Bond to the Future

Author’s note: Just thought I’d whip this up for a little fun. I wrote it very quickly, so please don’t be too hard on me.  I decided to do a throwback to the novel for You Only Live Twice for a certain plot point. I just though it would be fun to imagine 1985 James Bond as portrayed by Roger Moore engaged in time travel plot as tribute to Back the Future.  It’s just a bit of frivolous fun.

It’s a little known fact that after the events of 1985’s A View to a Kill, James Bond (Roger Moore) travelled forward in time to the year 2015. Much of the screenplay has been lost, but this brief snippet is the only surviving portion. Upon returning from San Francisco after defeating Max Zorin, Bond reported to MI6 Headquarters for debriefing when he stumbled upon Q (Desmond Llewelyn) just outside the Q Branch Laboratory.  What follows are the scenes with M., Q, and Miss Moneypenny.  The rest of the screenplay has vanished from existence . . . perhaps thankfully if you’re feeling unkind.

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Bond: What the devil is this, Q?

Q: Glad you asked 007.  It’s a time machine, and as it happens I’ve been instructed by M. to send you to the year 2015.

Bond: You must be joking.

Q: How many times do I have to tell you!  I never joke about my work, 007! Step inside and I’ll show you how it works.

Bond steps inside the vehicle

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Bond: Are you telling me you made a time machine out of a DeLorean?

Q: I figured that if I was going to make a time machine out of a car, why not do it with style?

Bond: I’d much prefer a Lotus Esprit rather than this tin container, thank you very much.

Q: Let’s get one thing straight, 007. I design things and you wreck them.  For God’s sake, I let you do your job, now let me do mine. Now, here’s how it works. Turn the time circuits on like this. This one tells you where you are, this one tells you where you’re going. This one tells you where you were.  Input your destination into this key pad and drive the vehicle. Once you achieve the speed of 88 miles per hour, you will notice a reaction and the vehicle will travel to this precise destination in time.

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Bond: Sounds simple enough. Let’s get started.

M: You’ll find M’s mission briefing inside. Good luck 007.

Bond drives the vehicle outside the lab reaching the speed of 88MPH soon afterwards.  The vehicle vanishes from 1985 and enters the year 2015 . . . Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve Moneypenny (Naomi Harris)greet him outside MI6 Headquarters.

Miss Moneypenny: James, thank goodness you’ve come.

Bond: Do I know you?

Miss Moneypenny: Why yes, I believe you worked with my great aunt during your time with the Double O section. My name is Eve . . . Eve Moneypenny.

Q: And I’m your new quartermaster.

Bond: You’ve still got spots

Q: You were expecting an old man in a lab coat? I could do more damage in my pajamas in the morning before my first cup of earl grey than you can in 30 years in the field.

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Bond: Then what do you need me for?

Q: It’s your kids.  Something’s gotta be done about your kids.

Bond: I’ve got kids?

Miss Moneypenny:  You didn’t think you could fornicate with just about every skirt you encountered around the world and not have children. Did you even bother using protection?

Bond: You wouldn’t know, Miss Moneypenny, but I always know when to pull out.

Enter M. (Ralph Fiennes)

M.: Not when it came to a certain Kissy Suzuki if you recall that Japanese mission.

Bond: Ah yes . . . well it was the least I could do for her after curing my impotence I suppose.

M.: Yes, well the toad oil she served with your food worked only too well and you are now the father of one James Suzuki.

Bond: Why can’t you just get the present day me to help you out?

Q: Hello, Bond. Anybody home? Think, Bond think.  You’re 88 years old now; hardly in any shape to take on the world.

Bond: You must realize that your predecessor was never this snarky.

Q: In 2015, everyone makes a habit of being jaded and sarcastic. Don’t take it personally. I’d stay away from the internet if I were you.

M.: Enough, Q. Now, listen Bond. I believe that your son has been kidnapped by one Franz Oberhauser.  You always meant a lot to my predecessor’s predecessor and he suspected that one day you may need the kind of help that only you could provide.   You’ll find all the details you need in the mission briefing from the M. from the past who you already know. Good luck, 007. Don’t cock it up.

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Bond then speeds off in the DeLorean to meet his fate.. . . The rest of the screenplay has been lost forever. . . Perhaps it’s for the best . .

P.S. This was just a quick thing I wrote for the James Bond Radio podcast website. I just recreated the piece here for your amusement.

Book Review: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

I spent a good part of last year reading all the Fleming Bond novels, and  I could honestly say that Anthony Horowitz has given us something quite special with Trigger Mortis. Not only has Horowitz written a thrilling original entry as a new Bond continuation novel, he’s also provided the readers with the closest experience I believe we will ever have to reading an actual new Bond novel by Ian Fleming.  In every sense, Trigger Mortis feels like a quintessential Bond story staying true to the original conception of the literary character created by Fleming in the early 1950s. The novel pays homage to Fleming’s literary style, which effectively captured the imagination of his readers with rich descriptions, sensuous details, concise narration, and thrilling sequences involving insurmountable challenges for 007 to navigate and overcome.

For this latest Bond novel commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications, Horowitz was given unprecedented access to unpublished story treatments by Ian Fleming. Before the success of the film franchise, Fleming had dabbled with the potential of letting Bond exist as a television series. Indeed, Casino Royale had been adapted in 1954 for the dramatic anthology series called Climax!, which aired on CBS who had paid him merely $1,000. This first incarnation of James Bond is hardly recognizable since the character was altered to be an American agent, “Jimmy Bond,” while it also discarded much of the source material that had resonated with readers of the novel.  In 1958, Fleming began writing treatments for a new NBC television pilot to be dubbed “Commander Jamaica” or “James Gunn: Secret Agent.” This had all occurred prior to EON buying the rights in 1962 to the James Bond books, and at the time the prospect of Bond transitioning from the page to the screen (large or small) had been plagued with a number of obstacles.  When the pilot for “Commander Jamaica” fell through, Fleming took his 28 page screen treatment for the project and converted it into the novel, Dr. No, released in 1958. Afterwards, Fleming wrote 6 more screen treatments or outlines for a potential television deal with CBS who had previously done Casino Royale. When this prospect also fell through, he used 3 of the treatments he’d written for his Bond short story collection, For Your Eyes Only, published in 1960. Among the treatments that Fleming left unused was one called “Murder on Wheels” about Bond entering the Grand Prix racing circuit to protect a well-known British racecar driver, Stirling Moss.  Horowitz decided to use this idea as the launching pad for his own original story and so we have Trigger Mortis inspired by original Fleming material written over 50 years ago.

Ian Fleming holds a copy of his short story collection, For Your Eyes Only

Ian Fleming holds a copy of his short story collection, For Your Eyes Only

Trigger Mortis takes place 2 weeks after the events of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and finds Bond dealing with the aftermath of that adventure and specifically dealing with the prospect of a long term relationship with that novel’s Bond Girl, Pussy Galore. This wouldn’t be the first time that Bond had extended his relationship with a woman beyond their shared adventure. Bond had fallen in love with Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever where she had even moved into Bond’s flat by the end of the novel. That relationship had ended prior to the events of the subsequent novel From Russia With Love. This is the first time, however, that we get to see how a woman’s relationship with Bond might disintegrate after the thrill of their adventure together has concluded.  The novel begins with Pussy now installed in Bond’s apartment in London. Horowitz’s narration explains:

“He was already regretting it. Pussy needed him. But there was something in his make-up that didn’t want to be needed, that resented the very idea.  And the fact was that she was a fish out of water away from the streets of Harlem. Already the relationship was beginning to lose its appeal, like a favourite suit that has been worn one too many times.”

Fleming had typically avoided showing this side of Bond’s relationships with women but it’s something that readers had nonetheless surmised.  The way Bond may have dealt with relationships with women after the thrill had gone is given its due in this novel.  Here, Horowitz takes the opportunity to explore the psyche of Bond and delve into the elements of relationships that might make him increasingly inclined to shrug them off.  The appeal of his duty, which frequently brings him face to face with the prospect of death in every mission, allows Bond to operate in a field in which he is infinitely more comfortable despite the danger.  This is a theme that is on full display even after Bond meets his new companion, Jeopardy Lane.

Bond is initially assigned on a mission to protect race car driver Lancy Smith from a fatal SMERSH sabotage operation (Horowitz decided to change the name of the driver for logistical reasons). SMERSH, the Soviet counter-intelligence agency, ever eager to prove their superiority to the western powers had recruited a race car driver for the explicit purpose of causing an accident during the challenging Nürburgring Grand Prix motor cross race. Bond must assume the cover of a wealthy playboy race driver to engage in this race in order to protect Smith.  It is while on this mission that Bond uncovers a larger Soviet conspiracy involving the sabotaging of an American rocket launch along with the possible involvement of a wealthy Korean entrepreneur.

Stirling Moss, the popular British race driver Fleming had initially intended to included in “Murder on Wheels”

Stirling Moss, the popular British race driver Fleming had initially intended to included in “Murder on Wheels”

Horowitz does a fantastic job bringing the characters and setting to life. His literary style is quite reminiscent of Fleming, the dialogue appears to be spot on, and the narration that Fleming had often relied upon to get readers inside of Bond’s psyche is also quite faithfully recreated here. In every practical sense, this novel feels like you’re reading a Fleming Bond novel.  I don’t want to give too many details away, but I particularly like the background story Horowitz created for the main villain along with the unique and impersonal methods he chooses to inflict pain and death upon his enemies. There’s something weirdly sadistic about every Bond villain and I think Horowitz successfully captures that.  He understands that the villains quite often come from damaged personal histories and that there are many parallels to be drawn between heroes and villains.  Horowitz’s novel explores this quite a bit while also letting the reader know that Bond himself is aware of the thin line that separates his own humanity from that of a monster.  It’s a theme that has been explored a great deal in our contemporary popular culture, but I think many times it comes across very heavy handed.  In this case, I think Horowitz imbued Bond with enough self-awareness to provoke the reader without necessarily preaching very much or interfering with the fun and excitement inherent to the story.

The final act of the novel takes place in New York City subway system, and while I don’t want to give away the plot details involved in getting there, I found it fun to see Bond passing the same subway stations that I used to pass when I worked in Brooklyn.  Of course, I wasn’t desperately trying to save thousands of lives when I rode past those stations, but in my own way I was doing my part in a very different field of battle and confrontation called “Retail.” Much like Bond, I had a few trusted, loyal coworkers and friends to help me along on my mission, which may have involved encountering the occasional sadistic individual determined to inflict torment and pain whenever they didn’t get their way.  Such are the perils of working a 2nd job in a book store, which actually wasn’t all that bad.

I believe anyone who has enjoyed reading the Fleming novels will instantly take a liking to Horowitz’s book, and I highly recommend it.  More than anything though, I think Trigger Mortis reminded me of all the things that made me enjoy the Fleming Bond books.  Here you have a character with a license to kill, a hardened “blunt instrument” wielded by his government, and yet despite everything Bond never loses his humanity.  He’s the quintessential anti-hero who clings to a dangerous job in order to avoid facing real life. As readers, we read a Bond story to escape the rigmarole of our daily routines whereas Bond himself uses his job to escape the dreariness of normal life. When you look at it that way, it’s impossible to say whether or not the fictional character is indeed more blessed than those of us who live vicariously through him.

Watch Anthony Horowitz talk about Ian Fleming and Trigger Mortis here:

Writer’s note: I initially wrote this review for the James Bond Radio podcast website, but instead of just providing a link I thought it would be best to recreate my review for my blog since book reviews and Bond book reviews in particular are part of what I’ve done for some time now on this site.  If you want to visit the post at the JBR site, here’s the link:

http://jamesbondradio.com/book-review-trigger-mortis/

JBR Profile: Warren Ringham – The Man Behind Q The Music Show

I’ve written a new piece for the James Bond Radio podcast.  This time it’s an interview conducted by yours truly with the Trumpeter / Band Manager for one of the most sought after James Bond Tribute bands.  I got to have a very fascinating discussion with him about the music of the James Bond series.  While interviews are somewhat new to me, I wanted to try it out and I think I’m quite happy with the result!

Go to this link to check it out:

http://jamesbondradio.com/jbr-profile-warren-ringham-the-man-behind-q-the-music-show/

You can subscribe to the James Bond Radio podcast over on iTunes by following this link for anyone who enjoys hearing news, reviews, discussion, and analysis of every aspect of the franchise.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/james-bond-radio/id816222534?mt=2

Is it Time to Consider Expanding the James Bond Universe?

I’ve written a new guest blog post for the James Bond Radio podcast about the potential for the Bond franchise to possibly pursue an expanded universe approach just as other major brands have now gone about doing.  I don’t necessarily advocate that they take this approach.  This is just speculation on my part.  Anyway, If you’d like to check it out, just click on the link below:

http://jamesbondradio.com/is-it-time-to-consider-expanding-the-james-bond-universe/?utm_content=bufferc793d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

You can subscribe to James Bond Radio over on iTunes by following this link for anyone who enjoys hearing news, reviews, discussion, and analysis of every aspect of the franchise.

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/james-bond-radio/id816222534?mt=2

A Brief Look at Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis

In 1968, Glidrose Publications (Fleming’s publisher) commissioned Kingsley Amis to write the first Bond continuation novel after Ian Fleming’s death. At the time, Glidrose could not obtain the copyright to the Bond character and it was determined that a new novel would help them obtain that copyright. Kingsley Amis used the pseudonym “Robert Markham” to publish his Bond novel and came up with an intriguing tale of espionage taking Bond to Greece and the Aegean Islands.

The plot of the story itself is excellent. M. is kidnapped by Colonel Sun’s henchmen in a Chinese scheme to implicate Britain in the bombing of a Communist secret conference on one of the Aegean islets. Bond goes on a rescue mission to find M. and receives help from the beautiful Ariadne, a Greek communist sympathizer and agent for the GRU as well as Litsas, a Greek WWII Resistance fighter who is convinced to help the mission by the promise of capturing and executing Col. Sun’s collaborator Von Richter, an ex Nazi known as “The Butcher of Kapoudzona.”

The novel certainly has enough elements in it to entice any Bond fan, but it still pales in comparison to the Fleming books in terms of execution. I found Amis’s style a bit wordy and laborious especially in the early chapters. There’s a lot of unnecessary expositional dialogue that could have been made a bit tighter or at least would have been made tighter by Fleming if he wrote it. Fleming’s prose reads a lot more smoothly than Amis and when there isn’t any action going on the book gets a bit bogged down. When the action does come, however, Amis’ language awakens and all his stylistic flourishes make those segments quite exciting to read.

Colonel Sun himself may be perhaps the most sadistic literary Bond villain yet. The 3rd act torture scene of Bond is one of the most thrilling of the series and that’s saying a lot considering how much Fleming subjected Bond to torture and near death.

I didn’t enjoy Colonel Sun as much as the Fleming books, but there’s a lot that Amis does get right and the climatic 3rd act of the book is reason enough for any Bond fan to read it. I just wish the earlier chapters between the kidnapping of M. and Bond’s confrontation with the enemies weren’t so arduous to get through.

My apologies for the brief nature of this review.  I may revisit this review and make it a bit more thorough in the future but for now I just wanted to put my initial thoughts out there on the book.

If you want a more detailed review of this book, I recommend you check out my favorite James Bond podcast, James Bond Radio.  A while back ago they did a thorough review of this book.  You can check it out here:

A Look at Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole

In 2013 Ian Fleming Publications decided to continue its Young Bond series, which had been dormant since Charlie Higson’s By Royal Command published in 2008. Higson had moved on with his own new YA series called The Enemy and a new author was needed to continue the series, which had yielded 5 novels under Charlie Higson.   Steve Cole, who had established a children’s series named Astrosaurs, was selected to take the helm, and in 2014 Random House released his first Young Bond book, Shoot to Kill.

Taking place shortly after the events of Higson’s By Royal Command, Shoot to Kill finds a 14 year old James Bond ensnared in a treacherous blackmail plot after he and his friends discover a film reel they weren’t supposed to see.  This latest adventure weaves a tale of Hollywood moguls, Chicago gangsters, and the Los Angeles underworld of the 1930s.

After being removed from Eton, it’s decided that James would go to Fettes College in the fall, but since Aunt Charmian had business in Mexico, however, James would stay at Dartington Hall for the summer, a progressive co-ed school where students do not wear uniforms and none of the rigid rules and tradition James had detested at Eton are observed.  James soon gets wind of an extraordinary trip to Los Angeles arranged for him as well as a few select students.  Film Mogul Anton Koestler apparently wishes to establish several educational academies throughout the world and had arranged for several students from Dartington Hall to visit his Los Angeles Allworld Academy for testing, research, and comparative educational purposes.  In this once in a lifetime experience, the students would travel by zeppelin to Los Angeles and have exclusive access to Koestler’s Allworld Studios in exchange for participating in the educational research.  Gillian de Vries, the Director of Education at Dartington Hall, informs James that he was selected for the trip to see how his Eton education would measure up against a more progressive schooling method.  The trip seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime, but danger is insidiously lurking and James soon learns that nothing about this trip is what it appears to be.

James befriends his fellow student-passengers before the trip.  Hugo is a brash 16 year old student afflicted with dwarfism; Dan is the nephew of Koestler’s new screenwriter whose father owns a chain of cinemas, and Boudicca Pryce is a bright outgoing 16 year old girl who has an interest in mechanics and prefers to be called “Boody.”  The tight knit group belongs to a film club at the school where Dan is able to borrow or in this case steal film reels from his father’s theaters obtaining access to the projectionist booth.  Oftentimes Dan gets hold of uncensored discarded film reels and screens them for his club.  On the night before they were scheduled to leave, a very disturbing film reel depicting real life violence gets screened and the group looks to James for guidance.  James then finds himself precariously chased and threatened over this film reel and hopes that the trip to Los Angeles would provide some sort of respite from the chaos, but needless to say that’s just the beginning.

promotional images for Shoot to Kill

promotional images for Shoot to Kill

I very much enjoyed Shoot to Kill, and while Steve Cole’s writing style is very different from Charlie Higson’s, it does actually suit this story given its setting.  I think some of the negative criticism of this book is based on comparisons to the Higson books. Higson’s writing style is a lot closer to Fleming’s than Steve Cole’s and that becomes apparent from the very beginning.  Cole’s writing in this book is more reminiscent of the noir or hard-boiled crime writers.  At times his sentences are rather lean and stark yet crisp and direct whereas Higson’s writing paid more homage to Fleming’s use of language and sensuous detail.   I happen to enjoy noir fiction a great deal so Steve Cole’s stylistic approach is one that I have always thought would be interesting for someone writing a Bond story.  Fleming was an admirer of Raymond Chandler and other writers who were his contemporaries within the noir / hard-boiled / pulp genre.  He regarded these stories as literary art in a time when many of the writers in that genre were not well-respected in literary circles.  The Bond novels themselves were not very well-liked by the high-brow literary elite so I imagine Fleming felt a sense of comradery with these authors.   For an author to take this kind of approach to Young Bond instead of trying to emulate Charlie Higson’s approach was quite a bold and inspired move although the last third of the book appears to be written in a more traditional style.

There were a couple of moments when I’m not sure if Steve Cole went too far with his stylistic approach. For instance, I can’t imagine young James Bond using the term “coppers” to refer to the police.  I think it’s certainly a term you would hear for that time period especially spoken by period gangsters and their ilk, but it might be stretch to have Bond himself say it as a normal pattern of his speech.

There’s plenty of action and suspense throughout the book.  Bond goes from one dangerous chase to another quite often, but my favorite moments are somethings that happen in between chases.  There’s an instance where Bond crashes a lavish A-List Hollywood party that I think was superbly written and I actually wish had lasted a bit longer.   Cole does a good job depicting the chases and the conflicts James encounters all while leaving just enough intrigue so that you don’t get the full scope of the plot until you’re close to the end.  There are a number of sequences in this book that could very well be cinematic given its setting.  The sequences on the zeppelin were a lot of fun to read, and I think that overall Steve Cole did a fantastic job even if there were times when I missed Charlie Higson.

One of the reasons I miss Charlie Higson is because Higson does a better job at incorporating intriguing historical facts into each of his books regarding the setting and the time period.  In Silver Fin you learn a lot of the little things about what life must have been like for Eton students in the 1930s.  In Blood Fever, you learn about Sardinia and the Nuraghe de San Antine.  Double or Die provides a substantial introduction to ciphers and decryption of codes. Hurricane Gold is set against the backdrop of Mexico and contains references to ancient Mayan culture. By Royal Command places James in a spy thriller prior to the breakout of World War II and does a good job showing the status of the countries involved.  In Shoot to Kill, Cole puts James in Hollywood in the 1930s but other than the party he crashes, I felt like there could have been more historical references to the actual time and setting. I was waiting for a reference to the Hayes Code and the restrictions that censorship started to impose on the studios at the time. It would have been interesting for James to explore the differences in the films that were made pre-Code as opposed to the films that came out after and how some filmmakers found ways to subvert the Hayes code. While the chase scenes were well written and very exciting, I would have liked some of those educational moments that Higson provided so well in his books and it could have perhaps provided a little balance to some of the more fantastical elements that emerge from the blackmail plot.

As far as I can tell, the plan is for Cole to remain on board with Young Bond for a new series of books likely covering the time Bond spends at Fettes College, which would be interesting to see if Cole adjusts his stylistic approach once Bond is back in Scotland.  I look forward to what Steve Cole has in store for Young Bond and I definitely would recommend Shoot to Kill to anyone interested in the series provided that they’ve read the Higson books first.  I enjoyed Cole’s take on Young Bond.  It may be different from Higson, but it was still very thrilling and engaging to read.

As of now, the book is only available as an ebook in the US, but I managed to get a hold of an import copy from the UK.

IMG_20150619_171935761   IMG_20150619_171908911

Sources:

1. Cole, Steve Shoot to Kill. Random House, 2014

2. http://www.youngbond.com/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Bond

4. Interview with Steve Cole: http://jamesbondradio.com/podcast-31-young-bond-shoot-kill-steve-cole-interview/

A Look at By Royal Command by Charlie Higson

Charlie Higson’s final Young Bond book, By Royal Command, is a masterpiece worthy of Ian Fleming himself.  I say this with no hint of hyperbole or exaggeration.  While the Young Bond series has impressed me overall, this final installment from Higson is most reminiscent of the best of the Fleming books as it contains several passages that reminded me of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia with Love.  Higson has done a brilliant job throughout most of the books, which serve as prequels to Fleming’s literary James Bond character.  The events of the series take place from 1933-1934 and chronicle the period of Bond’s life that had only been given a brief mention in the cannon of Ian Fleming.  In Fleming’s You Only Live Twice, M. wrote an obituary for The Times believing Bond to be dead. Here he writes:

“ …at the age of twelve or thereabouts, he [James Bond] passed satisfactorily into Eton, for which College he had been entered at his birth by his father. It must be admitted that his career at Eton was brief and undistinguished and, after only two halves, as a result, it pains me to record, of some alleged trouble with one of the boys’ maids, his aunt was requested to remove him. She managed to obtain his transfer to Fettes, his father’s old school.”

By Royal Command weaves the tale of what really happened to conclude young James’ time at Eton and suffice it to say Higson gives us a spy thriller that not only elaborates on Fleming’s passage but also shows us James’ induction into the secret world of spies in the years leading up to World War II, a world that is described to him as a “shadow war.”

The story begins in early 1934 just after James returns from his Caribbean adventure in Hurricane Gold and the short story “A Hard Man to Kill.” James is now 14 and is eager to return to his normal life as a school boy but first he joins some of his classmates on a field trip to Kitzbuhel in Austria where he learns how to ski.  His roommate for the trip, Miles, is a talkative pretentious type who thinks he knows everything.  When Miles puts himself in danger by drinking on the slopes and getting lost on the mountain, James risks his own life to save him.  The ordeal ends with James being praised as a hero but all is not right afterwards.  There is a man who persists on following him, a suspicious encounter with a German dignitary in the hospital who fears that someone is trying to kill his “cousin Jurgen,” and a dangerous conspiracy brewing back at his school at Eton.

Thickening the plot is the aforementioned boys’ maid, Roan Power, only a few years older than the boys who James takes an instant liking to as well as the new school bully Theo Bentinck, who learns quickly that while he can’t intimidate James he could still make him suffer by taking his anger out on James’ friends making school life nearly impossible.  The book changes gears for each of its three acts.  There are layers of mystery that I don’t want to spoil here for anyone who wants to read the book.  James gets his first full taste of what his future life as a spy will be like including all the players involved in this “shadow war.”  He encounters Hitler Youth, Soviet spies, a communist conspiracy to kill the King, and has his own induction into the British Secret Service and what they do to stem these various plots.  Higson weaves an intricately complicated yet fascinating world for young Bond to navigate and all of it is very well- researched and very relevant to the history of the time period of this story.

Roan Power

Roan Power

Roan Power is probably the most fascinating female character within Higson’s Young Bond series.  She’s very reminiscent of the femme fatale, very dangerous, and yet very sympathetic.  James is blinded by his love for her, and even though she presents a danger to him it’s also evident that she feels something for James.   It’s this kind of paradox of women both luring James towards danger while also genuinely caring about him that gets explored in the Fleming books as well as in the Bond movies.  She tells Bond at one point,

“You’re a blunt object, aren’t you, darling? Oh, I’m not saying you haven’t any hidden depth.  Because I know there’s a lot going on beyond that cool surface of yours.  You’re a lot more grown-up and interesting than most boys your age.  But you’d still rather take on the world with your fists than with your brain, or with your heart.  You’ve got to learn to use your heart, because, if you don’t, it’ll become weak.  And a weak heart is easily broken.  If someone wants to hurt you badly they’ll aim their arrows at that heart of yours.”

In interviews, Ian Fleming would often refer to Bond as a “blunt instrument.” Interestingly enough Fleming himself was removed from Eton at age 17 by his mother who chose to send young Ian to a “crammer” (a specialized school) to prepare him for a Military College, where he failed to gain a commission after less than a year.  It’s fascinating that when choosing a background for Bond’s youth that Fleming should choose Eton as well as a premature removal from the school as part of Bond’s makeup.  It further cements the prevailing notion that Fleming looked to his own life for the inspiration behind James Bond.  What Charlie Higson has done with his Young Bond series is to not only fill in the boyhood details of Fleming’s fictional creation but also tie in some of the cultural and historical events and themes that one imagines would have had an impact on Fleming himself as a young man.

The title of By Royal Command is derived from a brief encounter Young James had outside of Windsor Great Park after hiding in a tree from a perceived threat from the man who was following him.  He sees two little girls playing badminton “on a large well-kept lawn.”  The older of the two girls who was about 8 years old asked young James to retrieve the shuttlecock which had gotten stuck in the branches.  James happily obliges and politely leaves.  He later learns that the two girls were the royal princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret.   He later also meets their uncle, Edward who was the Prince of Wales at the time along with his girlfriend Wallis Simpson, who would later prove to be the reason for Edward VIII abdicating the throne allowing for Elizabeth’s father George VI to succeed him as the King.  The young princess Elizabeth that Bond meets outside the park would become Elizabeth II, who would of course become the reigning Queen during Bond’s tenure as a double-o agent.

At one point when James is introduced to the British Secret Service, he is told

“When you are young . . .  the world seems so simple and straightforward.  There is right and there is wrong.  In the cowboy films the goodies wear the white hats and the baddies wear black.  As you get older you realise the world is not so simple.  There are men in grey hats.”

James then replies, “And what colour hat do you want me to wear, sir?”

That exchange exemplifies some of what Charlie Higson has achieved in this Young Bond series and particularly in his final Young Bond novel.  He shows us James’ transition from seeing the world as a young boy to seeing the world as a man.  The saga of James Bond’s time as an Eton school boy and how it all comes to an end informs us about the experiences that shaped Bond into the fictional man that Fleming created after the war. It’s also a well-crafted look into some of the larger and important historical events that shaped the world in the years leading up to World War II.  Higson does an extraordinary job weaving the history of the time organically into the story and none of it feels forced.  I highly recommend the series not just for anyone interested in James Bond but for anyone who loves history and enjoys a good historically based adventure story.

Though this is Charlie Higson’s final Young Bond book, Ian Fleming Publications recently partnered with author Steve Cole to continue the Young Bond saga.  Cole’s book Shoot to Kill takes place after the events of By Royal Command and was released in the UK in 2014 and is available only as an ebook in the US as of this writing.

Sources

  1. Higson, Charlie By Royal Command. Puffin Books, 2008.
  2. http://www.spectator.co.uk/spectator-life/spectator-life-culture/9472462/from-fettes-with-love/
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ian_Fleming
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/By_Royal_Command
  5. http://www.youngbond.com/

A Look at Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier and “A Hard Man to Kill” by Charlie Higson

The first quarter of this book is Higson’s Young Bond short story “A Hard Man to Kill.” The rest of the book is an overview, reference, and companion guide to the Young Bond series with many illustrations and reproductions of documents referenced throughout the previous books. This book is definitely worth tracking down if you are a young Bond fan. I don’t think it is in print any longer but if you can find a used copy (which is how I got a hold of it), it’s well worth it.

“A Hard Man to Kill” begins with Young James and Aunt Charmian embarking on their return voyage to Europe from the Caribbean on the passenger ship The Colombie after the events of Hurricane Gold. They learn that the ship will also carry a dangerous prisoner being extradited to France named Caiboche. He was originally a French gangster who went on to join the French Foreign Legion during World War I rising through the ranks to eventually become a general. After the war, he became a warlord taking over parts of Algeria using men who were loyal to him committing war crimes that eventually earned him the name “the butcher of Aziz.” The French government finally prevailed in defeating Caiboche’s forces in Algeria but not before he escaped to South America. Eventually, the Cuban government decided to cooperate with France to capture Caiboche and extradite him to stand trial in France.

Of course, Young James finds himself in the middle of a dangerous plot when a group of conspirators try to free Caibosche and rescue him arranging an escape. Fortunately, Bond has two significantly helpful allies to help foil the plot. He has a chance reunion with Wilder Lawless, the girl who had helped save his life in Scotland during the events of Silverfin. She and her father were transporting horses across the Atlantic, and for the first time we see Bond handling the prospect of romance in a more mature fashion. Prior to getting ensnared in the villainous plot, the two seem to enjoy each other’s company and their banter is reminiscent of the kind of banter Bond would have with various women in the Fleming books.

Then, we also meet a young Rene Mathis who would go on to be an ally of the adult Bond in Casino Royale as a French operative. Here, Mathis is part of the Gendamerie Maritime in charge of guarding the prisoner Caibosche. When the conspirators begin their plot, take Wilder hostage, and Caibosche escapes, it’s Mathis who must help Bond providing cover with his gun and alerting the ship’s captain about the villains. There’s a very interesting exchange where young Mathis and young Bond discuss the prospect of firing a gun and the fear that they each have in having to pull the trigger. Even at this early stage, Bond is the braver of the two as he goes about rescuing Wilder from the villains unarmed hoping that Mathis would summon the courage to fire his weapon for the first time when called upon.

“A Hard Man to Kill” is a fast paced engaging short young Bond story that probably could have been expanded into a full length novel had Higson decided to do so. It’s full of suspense, adventure, danger, and even a Bond card playing scene that provides us a taste of what we’ll eventually see in Fleming’s adult Bond. The fictional details for the plot and characters are deftly woven within the historical framework of the time period in which it is set. It’s every bit worthy of being a Bond adventure and I highly recommend it.

I must also say that the rest of the book that acts as a series companion is also very worthwhile for anyone who is a fan of this series. It’s nice to have as a reference if you need to be reminded of an event or character from the previous books and the illustrations and reproductions within are of stellar quality. If you like Young Bond, you NEED to track down and get this book.

Mr. Merriot's  report to Aunt Charmian about Bond's first half at Eton

Mr. Merriot’s report to Aunt Charmian about Bond’s first half at Eton

IMG_20150529_114549346 IMG_20150529_114425829 IMG_20150529_114522487

A Look at Hurricane Gold by Charlie Higson

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.

A Look at Double or Die by Charlie Higson

Charlie Higson’s 3rd Young Bond book was a delight to read. It all takes place before Christmas 1933 after the events of book 2. When an Eton teacher suddenly goes missing leaving behind clues to his wherabouts in a mysterious letter for Bond’s messmate in the Crossword Society to solve, James Bond finds himself ensnared in another dangerous plot pitting him against 2 deadly henchmen, a traitor intent on supplying the Russians with a valuable tactical advantage, and a female Russian Colonel dubbed “The Grandmother.”

There’s a great amount of detail in this book about cryptography and ciphers as the schoolboys must solve elaborate puzzles in time to rescue Prof.Fairburn. Higson does a great job at keeping the material interesting and entertaining explaining how ciphers and binary code work as well as how and to what purpose they are used along with the thinking that goes behind solving and breaking the codes. This is obviously a precursor to the Intelligence work that would eventually go on in WWII, when cryptologists at Bletchley Park helped to solve the ENIGMA codes. Alan Turing makes an appearance here as a young student at Caimbridge, and the reason behind the kidnapping of Fairburn becomes intricately linked with some of the details we now know that had begun to take shape regarding the preliminary concept of computing machines and how they might be used to solve encrypted messages.

Bond begins the story recalling how the Head Master and his Classics teacher at Eton had visited him while still on holiday recovering from the previous adventure.  They had wanted certain assurances from James that the truth about the the plot he foiled involving Mr. Haight’s alliance with Uggo Carnifex would be kept secret so as not to alarm the parents who sent their children to Eton.  Bond was more than happy to oblige as he hadn’t looked forward to the unnecessary attention, but this meant that Mr. Haight would be remembered as a hero instead of the accomplice of a villainous foiled plot. Early on we see Young James question unpleasant realities such as this. He also promised the Head Master that he’d keep away from danger and adventure altogether, but Young James knew that that was an impossible promise to make. Before the end of the year, he’d find himself alongside his mate in his secret Eton Danger Society, Perry Mandeville, illegally driving off in the Bamford and Martin he’d inherited from his Uncle Max to London to solve clues left in Prof. Fairburn’s letter to his friend Pritpal. Higson writes,

“And now, at last, he was cut loose.  Now he was doing what he loved best. He was facing danger. He was taking risks.

He was alive again”

Indeed, Young James seems to thrive on danger, and Higson explores some of the reasoning behind this in a way that helps us understand who James Bond is at this stage in his life.

“Perhaps he’d got involved in this crazy adventure to take his mind off the emptiness he always felt at this time of year when the dark days deepened his sense of loss.”

The events of the story happen to take place prior to Christmas, which is around the time that we imagine Young Bond would most likely be forced to deal with his sense of loss and despair at having been orphaned.  Throughout the story, we see that Bond throws himself into extremely difficult and dangerous situations with a sense that perhaps he feels he has nothing to lose.  This culminates at the end when he faces off against the female Russian Colonel.  Does Bond have in it him to kill someone in cold blood? Of course, we as the reader know that he develops into a man with a “licence to kill” but here we get a glimpse into what might have driven him to such extremes as a young man. There’s a lot going on with Bond psychologically in this story that is really only hinted at, but it’s important enough that it would register with readers nonetheless.  Higson handles all this very appropriately with a certain amount of restraint and subtlety but it’s all there.

The story does a good job at balancing some of the hefty concepts of codes and ciphers with suspenseful action sequences that put Bond’s physical and mental skills to the test. With some very well thought out nods to historical characters such as the aforementioned Alan Turing as well as gangster Dutch Schultz, I highly recommend this 3rd book in the series. Higson does an impressive job of blending together historical characters and events with all the thrilling elements of a James Bond adventure.