Friday, June 13, 2008

FINISHED: Devil May Care

Earlier this week I finished Devil May Care, the new James Bond novel by Sebastian Faulks. It was, at best, entertaining in a page-turning sort of way. I could recommend it to anyone who looking for a beach or airplane read.

Faulks is the author of such highly acclaimed works as Charlotte Gray, Birdsong, and On Green Dolphin Street, the Cold War novel that allegedly inspired the Bond estate to handpick him as Ian Fleming’s latest successor. When I was in high school, I read the John Gardner Bond books, which were pretty stinky so I was thrilled to learn that Faulks had been selected to write the franchise’s new adventures. Needless to say, I had pretty high expectations for Devil May Care, hoping that Faulks, who is an approachable literary writer, would have infused a little more substance into this novel.

Devil May Care picks up where Fleming left off, skipping the intervening adventures. The year is 1967. Bond is on a three-month sabbatical—he’s off adventure, cocktails, and women. That is, until he’s summoned back to London for a new mission: Stop an Eastern Bloc plot to destroy Great Britain by flooding it with heroin.

From here, the novel skips along predictably so there’s little point in examining the plot. There are no intricacies or nuanced elements. Occasionally Faulks delights with a zesty passage, such as this:
Silver screamed in anger and raised his gun to fire at Felix’s heart, but before he could pull the trigger, part of the contents of his head shot through his nose, as Hamid crashed a heavy white rock down on to his skull, with a crack that echoed round the foothills of Noshahr.
My biggest complaints: stagnant dialogue, sparse but inelegant prose, awkward stabs at writing historical references, a milquetoast Bond girl, and a freakish but not scary villain (Julius Gorner, a bad guy whose right hand is a monkey’s paw). There are frequent smaller problems with the book. As I read Janet Maslin’s NYT review, I found myself wanting to quote rather extensively. Instead, I’m linking here. She’s spot on in her assessment, and far more articulate than I have the energy to be.

That said, last night I picked up Casino Royale, the novel that introduced the world to James Bond. Granted, I have only read the first chapter, but I love what I have read. Here’s the opening paragraph:
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling—a compost of great and fear and nervous tension—becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
Ian Fleming has a casual and suave style, which is exactly what I want in a Bond adventure. I can only imagine what it was like for a reader in 1953—with no predisposition to any movie-screen Bond!—to have met this character.

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