s plenty of contradictory evidence in the Fleming originals for the setting of the books, but Goldfinger came to the attention of Colonel Smithers at the Bank of England in 1954 and he’s been pursuing him for five years (chapter 6, if you want to check!), so this must be 1959. (We’ll gloss over Bond’s surprise here about SMERSH’s involvement: he was sent after Goldfinger because M was convinced the villain was SMERSH’s banker!) That sort of nit-picking, though, shouldn’t detract from the generally very high standard of continuity to the novels – on more than one occasion I thought that Bond should recognise a common factor with an earlier character or event, and within the next two to three paragraphs, he does.
Using Pussy Galore as a character (and this is Fleming’s mob boss, not the version Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn provided for Honor Blackman to embody) works well enough, and her exit from the book and Bond’s life is handled with aplomb. Matters of sexuality are addressed at various points in the book – the only slightly heavy-handed part is where a gay agent lectures Bond on the subject of homosexuality, and there’s mention of a real-life spy whose activities don’t fit into Bond’s world at all – and the final scene between Bond and the interestingly-named Jeopardy Lane echoes Christopher Wood’s equally Fleming-esque moment at the end of James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me (although Horowitz, like Wood, steers clear of Fleming’s more contentious statements on the question of rape). Lane herself is one of the better “new Bond” heroines, with definite resonances of Halle Berry’s Jinx, one of the few good elements to Die Another Day – someone whose work intersects with Bond’s, and who can hold her own, yet with some of the vulnerability that Horowitz correctly notes Bond needs from his women.
Jason Sin, the Korean villain of the piece, is everything that a Bond baddie needs to be: he has a distinctive appearance, some unusual methods (he’s definitely someone you don’t want to play cards with), and a backstory that provides some explanation for his particular brand of psychopathy – which Bond is suitably scathing about. For those interested, by the way, the account that Sin gives is based on true events in 1950 that have only come to light in recent years. There’s a further nice (unconscious?) link to Goldfinger in the final confrontation between him and Bond – but this time, the film rather than the book. (There’s a section earlier that refers to a sequence that’s different between book and film; Horowitz, unlike one of his predecessors, gets it right.)
Anyone who’s read Horowitz’s Alex Rider novels will know that the author can pen exciting and adrenaline-fuelled chase and fight sequences, and there are plenty of these in Trigger Mortis – but they’re just the icing on the cake. Maybe the publishing pattern of single book authors can be broken and just as Steve Cole is penning a sequence of Young Bond books, Horowitz can be persuaded to write a further tale in the same pre-SPECTRE period as Trigger Mortis…
Verdict: The first of these new Bond novels genuinely to deserve the “writing as Ian Fleming” sobriquet, Trigger Mortis is a terrific adventure for 007. 9/10
Paul Simpson is the co-author of The Bond Files, and the author of Bond vs. Bond: The Many Faces of 007, out October 2015.