Books: Bond goes back to the 1950s to live again
Fiction: Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz, Orion, tpbk, 320pp, €20.99
The new 007 novel that is taking up where Goldfinger ended
For James Bond the phrase "You Only Live Twice" has proved a serious underestimate: Anthony Horowitz is the eighth author to have resuscitated 007 since Ian Fleming's death. Fleming's estate has made a canny choice in Horowitz, who proved in his Conan Doyle pastiche The House of Silk - which saw Sherlock Holmes battling a VIP paedophile ring - that he can convincingly replicate another author's world without sticking too slavishly to his template.
In Trigger Mortis Horowitz has had the ingenious idea of showing us Bond in the act of doing something which we know he does a lot, but Fleming would never have dreamed of writing: all the "It's not you, it's me" business of dumping his conquests.
The novel opens two weeks after the action of Fleming's Goldfinger (1959), a book which ended with Bond triumphantly overcoming the lesbian predilections of the trapeze artist-cum-cat burglar Pussy Galore. But in the Fleming canon, Pussy goes the way of such predecessors as Tiffany Case, Solitaire and Honeychile Rider, and has disappeared without explanation, despite Bond's avowed passion for her, by the start of the next novel.
Beginning the book with Pussy ensconced at Bond's pad in Chelsea, Horowitz has precisely captured the schoolboy petulance of Fleming's Bond, displayed when women start to have designs on him. Bond starts to panic when Pussy takes to preparing his breakfast egg: "Boiled for three and a third minutes, just how you like it." Worse, she appears to have a sense of humour: "Yes, he had his fads. He liked things done a certain way. But he didn't like to be reminded of it and he certainly resented the slight mocking quality in her voice."
Bond's attempts to offload Pussy are interwoven with a more authentically Fleming-esque storyline - based, indeed, on a treatment Fleming wrote for an unmade Bond TV series - in which 007 is required to race on the Nürburgring in order to protect a popular British driver from the machinations of SMERSH. This sequence proves to be a superb action set-piece, fully worthy of Fleming, and the book's highlight.
What follows is good fun but never quite reaches the same level of intensity, as Bond heads to the US to tackle Korean super-villain Jason Sin and his plot to sabotage a rocket launch that is set to give America a vital lead in the space race. Sadistic, eccentric and so overconfident that he is handily and ridiculously reckless in his schemes, Sin follows the pattern of Fleming's villains, but perhaps too closely: he feels a little ersatz and ultimately proves underwhelming. The same is true of Horowitz's Bond girl, Jeopardy Lane; his Pussy Galore is so much more fun that you start to think he should have stuck with her for all of the book.
For the most part, Horowitz makes a good fist of capturing Fleming's tone of casual cynicism. However, there are one or two unhappy attempts to try and smooth Bond's rough edges, including one moment when 007 comes over all soppy at the thought of the henchmen he has killed over the years: "He had never asked where they had come from, why they had agreed to do the devil's own work. Were they just trying to scratch a living? Did they have sick mothers and six-month-old babies?" Even readers who aren't reminded of a similar-sounding riff from Austin Powers will give this passage the raspberry.
Still, such experiments preserve the book from the lifelessness that comes with excessive reverence. Ultimately, Horowitz seems to me to have captured the spirit of Fleming more successfully than his recent illustrious predecessors in the Bond-sequel game, Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd. But one can hardly be surprised to find that Trigger Mortis doesn't quite have the compulsive quality of Fleming's best work.
Fleming's genius was to make the reader truly believe in his cartoon baddies and wish-fulfilment-fantasy hero. It would be a miracle if another writer could pull off the trick to the same extent.