To mark the centenary of Ian Fleming’ birth—the world’s favourite spy-yarn spinner—Sebastian Faulks took on the assignment of crafting a book in the style of the venerated author: “My novel is meant to stand in the line of Fleming’s own books, where the story is everything,” writes Faulks on the official website. As yet another who has read every word of the originals (but drifted away from the film franchise once Sean Connery put down his Walther PPK), it was with both excitement and curiosity that I ventured into Devil May Care.
On the whole, it’s a fun read with a couple of genuine surprises that keep the pages moving forward with characteristic speed and excitement.
As usual, the characters’ names are as much fun as they are revealing: Scarlett is the originally deceitful love interest who cheers on James Bond as he is prematurely pulled out of a reflective sabbatical (should Bond retire to a desk job if he’s losing the “fire in the belly” to save the world from monstrous psychopaths?) to track down Julius Gorner—an evil genius with a rare hand disorder that makes the link to monkeys more believable than ever. Chagrin is his tongue-pulling Vietnamese enforcer (the squeamish may never be able to look at a pair of pliers again) who’s had experimental brain surgery that has strengthened his brutishness and, literally, sapped his feeling.
Poppy is the aptly named drug-addled hallucination that doubles as one of Gorner’s addicts at his huge, hidden-away heroin processing plant. His goal is to get most of Britain’s population shooting up, thereby losing their place in the world: pure fiction, of course. Sadly, there’s “Happy”—the literal translation of Faushad—an idealistic Iranian driver who ends up on Chagrin’s hit list, but will never be able to tell the tale.
The regulars are also much in evidence. M is his usual calculating self, determined to let Bond have some much-needed time off (with full pay) until his own requirements trump his apparent compassion. Moneypenny pines while her hero teases; Felix Leiter is also forced back into the service (CIA), dragging his mangled limbs to Persia where his colleague, Carmen (a man who queerly savours GM salesmen for his blackmail-threatening trysts), is all efficiency but there may be some doubt as to which team he’s on …
Gadget buffs will be disappointed: the lighter-hidden, knock-out dart is described but never lit. Most of the high-tech inventiveness comes in the form of airplanes: one is a massive sort of hovercraft designed to carry bombs and drugs even as its deadly cargo is kept off the radar screen; a newly minted, suddenly stolen BOAC passenger jet also figures into the climax. Both planes are launched nearly simultaneously: it’s the classic decoy/real-target strategy. Thank goodness Bond knows how to fly.
In 2008, the excessive drinking (a second bottle of wine for two at lunch …) and love of tobacco makes Bond appear to be more of a social outcast than superhero. The snappy dialogue remains fun (“Thank you for the lift,” he quips post parachute excursion), but the pontificating by Gorner (within a few pages taking digs at the British Empire’s colonization record, starving the Irish and France’s botched stewardship of Algiers, leading to massive immigration that has sown the seeds for present-day unrest) gets a little tiresome. Still, what a pleasant surprise to see the word “Meanwhile” put into service when there was in fact, “dirty work at the crossroads.”
The topical references—particularly the music of the era (The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck—even a nod to Kismet) effectively anchor the action in another time and place.
When the final showdown comes (having survived the inevitable capture then turning the tables within the villain’s lair) it’s a wee bit of Dixieland (but most assuredly not with a “horn” amongst the minstrels: a trumpet would better fit the orchestration) that sends the despot down the river before the intrepid Bond must come face to face with a feline musical phantom who knows far more notes than appear to have been heard.
Well done, 007. JWR