As much as I enjoyed the first 3 books in the Young Bond series, I found this 4th book disappointing. It does improve a great deal towards the end but I found that the story dragged quite a bit for the 1st 2/3rds of the book. The biggest problem I have with it is with the character of Precious, the lead female character and meant to be sort of a prototypical “Bond-girl”. The story takes place shortly after the events of Double or Die with Bond on a trip to Mexico with his Aunt Charmain after the Xmas Holidays. It’s decided that it’s in Bond’s best interest to prolong his return to Eton and remain in Mexico so that he could fully recover from the previous ordeal / adventure. Aunt Charmain decides she wants to go off on her own private Mayan ruins expedition and decides to leave young James with a family friend, Jack Stone, the pilot who will fly her to her remote location. It’s here where the story gets a bit frustrating because right away we are introduced to Jack Stone’s daughter Precious, who is made out to be extremely unlikeable and behaves as the stereotypical rich spoiled brat we’ve seen countless times and it comes across here as very annoying for both James and the reader. If Charlie Higson had made the character a bit more likeable in the beginning of the book then it might have been an easier story to get through but as soon as we meet her we see her treat the wait staff horribly and pull a nasty trick on young James while vying for her father’s affection. Then, Precious undergoes an enormous and very implausible transformation whereby she becomes a strong-willed heroine summoning up the strength to help save young James’ life pulling him out of the water on several occassions and lifting James with one hand as they tried to traverse a log full of army ants in the villain’s obstacle course towards the end of the book. Of course by this point, the character has become humbled due to the circumstances of having been kidnapped and held hostage, but the entire transformation this character undergoes just felt forced and took me out of the book.
The overall plot presents the reader with certain shades of both Dr.No and Live and Let Die. I just wish the execution and the character development of Precious were handled a bit better. It’s not a bad story at all. If you’re willing to overlook the mishandling of the Precious character the overall adventure is actually quite entertaining. Young James spends most of the story either captured or fleeing from a small group of gangsters led by Mrs. Glass who invaded the Stone house to get their hands on secret American naval documents that Stone had smuggled onto his plane. Their plan was to steal the naval documents and sell them to the highest bidder but things go awry when the plans aren’t in the house and they’re forced to take Precious and her little brother JJ hostage. Young James manages to follow along and fool them into thinking he’s a Mexican pickpocket in order to join their gang hoping to save Precious and her brother when the opportunity presents itself, but of course James’ plan doesn’t go so smoothly and he ends up getting pursued and captured several points in the story. The highlights include Young James learning jiu jitsu from one of the gang members, a Japanese man named Sakata, who had thrown in with Mrs. Glass but who proves to be the most honorable of the gangsters when he decides to help get the injured younger child JJ to safety. The backstories of the gangsters are actually very well done and Mrs. Glass’ backstory is fascinating and includes a nod to Legs Diamond.
The final third of the book is really where the novel picks up. James and Precious find themselves on a private island set up as a haven for criminals and run by El Hurrican, who basically provides this safe haven with the condition that no one who enters the island is allowed to leave. Of course, the criminals think they’ve got it made when they get there but once they run out of money, El Hurrican forces them into slave labor. The only way off the island is to run a dangerous obstacle course called La Avenida de Muerte with each stage in the course set up as a tribute to various Mayan gods. Both Precious and young James decide to run the course and this sequence does make for a thrilling read. It’s just that I had a hard time believing the necessary transformation Precious had to undergo before she could run the course along with James.
Overall, I’d have to say this was the weakest Young Bond book I’ve read so far, but my disappointment is only there because the previous books had impressed me so much that I’ve set such an impossibly high standard for these books. It’s worth the read if you’re willing to overlook the flaws I mentioned, but the first 3 books are so amazingly brilliant that I’ve decided to give Charlie Higson a pass for the elements I didn’t like in Hurricane Gold. I still look forward to the next books in the series.