There have been a few books recently with authors writing in the style of Ian Fleming and bringing the world’s most famous spy to the modern, hardback book buying, reader. Now, after the disappointment of Sebastian Faulks’ attempt at a James Bond novel (Devil May Care), I reluctantly lifted Solo from the bookshelf for a wee gander. My only attraction was the author. William Boyd is a sensational writer and books like Any Human Heart* and Relentless feature amongst some of my favourites.
Solo won’t feature on that list.
The first 100 pages of the book are pretty staid as Bond’s character and personality is given to us in chunks of alcohol and cigarette infested scenes. He has just turned 45 and coming to the end of a career in the spy world but has, after a few rough scrapes, been given a suitably vague mission in West Africa to bring a satisfactory conclusion to a civil war in a made up country.
There he meets Efua Blessing who inevitably he beds and who inevitably sits in the midst of a story of intrigue, death and revenge. Bond goes solo to avenge a betrayal that leaves him near death. And then the story starts and we get about 150 pages of action, investigation and proper spy stuff. Even Felix makes an appearance later in the story.
Kobus Breed is the main antagonist in the book and is pretty poor. He has a weeping eye brought about by a scar and comes across less as an evil genius and more a lazy megalomaniac. And it is he who is perhaps the biggest let down in Solo. Other than that, he’s just a bad man who did something bad that Bond wants to get revenge for.
The story jets around Africa, Europe, the USofA and across London. He’s a hard living, fancy car driving, womanising secret agent who lives his life on the edge. But, my conclusion is Bond books writing in the style of their original creator are just rather boring.
*As a nice aside, Ian Fleming appears as a character in Any Human Heart, alongside people like Picasso, Andy Warhol and a whole host of famous people.