Raymond Benson’s “Blast from the Past”

After wrapping up my reading of all 14 of the Ian Fleming James Bond books, I was about to move on with my plan to start reading Charlie Higson’s highly regarded YA Young Bond series when I stopped myself remembering what I had heard about Raymond Benson’s short story, “A Blast from the Past.”  Raymond Benson was the officially sanctioned Bond continuation author from 1997-2003.  I’m interested in reading his work at some point, but “Blast from the Past” was a piece I felt I had to read now as it is the only official continuation Bond story that picks up the loose threads from Fleming’s penultimate novel, You Only Live Twice, which I have recently read.

Benson’s standalone story seems to take place outside of the continuity of even his own work.  It seems to have been one of the first things he wrote after obtaining the literary Bond baton from Glidrose Publications. I’m not sure if it was released before or after Benson’s first novel, 1997’s Zero Minus Ten.  It was originally published in the 1997 January issue of Playboy Magazine, and it’s the only continuation Bond story I know of to be considered a direct sequel to one of Fleming’s novels.

blast from the past 2

The story takes place many years after the events of You Only Live Twice.  Bond had conceived a child with Kissy Suzuki whom had live with for a brief time while he had amnesia following his final confrontation with Blofeld. During that time, Kissy had kept his identity a secret because she loved him and wanted to continue her life together with him. Once Bond expressed his desire to find out more about his past by going to Vladivostok, however, Kissy refused to stand in Bond’s way.  We eventually find out that the Soviets subsequently captured and brainwash him to become their agent at the beginning of The Man with the Golden Gun. Before the end of You Only Live Twice, however, Kissy had become pregnant with Bond’s child although she declines to tell this to Bond before he leaves her.

Benson’s story picks up with Bond receiving an urgent message from James Suzuki, now an adult working for a Japanese bank in New York City. The message implores his father to come to New York, and Bond senses that his son is in danger. We learn that Bond eventually found out about his son and we get the impression that there were occasional visits between he and his son but that Bond had not been awfully present in James Suzuki’s life. Kissy had previously died of ovarian cancer, and James Suzuki seems to have settled into a life in NYC as a bank employee.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see Bond interact with his son as we soon find that James Suzuki had been murdered, poisoned by a puncture wound to one of his arms.

Bond teams up with an SIS agent Cheryl Haven to find out who is responsible for his son’s murder.   He soon notices the constant reappearance of a suspicious homeless woman, who disappears into a car after a bomb had gone off in the safe deposit box they had been investigating at the bank where James Suzuki had been employed.  Bond and Cheryl Haven give chase, and we eventually get to the warehouse. The chase through the streets of Manhattan is one of the highlights of this short story.  Benson brilliantly executes the thrilling sequence making it instantly memorable. Once Bond is captured, we find that the homeless woman had been none other than Irma Bunt, who Bond believed had perished in the fire.  She wears prosthetic makeup over one side of her face to disguise the burning scars that had been left from the explosion that Bond had originally setoff prior to escaping from Blofeld’s castle.

We learn that Irma Bunt survived the explosion with her own case of amnesia, which is the one part of the story that seems a bit far-fetched since we now have two characters suffering from amnesia over the same events. Once Bunt recovered her memory, she set about seeking revenge for what happened to her as well as for Bond’s killing of Blofeld.

The climax of the story was very thrilling.  Bunt decides to give Bond a shave with a blade dipped in fugu poison, the same poison she used to kill his son.  Luckily enough for Bond, Cheryl Haven comes to his rescue and a fight ensues with Bunt’s henchmen. Bunt hides in amongst a room full of disused mannequin parts as the warehouse she had been using had been formerly used by Macy’s.  A firefight ensues with Bunt injuring Bond but Bond luckily shoots Bunt dealing her the final deathblow.

Bond ends the story in the hospital reflecting on the fact that he now had revenge not only for his son but for the death of Tracy, his wife who Bunt and Blofeld had killed at the end of On Her majesty’s Secret Service.  He decides to cherish the revenge rather than linger on the fact that he lost a son that he hardly had known, which seems in character for Bond.  The final scene where Cheryl climbs into the hospital bed next to him offering her breast to him after asking if he was hungry came across slightly gratuitous.  It wouldn’t have necessarily been out of character for something like that to happen in a Bond story, but seeing as how Bond just lost his son I doubt Fleming would have ended the story in such a way since Fleming really did have Bond struggle with devastating losses such as the loss of Tracy by actually grieving and going through bouts of depression.

Overall, the story was highly entertaining for a quick read.  There were times where I felt Benson had missed opportunities to embellish his language with phrases that Fleming might have used as the piece does feel written by an American rather than a British writer.  I have a feeling Benson remedies this in his novels, and I’ve read that the story had to be cut significantly to meet with Playboy’s space requirements.  I look forward to reading more of Benson’s Bond work, but first I’ve decided to tackle Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series.  As a brief diversion and a continuation of the loose threads of You Only Live Twice, “Blast from the Past” is a fun, thrilling, and quick read. I highly recommend it to anyone who has read You Only Live Twice as it offers up a plausible conclusion to the events of that novel.

Source.

1. Benson, Raymond “A Blast from the Past” (originally published in the January 1997 issue of Playboy Magazine).  It has been included in the following publication

Benson, Raymond James Bond: The Union Trilogy: Three 007 Novels. Pegasus, 2008.

2. You can listen to a fascinating interview with Raymond Benson on the James Bond Radio podcast here: http://jamesbondradio.com/raymond-benson-interview-jbr-episode-11/

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