Sunday 18 March 2018

It's Double O-34 – a novel way to keep a spy alive

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Skyfall (AP/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)
Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Skyfall (AP/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

John Spain Books Editor

James Bond creator Ian Fleming died in 1964 but his estate has kept the 007 agent on active service over the years by hiring new writers – including many celebrated authors.

For James it's more a case of living forever than You Only Live Twice.

This September a new Bond book written by the award-winning British novelist William Boyd will be published, marking the 60th anniversary of the publication of Fleming's first 007 adventure, Casino Royale.

Incredibly, this will the 34th Bond book to be published since Fleming died.

So although James is still 007, the new Bond book will be 0034.

Although the distinguished British author Kingsley Amis was the first to pick up the mantle, some of the earlier Bond sequels were pale imitations of the original.

But in recent years the Fleming family estate have been much more discerning in who they license to write a Bond book.

The choice of William Boyd, an acclaimed literary author, to write the new Bond book is very much in that vein.

This week it was revealed that the new book will be called Solo and will place a 45-year-old James back in the classic Bond era of the Cold War.

The book is set in 1969 and sees 007 "going solo" on a secret mission of his own, with much of the action taking place in Africa.

"Events conspire to make Bond go off on a self-appointed mission of his own, unannounced and without any authorisation – and he's fully prepared to take the consequences of his audacity," Boyd says.

"The journey Bond goes on takes in three continents, with the main focus honing in on Africa.

"It's what happens to Bond in Africa that generates his urge to 'go solo' and take matters into his own hands in the USA."

That was all Boyd was willing to reveal at this stage.

Other noted authors to write Bond books in recent years have included novelist Sebastian Faulks whose Devil May Care was published in 2008 to mark the centenary of Fleming's birth.

That was followed in 2011 by the bestselling American thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, who wrote Carte Blanche.

Both did well and brought the number of Bond books now sold to more than 100 million copies worldwide.

The series has been revived in the 1980s by the British thriller writer (and former spy) John Gardner, who continued to write the books until the 1990s.

Some of the 23 Bond movies to date bear little or no relation to the books, but the books have been boosted over the years by the phenomenal success of the films, the latest of which, Skyfall, has taken more than a billion dollars at the box office since its release last October.

Some of the Bond films were deemed unworthy of their literary heritage (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with George Lazenby as Bond is often seen as the weakest effort), but Skyfall won lavish praise from critics, some of whom compared it to the great Bond films with Sean Connery as 007.

This has been disputed by Sebastian Faulks, who said that both Skyfall and the previous Bond film Quantum of Solace had blundered by attempting to portray 007 as a spy with a more human side and an inner sensitivity behind the cold exterior.

"That's not how he works," Faulks said.

"He doesn't have much of an inner life and when you try to give him one the whole thing stalls."

Faulks said that when he was writing Devil May Care in 2008 he had toyed with making Bond more sensitive and introspective but he gave up.

"It didn't work. It was unconvincing. It made him look not thoughtful, but slightly gay."

Whether Boyd makes Bond more human and sensitive and less of an automaton remains to be seen.

Certainly Boyd's novels such as the award-winning A Good Man in Africa and An Ice-Cream War show him to eminently capable of giving James a deeper dimension.

The fact that Bond will be going solo in the new caper would seem to offer the chance to do so.

But it seems unlikely that James will be either shaken or stirred and will probably remain the shallow, imperturbable, cold character he always has been since Ian Fleming created him.

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