Not Quite Young Bond, Not Quite 007
WARNING: Minor plot spoilers
Charlie Higson’s newest Young Bond novel, Hurricane Gold, is a bit of an oddity. One aspect that always shined through as the winning formula of the previous three novels in the series, especially evident in both Blood Fever and Double or Die, was the delicate and interesting mixture between the young James Bond character and the adult 007 he will eventually become. The main character is most undoubtedly a boy and one could argue that is the prime audience these novels should be attempting to please, but Higson always managed to perfectly fit together the puzzle pieces such as new and intriguing locations, the outlandish villains and their sinister plans so that they worked on both the Young Bond and 007 levels. With Hurricane Gold, it seems like the focus was much more in creating a young boy’s adventure story and it results in somewhat throwing off that compelling combination.
In the most recent novel in the series, Double or Die, the story’s events were always on a tight timescale as James and his friends frantically rushed around London trying to solve several cryptic clues in search of the missing professor. Hurricane Gold‘s plot is slightly less defined, but the pace still moves at breakneck speed. One of the first things the reader will immediately notice upon starting Hurricane Gold is the absence of any scenes at Eton. With this location out of the way, the action can promptly begin in Mexico. This is an interesting departure for the series in terms of the basic setup for the storyline, but Higson makes it work by interspersing three letters from Bond’s friends at Eton (Pritpal Nandra, Perry Mandeville and Mr. Merriot), thus keeping the reader in tune with the general events going on at the school.
The boy’s adventure story aspect is most clearly evident in the setup and execution of the many action sequences throughout the majority of the novel. With Blood Fever and Double or Die, the action seemed to alternate with breaks evenly throughout (particularly in Double or Die because of the mystery elements), but in Hurricane Gold, the key word is action from the very beginning. Sequences such as the hurricane and resulting flood are effective, but combined altogether it just doesn’t completely feel like the Young James Bond stories we’ve had in the past.
One of the highlights of Hurricane Gold is the Bond girl of the story, Precious Stone. In a particularly inspired introduction, Bond first meets the initially pretentious and conceited girl as she sits in front of a large make-up mirror, painting her nails: “‘You must be James,’ she said without looking round.” The sequence is faintly reminiscent of Bond’s first encounter with the cool and carefree Tiffany Case in Ian Fleming’s Diamonds are Forever. Her exhaustive complaining during much of the first half of the novel balances well with the common sense approach Bond uses throughout and it makes for a believable relationship between the two.
Slightly less successful (for the first time in the series) are the villains of Hurricane Gold. El Huracán is certainly one of the more outlandish characters featured so far and he makes a strong impression as he introduces the avenida de la muerte–the avenue of death–at the very beginning of the novel. The main problem is that his appearances throughout the story are limited and even with the addition of details on his past life, he just doesn’t make the same kind of impression that earlier villains such as Count Ugo Carnifex and Sir John Charnage did. More effective is the mysterious Theda Glass who leads the gang of thieves and interacts with Bond throughout the first half of the novel. Unfortunately, due to the storyline, the character’s importance ultimately pales in comparison to El Huracán.
As with the previous novels in the series, Hurricane Gold has its own unique torture sequence, this time with an assortment of unfriendly creatures. La Avenida de la Muerte has a little bit of everything, whether it be snakes, scorpions, or crocodiles. The surprise of not knowing what is in store in each new room as Bond and Precious proceed through the avenue of death makes for an effective climax.
Do I recommend Hurricane Gold for interested Bond fans? Yes; definitely. It features several intriguing locations that are new to the literary 007 canon and has a pace that never tires. In turn, the aspect that makes the novel disappointing compared to the previous entries in the series is that isn’t as enjoyable as a James Bond novel. Hurricane Gold works extremely well as a young boy’s adventure novel, but it just feels like the mixture of Young Bond and 007 isn’t quite complete.