Introductions came with SilverFin. Development and maturity followed in Blood Fever. In Double Or Die, Charlie Higson’s third novel in the increasingly popular Young Bond series, the key word here is expansion. The first two novels proved that this is indeed no ordinary boy. Bond is obviously quite capable in dealing with an assortment of villains and his past battles have been quite noteworthy. With that in mind, a challenge is created for the author. The truly difficult task in creating the third novel in a series is simply not writing the second one over again. Blood Fever was an incredibly easy Bond novel for the reader to enjoy. With locations in both the UK and Sardinia and unquestionably bizarre villains with even more outrageous plans, the second novel Young Bond is larger than life. How does Higson succeed in making Double Or Die just as enjoyable; and even more importantly, different? Going in the exact opposite direction.
Charlie Higson expands the Young Bond series by restraining Double Or Die from the exotic and glamorous style that characterized Blood Fever. With the entire storyline taking place over the course of only a few days, this third novel gives off the impression of being a much more reserved (and dark) mystery. Thankfully, the pace moves at breakneck speed, making each and every page tense and unputdownable. The solving of the cryptic clues early on in the story is a perfect example. Whether working out the clues in the company of Pritpal and Tommy or trying to figure them out on his own, they are a constant weight on Bond’s mind due to the extremely limited amount of time remaining.
Charlie Higson’s Double or Die
Confining the novel to locations only within the UK is another brilliant move by Higson. The absence of the globetrotting aspect in Double Or Die allows him to really focus in on the locations that are featured. The Royal College of Surgeons, King’s College in Cambridge, Highgate cemetery and the London Docklands are all described in striking, eerie detail.
Higson creates an interesting parallel between both Bond and the human brain on the very first page of the novel–they both never shut down. Each new hardship pushes him beyond his normal limits and continues him on the path to becoming 007. Upon waking up Saturday morning, he finds the comfort and security of a hospital bed tempting, but realizes he must keep moving forward. This attitude is perfectly summarized in Bond’s line to Perry at the Royal College of Surgeons: ‘I don’t think want to be remembered when I die, actually. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that. It’s living that’s important. Doing things. Not getting bored and wasting your life.’ This line is then followed by a reference to a very fitting statement Ian Fleming once made.
Double Or Die also has its share of new characters to the series. As the main villain, Sir John Charnage is slightly more ordinary in comparison to those who have come before him (but then this does stay in line with the less outlandish style of the novel). With that said, he is certainly no less formidable as demonstrated during the torture sequence. There is also the possibility that the wrathful Colonel Irina ‘Babushka’ Sedova, who we see during the finale of the novel, may return in the next Young Bond adventure. Kelly Kelly, the Bond girl of the story, is given a strong introduction in the final third of the novel as her Monstrous Regiment stumble across a battered and aching Bond and proceeds to cause him further pain.
With no creepy creatures available this time to terrorize Bond, Higson’s use of alcohol as Charnage’s poison of choice leads to possibly the most agonizing form of torture subjected on him yet. The sequence is written magnificently with each successive forced swallow of the dangerous substance clearly causing more pain than the last. It certainly rivals Blood Fever‘s own unique torture sequence involving the relentless attack of mosquitoes.
Especially noticeable in Double Or Die are Higson’s sly references to the original James Bond novels. One of Bond’s friends at Eton suggests they all learn how to play baccarat early on in the story. A quick mention of a casino in Royale-les-Eaux in France is made during the card game with Gordius. Later on, Bond decides to use the name ‘John Bryce’ as his alias while trying to track down Professor Peterson. Also included is Bond’s famous introduction and seven turning out to be a particularly lucky number as he gambles at the Paradice Club.
Charlie Higson clearly proves that he is an accomplished writer by making Double Or Die a riveting thriller that has all the elements of a successful Bond novel–and still making it different from Blood Fever. Favourable comparisons to Ian Fleming’s original Bond adventures are never a bad thing and if there is one particular novel that stands out in this case, it is 1955’s Moonraker. Both Double Or Die and Moonraker are both strictly limited to locations within the UK and take place over the course of only a few days (with a rapid pace that is beneficial to both novels). As Higson continues Bond on the path to becoming 007, readers can be assured that his upcoming adventures will be truly memorable.