CommanderBond.net Become a Patron!
  1. The Impossible Job: Never Dream of Dying

    The following article is the opinion of one individual and may not represent the views of the owner or other team members of CommanderBond.net.

    Also see:
    Looking Back: ‘Never Dream Of Dying’
    and
    Sleep When It’s Read – Never Dream Of Dying
    by Ajay Chowdhury

    Opinions. I loathe them. They only annoy other people. From your perspective, ‘other people’ includes me, so I take it bloody personally that you dare to have one. Jacques Stewart“My opinion is…”, you say, as if you had the temerity, or ability, to state somebody else’s, or anybody in a pip of their right mind would have granted you (I mean—you! Ha!) permission to utter theirs. Alternatively, you wordflab forth with “In my opinion”. Or, very stealthily avoiding the key expression, “What I think is…”.

    The most relentlessly ghastly, however, is “Let me share my opinion with you…”. Even if I “let” you, and it’s an amazing assumption that I will, although the amount of choice I have is fictional because you’re going to tell me anyway, you wish to share your opinion with me? So in sharing it between us it, what, only becomes half as stultifyingly ill-informed as it was? No. Share is what one does with cake. I like cake. I benefit from cake. Cake has creamy goodness. Sometimes there’s some choccy, if I’ve been a good boy and not played with my willy. Your opinion, however, you have just thrust my way. I am being forced to share, in much the same way as Brazilian electricians share the Metropolitan Police’s bullets. I didn’t want it. Do I have to share back? I don’t wanna share. Can’t make me. Don’t see why I have to share mine with you. It is my opinion. Mine. Child of my own delights and prejudices, offspring of my womb of bitterness. Let me keep it to myself. Gerroff. The most I would want to share with you is a bed, but if you’re the sort of cretin that wants to share your opinion in some sort of misguided act of charity, I’m not sure I want to do that with you either, unless we’re both really drunk, it’s past three a.m. and no-one will find out until I’ve thought of a quasi-plausible explanation. Even then, The Sock would still be pretty fierce competition, let me tell you, and at least it won’t hurt me with its opinion afterwards.

    But, do you listen? It rhymes with “no”. Shares many of the qualities of “no”, too. It is, in fact, “no”. Your opinions are out to get me, be they dripped from your grease-encrusted noiseholes or jabbed onto a keyboard with all the understanding of a semi-literate slack-limbed oil spiv pressing the nuclear button or, worse, pebbledashed out via laxatives “a bit like” MySpace or FaceBook or LifeWaste. “But it’s only an opinion,” you might spout, if I were to permit you instead of doing the proper thing, which is to beat you senseless with a Wilbur Smith. Yes, but that’s an opinion too. Don’t you get it, honeylick? Free me of your shackles, you monster.

    What annoys me more is that I am expected to have an opinion, in much the same way as I’m expected to breathe or have toenails or find somewhere worth eating in Leicester. Every morning I am called upon to ‘phone or email or text John Humphreys (I cannot text Nicky Campbell since the injunction, although I can call him that specific word by email—a loophole from which I derive abundant pleasures) with what I think about the credit crunch or ptarmigan or how to edit a film or the Nantwich Cheese Festival, as if anything I could possibly opine about such matters will bear more significance than one fluid ounce of cholera-riddled ratspunk. Yet, people do send their messages in, as if looking in the mirror and coming to terms with the fact that they’re still them just isn’t enough early morning humiliation any more. “Go to the website,” they say, “and let us know what you think.” An offering this morning, from “Baz22” on the BBC website (spelling adjusted to protect the language): “My wife has just bought a German car and my children are being made to learn about Russian history. Who won the War anyway?” I don’t know, Baz22, I just don’t know, but I suspect that your comedy rhetoric is telling us your view and… what of it? What is anyone who matters (in your case, anyone with a proper name) going to do with that view? Why would anyone want to do anything? What has telling us made you? Money? Have you been given a shiny cup, or a sew-on badge? Has your hair grown back, instead of upon your back? Are your testicles now less underwhelming? What is it that you have achieved? There was a woman—I think it was a woman, it looked lumpy and drunken and ill-shaven and that seems to be the current idiom—interviewed this morning who wanted to tell us what she thought Winston Churchill would have thought about the European Union, and she claimed she knew. And then proceeded to tell us. Jinkies! I thought—she’s actually saying that she knows? She’s channelling Winston Churchill? Admittedly, there was a facial resemblance. Hell of a talent. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen—I know this, she mentioned grandchildren—and he’s been dead forty-odd years and she knows what he would have said? Incredible! Sign her up! Get her to tell us who’ll win Dancing on Ice so I don’t have to watch it any more and can indulge in marginally more heterosexual pastimes like macrame or mainlining crack.

    Actually don’t want an opinion on most things. I don’t want to formulate a view on caravanning or the efficiency of the Excel spreadsheet or different makes of awful watch because I can then value the time I would have otherwise wasted in such arid pursuits. Yet, I am required to take a stance, otherwise I am deemed to be a non-participant in life. Phone in! Text in! Email us with your rabid view! Let us expose your pitiful brains and, under the pretence of giving you a voice, identify precisely why you should not be given one at all! Do ring! Even if you can’t text, do text! Text! For decades, ruling classes have feared the people having a voice lest they say something radical, inspiring and beautiful, a call to arms, a rallying cry against oppression. Now that they can see that the best we can muster is “The Batman film were grate” or “Gordon Brown smells of chisels”, and in observing the relentless stale bicker about how to edit action scenes, picking away like suicidally depressed gorillas sitting in weepuddles and lifting lice from each other, mirthless routine, they can sit back happy and do what the damn hell they like to us, safe in the knowledge that we don’t have the ability to do anything about it or, more likely, we’ll ignore it, such is the ferocity of the debate about one’s favourite flavour of carpet or whether a particular film is too long or too short or too wide or too hedge. I just don’t know what the Chinese are so worried about in opening up the internet; as with every human technological advance, all we end up using them for is booking holidays, arguing about utter rubbish and finding free pørnography. You should see Teletext pørn. “Blocky” is probably the kindest thing I can say about it, but like all good grumbleshows, it is guaranteed to send you blind, this one quicker than most. Is that meant to be an arm or a penis? Oh, it’s the weather map. Vaguely stimulating Scotland, though. ‘Scuse me a moment.

    There’s so much opportunity to “give” an opinion, isn’t there? “Give” is an inappropriate word, suggesting gift, with some glad anticipation of receipt. When someone throws some pooh at you, which I would hope is not a common occurrence but I have to accept that some of you may be Northern persons and I am obliged to recognise your ethnicity and culture, was that in the desire to give you the pooh? If that is the nature of giving, it would make Christmas much more fun, hurling an Xbox at an eight year old and watching it bounce off her eye and through a window, and one would actively—and uniquely—look for’ard gleefully to being passed the sprouts. Look at the forums here. People want to tell the world things (on the basis that the world is made up of a few thousand people who can remember individual lines of dialogue from A View to a Kill, and don’t deny that this would make the world so much sweeter), most commonly what they may think about a song, as if it stops the song being sung, or makes the song better sung. Alternatively, they may tell us about why they think N was good as James Bond whilst O was very possibly the embodiment of evil, a dreadful amalgam like cheese & pickle, or a French Fred West. Does it matter? Probably not. Perhaps it is much better than the alternative, that every time they bung a view out there, someone tracks their computer or mobile telephone device back and one day, very early one day, so early that Nicky Campbell’s yet to get his first email from me (and I get up really early to do that), there will be a knock on the door and five burly young men will be standing there and before too many of you think that this is a good thing, you’ll change your mind when there’s a bag on your head and you’re hauled off for really quite unbearably tense questioning about that time when you asserted that Octopussy was somehow acceptable in a democratic society, or that today you were mostly listening to U2 yet again. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Oh God, oh God, someone help me. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Look, we’re trying to help you here, son. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Why has my life come to this? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Trying to focus on the happy time, this will be over soon. Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Did you write that you quite liked Octopussy? Ah, —— it, take it back to its cell. Cries in corner. Face at the door. No face at the door. No one visits. Ripping up sheet. Balancing on stool. Happy memories. A puppy, a ball, the smiling man. There, that should hold. That shed. His rough hands. Yes, that’s nice and tight. The man also said that, didn’t he? Give it a tug. He also said that. Loop around neck. Bye bye mum. Kick swing crack. This is the end of Octopussy.

    Or, does it matter? All these blogs, all these methods of communication, all these opportunities for free speech and it isn’t free speech at all? Are they watching you, and evaluating coldly what it is you have just said, even if you nicked it from somewhere else and your contribution was to make the spelling more adventurous? You have been drawn out into the open when previously you could—and should, if anyone was going to respect you—have kept it so secret that you would forget it, or at least done the decent thing and shot yourself. When they find you, they’re going to put you to death. You would be safer not expressing any opinion at all (and evidently, a positive opinion about Octopussy couldn’t be acceptable no matter how Utopian the society, so never do that). My advice is this—just make a sort of grunting noise—a low bass baritone for disagreement, a warmly amused chuckle for accord. The visual equivalent would be a frowny face or a smiley face. Work out which is which. Perhaps we could do it in animal noises? Animals seem to cope, getting on with their lives in much the same way I do—breathing, blinking, sweating, eating, coughing up a furball, marking out my territory in wee—without ever having to play a quote game or typing something fatuous about Tony Gubba. So, which sound? Not a moo, even if all this noise usually just descends into bovine rumination—a moo is too difficult to interpret, the ambivalence of the cow being a dangerously non-committal statement, and one that’s led to great suffering in the past. Who was it standing in the fields watching the Nazis roll into Poland in 1939? Cows. Who stood aside, chewing their lunch, when the Russians went into Hungary? Cows. Don’t trust ’em. They’re bastards. Maybe a harsh doggy barking noise for anger, or a serpenty hiss for sarcasm, and a contented purring for agreement, perhaps even the prirrp prirrp of the dolphin for making an intelligent point (you won‘t hear this one much). This isn’t as daft as it reads. You might not know this, but dogs cannot work The Internet (I could have broken that one more gently but it is true) and therefore what do you think it is they’re doing when barking away at each other at 2 a.m? They’re going through the same routines as us, just with more honesty as they’re not pretending to listen to one another. As it happens, a lot of dogs are Pierce Brosnan enthusiasts. Only ones who can make out the pitch of his voice. Cats… well, cats seem to prefer licking their own anuses. A judgment call. Woof woof woof, woof woof woof, woof woof. LOL!

    (Distinguish the above from “Woof woof woof, woof woof woof, woof woof woof”, which is meaningless).

    Might as well ram one’s head into the keyboard, all the achievement it… um… achieves. Lkasfjksdfkj askkdsjdfsjkfs poiuofo dsfofipdfspdfsi fslfskl;lsdfsd;l sadflfdskfkldfs. Ladsklklklsj sdfjklfsfdskjfjd aadsdads jfjdfsjfj fas98wei9erj a;lff;fdsfs kkfkifdsjsdjsd sadfodfsofdso fadssdpfp safdfjdssdjjf.

    Anyway, whatever code it is that we devise, this way we’ll make it through. We can build this dream together. Standing strong forever. Nothing’s gonna stop us now. If the world runs out of lovers, we’ll still have each other and you’ll have got your opinion across without a ) having required anyone to engage with your brainspew in any way, because they were never actually going to do that and you’re deluded if you thought they were, and they’ll like you more for saving their time, and without b ) having endangered your liberty, or reason, by evidently agreeing or disagreeing with “opinions”.

    Below is my opinion of Never Dream of Dying. It is of no consequence. This is also true of the book. You do not have to read it. That is also true of the book. I apologise if that’s broken another unbearable truth (alongside the dogs/internet one; blinkin’ flip, it’s like Jeremy Kyle in here today, albeit with a marginally less deep-fried whiff). My opinion, your opinion, does not actually have to be noticed. It may as well not be there. You can stop reading now. You are not obliged to give it any time at all. I cannot make you. Not yet, anyway. Give me time.

    If the strapping young men come for me in the morning, please make the bag a linen one. Man-made fibres chafe so. Although, frankly, they should bring with them a medal the size of The Moon and make me the Baronet of Opinions, because I had to read the awful thing again and it mashed my brain up real bad. But that’s only my opinion.

    Never Dream of Dying

    What follows is an opinion. The only fact is that it is an opinion. This does not make the opinion fact. If this distinction troubles you, you might as well throw yourself off a bridge right now because the world’s going to confuse you very horribly and you are already lost, my child. I cannot help you. I am just some typing. You’re on your own. Face it. Cope. Or find someone to blame.

    I’ll start with the big thing first. The villain is Marc-Ange Draco.

    “It was all clear to Bond now. After the death of Tracy, Draco, once a criminal but a man with principles, had become a bitter, vengeful man.”

    Why this is a good idea:

    Well, whyever not?

    It is a logical idea to “make” Draco the villain, even if it does shove to the sidelines Le Gerant, just when he was becoming interesting. Draco is a villain. He never was a nice man; professionally, he is unpleasant and brutal—the success of the character as initially written is the palpable tension Bond has in dealing with him—and he is emotionally and socially suspect, given that he admits to Bond in their first interview that he raped Tracy’s mother. Such “principles”. This has never been a hero and “making” him a villain is the correct thing to do, because it’s effortless, or should be. Trouble is that what happens here is that Mr Benson renders him a bit nicer and sympathetic—he’s an affable codger and stops only one micron short of breaking out the Werther’s Originals—and then wants to pull the rug out from under us at the end. The rug went years ago, son. As soon as he appears, it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen here. The chapter headings give it away, for a start.

    This cannot be a surprise. Most of the book is set in a (typically vividly realised) Corsica, there is an organisation called “The Union” based there and the villain is somehow a mystery to the reader as well as to Bond (who, sorry to say, comes across in this book as really thick, if this plot twist is to work). Rely on the broad strokes here. There y’go—it was Marc-Ange Draco all the time. He bankrolled The Union, let it absorb the old Union Corse, Le Gerant (who is forgotten by the end of the book and dies as an afterthought) was his nephew, Bond (albeit sort-of-but-not-really accidentally on purpose) is partly responsible for the death of his latest wife and daughter and British Intelligence had no way of finding any of this out. Eh? For this to work, it all does rely on yawning chasms in information and nobody knowing anything. Anyway, boo and hiss. So, do we have a problem with this? I seem to recall—not that I’m making an effort—that at the time the book came out, several of the couple of dozen who read it thought this too great a change in the character and were “upset” (please: it’s a fictional character). So, apparently, is Bond.

    Why this is a bad idea:

    Going back to that quote, why on Earth is this? It was all clear to Bond now? Only now? It’s not as if Tracy only died a few months previously, is it? What age are we meant to assume Draco? If we take the end of OHMSS as occurring in the New Year of 1962 and this story being somewhere around 2000/2001 (given that it refers to “Prince Edward and his wife Sophie” (presumably the Earl and Countess of Wessex, if one were to refer to them at all properly, like)), then even at the generous estimate that Draco was in his mid-fifties in the earlier tale, he’s over ninety now and probably thinks he’s an ant or something, even if fathering a child at an advanced age suggests that there’s still some mustard in his custard. If he has been supporting The Union all this time, evidently his judgment is that of someone in their “Golden Years” (i.e. enfeebled). Ultimately, he has been behind the Skin 17 fiasco, a failed coup in Gibraltar and in this book, in the most dastardly threat to the public welfare, he wants to remake Waterworld. Silly old pillock.

    I have no issues with the basic idea. My issue is with the fact that it’s taken so long and, when it comes, it’s treated as some sort of surprise that Bond could not see coming. The notion is sound: the execution is terribly flawed (a Mr Benson staple, admittedly) as it requires Bond to be completely dense, which isn’t that appealing a characteristic. He doesn’t seem to question why Draco has been in hiding. He doesn’t seem to concern himself with who it is he kills in the opening shoot-out and nobody else seems concerned to find out. Little things that would make a considerable amount of difference. Willing suspension of disbelief is one thing—plot holes through which one could drive epileptic bison are another. Accordingly, whilst the idea of Draco being the villain is fine, twenty years earlier it would have been considerably more plausible and the plot machinations mean incredibly daft knock-on effects on the plausibility of Bond himself. And this nonsense about suddenly turning vengeful—wasn’t the whole point of the Union Corse all about systematic blood vendetta (a concept banged on about at length in this book too)? So, again, there is nothing in Draco’s actions that mean any change of character whatsoever, save to the extent that this writer monkeys about with it to try to spring a surprise.

    There is something that doesn’t ring true in the concept, though: in DoubleShot, The Union taunted Bond early on with a double of Tracy. If the power behind Le Gerant was so cut-up and vengeful about her death, would this really have been sanctioned? Strikes a discordant note in an otherwise plausible explanation. It’s as if, God forbid, Mr Benson saw his opportunity to bring Draco back in the final book and let plausibility go hang. The very thought. Tchoh! Eh? Tchoh! Mmm? And tsk! I really do wonder whether, in setting out on this “trilogy”, Mr Benson really, genuinely, intended it to end this way. Or cared. Also, given that we are told in the initial (and literal) fire fight that The Union knew Bond and the Frenchies were about to attack them, and Draco is The Union, why put his wife and daughter in danger, unless it is to get them killed by Bond so he can be a bit miserable later on? All very curious.

    Should this revelation of Draco as the badhat come as a surprise to the reader? Depends who is doing the reading. If one is unaware of Draco at all, it will be meaningless and therefore shuts off the casual reader in the usual Bensonian manner, and just when he was neatly developing his own most indelible villain. If one has only seen the film version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, then all this guff about Draco having turned vicious and bitter may work, as the Draco of that film is a chipper, saucy old rogue and nice family man who, admittedly, could get a bit miz if every time James Bond pops up the offspring catch death because of him. But for anyone noting the book Draco, this cannot really be a revelation. Mr Benson has stated, I think in an interview with this website, that Draco being the villain is entirely within character, which is true, but the way he’s written the book, and in particular the reaction of Bond to this character, is that he was setting Draco up as the avuncular Ferzetti model, not the nasty bastard of the original story. Conclusion: this is the film Draco, if what Bond is ostensibly put through by his writer is to achieve any pretence at sense. This is the film Bond.

    And, indeed, this is the “Film Bond”, set as it is around a terrorist attack on the Cannes Film Festival and Bond working undercover as something-or-other, whilst nosing around the production of “Pirate Island”, which appears to be some sort of godforsaken cross between Cutthroat Island and Mad Max and evidently The Union’s most heartless outrage yet. There are a number of observations gently hurled at us about people in the film industry: apparently some of them are not very nice, several of them take cocaine and they may be involved with organised crime. It’s all so thrillingly revelatory. The stuff at Cannes is jolly amusing, with suitably coy breaking-the-fourth-wall name-checks for Carole Bouquet (albeit sans ‘tache, an error) and Sophie Marceau but all this becomes very silly and most chortlesome when it dawns on the reader that—oh no!—they’re going to kill John Madden! Aieee! You’ll be shaking the book, feverish with excitement, devouring every page! The scoundrels! Not John Madden! Spare John Madden! Let John Madden live. (For those not in the know/care, and I admit that I had to spend some life looking this up, he subjected us to Shakespeare in Love so “Actually, let John Madden Die!” would probably find more support). Francis Ford Coppola gets a mention, but that’s pretty much all he deserves these days. B-bm. Although, thinking back for a moment on the John Madden thing, Mr Benson does appear to have taken on board the advice from that film about having a comedy moment with a dog; about ninety pages into this and there’s an ill-judged action sequence at a televised dog show which seems of no purpose save to inform us that “The director in the control room went nuts”, lovely, and to resurrect the Thunderball joke about someone losing a dog, albeit I seem to recall him doing that in High Time to Kill too. That I recall this does tend to suggest that I am wasting my life.

    If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I’m sure it’s a hugely interesting sort of thing and doubtless there’s plenty of so-true-the-truth-squeals-out-of-it-like-a-pig-in-a-war observations about the horrible sort of vapid rubbish that makes horrible vapid rubbish, but I am no more interested in the people who make my films than I am in the people who make my ready meals, who are probably equally as whacked out of their skulls on nasal talc if last Thursday’s moussaka is any clue. I’m afraid that this background left me cold and ultimately I didn’t care very much whether or not Gilles Jacob, who rather bizarrely Bond appears to recognise despite frequent assertions that he knows little of the film “world”, gets blown up or gassed or drowned or nibbled to death or whatever it is. Accordingly, it’s not a plot that engages me and “James Bond at Da Moooovies” is, unfortunately, by far the least interesting story yet. One wonders if it’s a final throw to try to get one of these things filmed, that in mentioning Catherine Deneuve and the Coen brothers someone would suddenly make something worth watching out of Blast from the Past. I wonder if the Coen botherers know they’re in a Bond book, albeit one as utterly shruggable as this? If I were them, I’d send around that horrible man with the gas cattle-gun thingy to say hiya. Or Barton Fink, to bore everyone to death. I have never understood why the people who make entertainment think that the making of entertainment makes for entertainment. I suppose that’s entertainment. For some. Not me. It always strikes me as an smug exercise in delusional vanity. I suppose that it’s not as naff as James Bond saves The Academy Awards (copyright and all rights reserved to whoever is mad enough to claim them) when we would all be anxious about the fate of Mick Jackson and Mira Sorvino and Whassherface who gave us this generation’s definitive interpretation of Dr Christmas Jones.

    After the structurally interesting but otherwise abject High Time to Kill and the family-splitting intrigue (still unresolved) in deciding whether DoubleShot is a clever pastiche or really quite as rubbish as it appears, this is a conventional narrative against a dull background and, to save you the bother, Jean-Louis Trintignant, whoever he may be (admit it, you’ve no idea either, and it’s a thunderously show-offy reference) lives to die another day. This will always be the problem in setting a Bond against a real-life event for as we know, the Cannes Film Festivals in 2000 and/or 2001 (or whenever this is meant to be, perhaps it’s 1622) went ahead very peacefully and the only victim was art.

    On reflection, I wonder whether Mr Benson was really all that interested in this one. Not much actually happens: it is very light on action in comparison to most of his others although, to give him credit, he does appear to be wanting to try to write a love story in which Bond appears now and again but most of the investigatory leg-work is done by Rene Mathis (who must be about 254).

    As opposed to DoubleShot, which was all about Bond, this is a book in which Bond appears only sporadically, for the first half anyway, pratting about with some actress woman whilst other people do the Bond-stuff (or don’t do anything at all and rather bizarrely wait for James Bond to turn up and make it all OK). The deathly dog-show incident pads out the first half with some “action”, but as an incident it’s filler. Bond beating up a guard at Belmarsh is an arresting (ho ho!) little incident, but it is just a little incident, albeit it leads to a good joke about union protection. I limp away from this one wondering whether his heart was in it. Abundant references to Goro Yoshida and his schemes suggest that Mr Benson would much rather be writing about those, and they’re diverting little vignettes, so diverting that I want to read about them than whatever’s meant to be going on here. Additionally, the female lead mentions so often that she appears with her estranged husband as a “contractual obligation” that it raises the suspicion that Mr Benson is trying to make some sort of point, somewhere, somehow, so subtly, so very subtly. The offhand manner of the destruction of The Union and the villain (remarkably straightforward and Le Gerant falls for a transparent trick: is he blind or what?), the letting of anything resembling narrative coherence go hang for the sake of an in-reference, it comes across as being there but that’s about it. It plays, not as the grand climax to The Union but as the prelude to the next book, and there’s a genuine impression I get of wanting to hurry things along here and get it all out of the way. Admittedly, Mr Benson has been rather deft throughout his series, of rolling things together—we had a Helena Marksbury Trilogy that rolled into and crossed over with The Union Trilogy that, here, crosses paths with the Yoshida Duet, and obviously we have the M. Being Useless and Inept Sextet. Here, though, I am left abandoned at the end not just with the usual dissatisfaction but also an unsatisfaction.

    It is, of course, reassuringly Mr Benson: the usual stuff, the standard deathly prose from the school of “oh God, why bother?” that gives us a description of seaweed as “[S]ome of it was brown, a lot of it was green, and a portion was red.” Ooh; a whole portion; lush. One sentence simply reads “Uh oh.” That’s it. Unclear whether this is Bond thinking it. or the writer. Or me. All a bit autopilot, and even the game of spot the bizarre solecism isn’t challenging this time around: Bond emerges from the Eurotunnel in his DB5. Isn’t Eurotunnel the parent company, rather than the Channel Tunnel itself? And the way it’s written suggests that Bond drove through the tunnel which… can’t happen. More positively, it’s generally (although, in one “important” regard, inconsistently) breezily written with a lot of contractions in the narrative of the “hasn’t” and “wasn’t” and “he’d” variety and this is unashamed and confident and seems to be making some sort of point that this is how I, Raymond Benson, write stuff, so eat it, bitch, or sod off, which is bold and perhaps this is indeed the most obviously “A Raymond Benson Book” rather than “A James Bond Book by some American bloke” so far (especially as Bond does damn all and is one of the more boring characters served unto us). Certainly, the incident involving Perrin and Weil (two film persons with the initials P and W, one name of six letters, the other four… hmmm) with its reference to “hookers” doesn’t read as Bondy and perhaps that’s no bad thing: this may well be a Raymond Benson novel (and may be a defining moment of the style) and whilst I fear that he’s not a new and exciting author I will be reading much of or searching out his work in remainder shops the globe o’er, the book could be taken to demonstrate a desire to stretch away from the Bond thing.

    The unsatisfaction comes from what a weird book this is: just when one was expecting something dramatic and exciting as a conclusion, it is hollow: damn all of consequence happens and the big reveal is lumpy and unthrilling given that we all know very early on that (amongst other clues of equivalent punch-on-the-nose delicacy) that Le Gerant uses a Union Corse yacht to get about. Being generous, let’s say Mr Benson wanted to make the point that finishing off one bunch of villains doesn’t stop villainy elsewhere which is a true enough observation but makes the principal narrative a difficult one with which to engage, the tedium about film-making aside. Even Bond’s thoughts seem elsewhere: early on, he wonders whether a trip to Japan will be in his near future; only 100 pages or so in and he wants the book over too. I sympathise.

    The other villains are some typing. This is a bit of a sadness with Le Gerant, who provokes in his torture of Bond one of the greatest cliffhangers of the series in “He couldn’t help screaming, especially when he smelled his own eye burning”. A book with that sentence in it cannot be entirely without merit, and only a fool would assert otherwise. Being a nephew of Draco (and how does no-one actually know that Draco and Cesari senior were half-brothers?), and therefore within the man’s family and accordingly fated to die when James Bond hoves into view, it is a novelty to have Bond related to the villain, albeit distantly and by marriage. Shame that Le Gerant has to get stuck in the middle of spat between the in-laws. Gets blown up in a helicopter, which is an oddly impersonal sort of death: given his pervasiveness, and the pretty monstrous things he has done to Bond and his chums over the years, one might have expected something a bit more satisfying. Unless we can chalk up another generous interpretation and this is Mr Benson teaching us that there is little or no true satisfaction truly received from killing someone so they may as well die any-old-how. Wisdom. Still, given such a vivid and, an achievement this, sensual villain, it does seem anticlimactic. Perhaps it’s a brave move on Mr Benson’s part. There remain unanswered issues about Le Gerant at the end (it’s never really explained how he has been cheating at cards, unless he truly has (forgive the pun) second sight, which does give him a dimension of the extraordinary and the interesting) and why should we always expect answers—isn’t the unexplained more troubling? Or perhaps it’s because Mr Benson was bored with him and couldn’t be bothered to invent any reasons. Daily, I face the dilemma of deciding which.

    Amongst the other villains, the two most unusual are some bloke called Rick Fripp, and he’s only interesting because his aroma is the subject of a weird bit of typesetting on page 159 of the UK first edition, and Leon Essinger who is—and does this remind you of anyone, anyone at all?—a film director who cannot return to the United States for fear of arrest, and is a Frenchman married to a model/actress/whatever who makes spectacular action films. No, it’s gone. Anyway, he is the most cartoony element of the whole affair, this Roman Besson or whatever he’s called, and given that his conversations with his estranged wife habitually end with him muttering dark oaths, he may as well wear a big hat and swishy black cape and have his dialogue suffixed with the phrase “he cackled, wildly”. Enjoyably silly, but no threat of any sort.

    As far as the traditional bunch of tedious hangers-on go, there’s little or nothing to report and they only evidently appear because they probably have to. The Bond/Moneypenny and Bond/M relationships are still the bickery twaddle of the Bond films and are therefore fit only for ignoring. M still seems blithely unconcerned by events generally, and seems to rely on Bond being the only agent acting against The Union. Lazy old cow. Bond has a new p.a. and her name is Nigel Smith. A Bond Boy who only drinks soft drinks (albeit this appears to be explained by having one kidney). The mind boggles. What are we meant to think about this? If, indeed, anything. Major Boothroyd is back, not for the better. Mr Benson appears to be making a particular point about not using the name “Q”, the issue presumably being that the “Q” that we know and tolerate is a creation of the films: this would be tenable if his Major Boothroyd wasn’t anything other than the Llewelyn prototype and, anyway, in chapter three of Casino Royale, M directs Bond to have a chat with Q about equipment, so it seems to be an artificial point to press.

    Of all the usual parasites, Rene Mathis gets the most screen time and the first half of the book is as much about Mathis as Bond. This is a success, save that quite a lot of what Bond then later does is to tread over the same ground, which does little to diminish the gust of repetition and leftovers rattling through the book. Mathis occupies enough attention as a character that it’s genuinely affecting when he is blinded; however, does he need to be Mathis? Because enough care and attention is paid to him, and he is developed as someone to be interested in, could he have stood up as an original character of Mr Benson’s own devising? I think so. This is part of the frustration—did he actually have to use Rene Mathis? It still looks terribly insecure, this shaking of the skeletons of Fleming’s bit-part players. True, if one did not know he was a Fleming character, then one would accept at face value that he is this author’s own creation, but that does raise the question—why call him Mathis? Why not LeBlanc or Martin or any other common French name? Would work just as well. It’s all very odd.

    As for Bond himself, it’s moot whether he appears in this. There are some touches of the old lad kicking about—and by old, he must be about eighty by now, which does make the principal relationship a mite ewww. He speaks fluent French, allegedly, has an Armani dinner jacket (I mean, what?) and takes ten minutes to swim one hundred metres, evidence itself of considerable age. He shoots his father-in-law, something I can sympathise with although someone in Palermo beat me to it, and has been known to sleep with fashion models (male or female is unclear, and presumably not from the Grattan catalogue) but found them vacuous. James Bond. Finds someone else vacuous. Hm.

    There are, reassuringly to remind us that it is Mr Benson’s vision after all, the sporadic dashes of EonBond such as 007 contemplating “If only he had the car’s machine guns” or “just a rocket or two”, yeah yeah, and some awkward observations, with Bond being impressed by the performance of a mid-range Renault Megane (I’m not convinced that the (ahem) real James Bond would even have deigned to be aware of such an object) and a very curious reflection on losing his virginity in Paris (presumably in the Underage pørn Cut of By Royal Command) asserting: “Although the sex had been explosive, the experience of discovering that he’d been taken for a ride had left a permanent bad taste in his mouth”. Getting banged, someone rode a teenage James Bond via his mouth? Jesus H Juice, what happened?

    Slice off the routine MI6 stuff, which would be easy enough as they add nothing, this is a hero in a tepid romantic action piece that would work just as well if the hero was Jed Bang or Trig Kyll or, perhaps more likely for Mr Benson and his adult entertainment enthusiasms, Dick Klitt. The impression, having done quite a lot with Bond in the previous two books, DoubleShot especially, is that the writer has run out of interesting things for Bond to do (and has perhaps realised, just as his forebears did, quite what a vapid character he can be) so, in a twist, he creates interesting things for Bond to doesn’t. It is unclear whether Mr Benson wants Bond in the story at all. He is sidelined for too much of the early story and the “love affair” is so utterly contrived, that it’s a bit of a disappointment when Bond turns up again. Whilst it’s clear that Mr Benson wants to develop a stronger relationship between Bond and the girl than he has done to date, and make their eventual parting more significant and melodramatic, this isn’t hard given the competition presented by Thingy and Her and Mrs Doowit and Them Twins. Seeking to concentrate on the romance and leaving plot to go slit its wrists somewhere quiet and unseen, whilst the relationship does get more space, it is unfortunately no more convincing than any of the others, just more time-consuming. There are two particular problems with it.

    Firstly, repeatedly, Mr Benson has Bond muse about whether this relationship is love, which is nothing more than the writer telling us that it is regardless of convincingly demonstrating it as such through how he tells it, which is cheating and if he can’t be bothered to write it properly, I can’t be bothered to read it properly, please may we get back to the grim eye-torturing inflicted on Mathis, ta. Secondly, any conviction is undermined by an initial meeting that is hootsomely unlikely. Bond, working undercover as representative of “Pop World” magazine—James Bond works for Heat, OMFG! LOL!—eats lunch with the woman, during which we are witness to giggling about blonde jokes, Bond being overtly flirtatious, lots of gossip about fashion and celebrities and horoscopes and shoes and interior design (probably), the girl laughing so loud that Bond wanted “to hug her” (ooh, snuggles; what next, a big sleepover and a Sex and the City marathon?), Bond thinking that everything she wears is A-MAZING and, most of all, being a really, really, really good listener who drinks Pouilly Fuisse: why she doesn’t assume that James Bond is a screaming homosexual cliché is a mystery, unless her unsubtle come-ons are intended to indicate that she sees him as no threat, signals that Bond ultimately mis-reads in a spectacularly heterosexual fashion. Perhaps, thinking back to what we are told about the losing of his virginity, whenever he is in Paris, 007 is gay. I have a friend a bit like that; weekends, he is Robert but when he flies to Germany every Sunday evening, he is called Samuel. But that’s because he is a bigamist and cannot have either wife discover this. I certainly don’t want his Oxford wife to find out—it would completely ruin my Monday nights.

    “[My mother] had to scramble to come up with a name for a girl that began with a “T”. She put “Ty” and “Lyn” together and came up with “Tylyn”. ”Bond thought that she was an amazing girl…”

    What, on the basis of this crummy anecdote? Man’s a fool. Fine, so there’s a “real live” Tylyn noted in the acknowledgements at the front of the book (Tylyn rhymes with smilin’ (or, presumably, um, well… tilin’)) and this may well be how the actual person came by her name, but it’s not particularly exciting a reason, is it, this feeble person-naming protocol that involves sticking two things together? Further evidence of the weary “oh, I can’t be bothered trying now; here are some words” impression. I name this child Fiscalradiator, for I have “put” Fiscal and Radiator together and come up with “Fiscalradiator”. Fiscalradiator is a little sister to our other children, Ringbinderlips, Slaggrandpa, Scissortit and Dungflue (Jr.). Whilst I would hope for her sake that the bland stupidity gene is not hereditary, the rest of the narrative suggests otherwise. And what does she mean, her mother had to give her a name beginning with T because had she been a boy, she would have been Timothy? Weird thing to discuss and it reads really oddly, not so much a conversation as a nonversation, but I guess we have to be thankful her mother wasn’t keen on the name “Pierce” otherwise she might have tried to put “Pen” and “Is” together. Why couldn’t the mother think of a female name beginning with T? What about—Tracy? Um. Well, perhaps that would be going too far, even for Mr Benson. Tatiana? Hm. I see the difficulty. There’s Tjennifer (the T is silent). Could always have tried Tinkerbell, I s’pose. Or, perhaps, [censored], which would fit nicely with

    “Finally, he took a breast in his hand and used his thumb and forefinger to stimulate the nipple. When it was erect, he slowly and gently twisted it, pulled it, twisted it, pulled it…”

    And then he hooked her up to one of those electronic udder graspers and got two pints of foaming gold top out of her. She was his best heifer, and he looked forward every morning to her soft brown eyes, her blistered tongue and her smell of crusty dung. Oh! How he loved her and how he loved thinking about the luggage her leather would make, and the hamburger her womb and rectum would end up in.

    “Tylyn squirmed under him as he alternated between the two breasts. Then, keeping his left hand on one breast and continuing the nipple stimulation…”

    Exquisite. “I shall now proceed to continue the nipple stimulation, madam. Please do not adjust your hat.” What an antiseptic description, all the passion of the nit nurse. I think his technique is a little rough. Mrs Jim insists that I use my tongue; bet you really needed to know that. I did consider it necessary to share.

    “…he slid his right hand down to the mound between her legs. Her hair was soft and thin there. She was wet, and his second and third fingers slid inside easily.”

    Oh, Mr Benson! What are you saying about the virtue of the young lady? Could one hunt deer in there? Is it like a welly top? I know the words “actress” and “prostitute” have traditionally been interchangeable, but still…

    Perhaps she’s the Eurotunnel.

    “Tylyn moaned loudly and arched her back as he used his thumb to circle the erogenous zone at the top of her vulva.”

    I wonder if he writes Biology exams in his spare time. All very matter of fact, isn’t it? I’m not actually finding this erotic, and evidently with me popping up (fnarr) there’s an amount of coitus interruptus but I do wonder if we’re meant to be taking notes for a test next Tuesday. You, there, Benson minor—yes, you boy—draw me the erogenous zone at the top of the vulva. I said the erogenous zone at the top of the vulva! What do you mean you don’t know where it is? Ask your mother! Stupid boy!

    Or did he write this at all? Humour me on this. So brutally fisted into the narrative is this episode that I do wonder whether this is the Benson voice or some perverse edict of the publisher. I may be wrong, and on the basis of being married and having children I have become resigned to the fact that I usually am, but there’s pleasing speculation to be had and imagery to brainspunk that Mr Benson was forced to emit amateur pørn at gunpoint and this is the spill, taking the ournal out of journalism. Admittedly, there must be worse fates than being contractually obliged to write a whambamthankyoumamagram, such as being a peep-show booth wiper or managing Carlisle United or being educated at an unimportant school and if wrong I am, I shoot a load of tepid apologies right in yer faces and will perform a suitable act of contrition that will doubtless involve public nakedness, a lacrimose ambulanceperson and a radish. But I’m not sure that I am. Yet.

    “He kept up this rhythm for several minutes, using her natural lubrication to slide his thumb up and down and around her clitoris, while keeping his two fingers deep within her.”

    It rhymes with clucking bell. How deep? I think, given what we’ve been told so far and we now inwardly know this woman, and that she’s as wet as an otter’s pocket, this seems like atypical restraint. Deep enough to wear her appendix as a little hat? Deep enough to scramble her eggs? Detail! This textbook requires detail! There is an image that I just cannot shake, of Bond using his fingers to work out the last of the jam from the bottom of the jar.

    “Tylyn’s breath increased and the moans became louder until her stomach tensed and she gasped. Bond felt her contract spasmodically around his fingers as she writhed on the bed.”

    It remains a little unclear how easily he extracted those fingers. This would be the very definition of compromising situation, would it not? Imagine what would happen if his fingers got stuck? Have to go through life as some sort of obscene ventriloquism act. The Amazing James and La Tylyn Fantastique. Puts Orville the Duck firmly in his place. That’s it children, if you twist and pull the right nipple like turning an ignition key, she’ll make a honking sound, and do the same to the left and she’ll sing a bawdy song about Kent. No, Kent. Yes, I know what it sounds like.

    I very much hope he washed his hands before eating.

    It hasn’t finished yet. Oh no. Au contraire.

    “Later, after she had caught her breath and calmed down, she snuggled next to him, and said, “Don’t you dare leave, James. Don’t you dare.”

    “She reached down, grasped him, and proceeded to return the favour.”

    So, James Bond fingers a French fancy who then tugs away at his purple-headed womb broom. Unless, by returning the favour, she stuck a couple of fingers up his wrong ‘un and, I dunno, worked out a bit of sweetcorn or, on the basis of this rubbish, the manuscript of a book. Wouldn’t surprise me, but on balance, it’s probably a swift hand shandy. It’s so tremendously sophisticated, isn’t it? “Never Dream of Dying—Bond gets Wanked Off”. Evidently, and rather transparently, this is in the book to shock, and it is pretty shocking albeit for reasons other than its graphic nature. It’s ultimately over-descriptive; there’s little if any sensuality to this. It’s as if someone is describing what they are watching; it’s voyeuristic, not participative; grubby rather than involving. Perhaps, as I believe Mr Benson has asserted, if Ian Fleming had lived, he would have come up with something similar, and maybe he would, but I doubt it would have been so pedestrian. It is stimulation absent the first T. I remember upon my initial reading being surprised that this had made it into a Bond story but now that we’ve all sat through Mr Craig telling Ms Green about the qualities of his little finger, ultimately I’m not so sure. Still, Casino Royale may have been a departure (-ish) from the Bond norm but they just weren’t going to suggest that Bond’s fingers were slathered in labial juices, which is pretty much what I take from this. James Bond “meets” a French floosie, indulges in a crafty clit-tickle and it’s all jolly good clean fun as she excretes Chateau Twatto over what he uses to pick his nose; then he gets a hand-job for his efforts. Trouble is, it’s not suggestive, which might have been amusing, and to have to read it is really rather jarring. Up to now, the narrative style, such as it is, has been breezy and light, getting on with telling us uncomplicated things in an uncomplicated, unthreatening and chatty way. However, at this juncture, the writing becomes considerably… um… stiffer. Um. Everything stops and we are forced to watch this. And, basically, it is indeed a bit embarrassing. Doubtless it pushes an envelope (how hard is pushing an envelope anyway?) but one queries whether it was an envelope worth pushing. And not with those fingers. Unless it was a French Letter. Or perhaps I should be more adult about this and observe that such things are natural in a loving relationship and when a mummy and a daddy or a mummy and a mummy or a daddy and a daddy or a daddy and a doggy love each other very much they seek to express such love with as much of their bodies as possible. Yes, even the nose, Gio-Gio. And the ear. Even Daddy’s big fat belly, yes. Possibly not the knee, no; that would be silly. For example, your mother’s principal erogenous zone is not located north of the vulva, no, but appears to be Selfridges. Whereas my principal erogenous zone is north of the Volga. What do you mean you’re only three?

    I digress. Where was I? Must remember to cut my fingernails.

    Oh, why can’t I do the decent thing and admit that this anatomy of her anatomy embarrassed me horribly and I’m not coming at this from a pretence of arch detachment but really from a little boy lost gone a bit red faced at all the sexy stuff? Well, sorry, can’t. Adult, y’see. And I know sexy when I sees it. It happens. Just as with the golf game in High Time to Kill, Mr Benson appears to be writing this as some sort of manual for those who have never played. From what I remember of being wanked, it was a more satisfying experience than this. At least I like to think it was and as wankee it’s only polite to inform one’s wanker accordingly. I wonder where he is now? Halcyon days. Anyway, I must accept that James Bond, as a sophisticated adult male, experiencer of many women, must have a number of techniques beyond the missionary and, as an adult male, masturbates. Not sure I wanted that assumption brought too readily to the fore, though. What next—“Bond has a really satisfying crap”? “Bond leaves the iron on, damn, can’t be bothered going home, let the bugger burn down, I’m insured, sod it.”? “Bond gets really juicy catarrh.”? The panache, the sophistication of the character is eroded by this. It seems plebian for Bond to indulge in explicitly, although tacitly acknowledge it I suppose I must. It’s just that when I get a clitoris shoved in my face, the mystery evaporates. Put that clitoris away, madam, I say; can you not hear the mysteries dissolving? Think of the mysteries. Pop pop pop. Happens all the bloody time.

    With breasts that are “perfectly adequate handfuls”, which is jolly nice, Tylyn is undoubtedly the most memorable of Mr Benson’s leading ladies, albeit this is due to more screen-time and what is done unto her rather than anything she actually does, save for kindly giving a murderous drunkard pensioner government hitman a four-fingered fist of fun. There are other sexual escapades, alongside the most notable one, in which they indulge in “noisy, animalistic love”, although one wonders which animals would spring to mind immediately. Bats? Ferrets? Lice? Aside from using the character to allow Bond to explore every conceivable aspect of his sexuality, and some that are several leagues away from conceivable, she is also the source of the book’s light entertainment. One of her horses is called Commander. “Bond mused that he knew a certain commander who would like a ride.” Oh, did he? Fancy. Bond ends up riding a nag called “Lolita”. Stop it, Mr Benson. Stop it! You’re a riot. You wicked, wicked man! I have autoeviscerated, so split are my sides. I sit here, in a lake of my own internal juices, punching my small intestine back into place but I find I cannot, such is the mirth. One can, it appears, die laughing. The most amusing elements are her observations on the Cannes Film Festival, that “Mostly she felt that it had become way too snobbish for her taste”, yet “She couldn’t believe that [fans] could stand in the Riviera sun outside a hotel for hours just to get a glimpse of a celebrity” which is a magnificent moment and presumably the writer telling us that she is as hypocritical and delusional a cretin as any actress, quite a brave move to be quite so critical of his leading lady, and in the closing, heavily melodramatic parting, her accusation that Bond is a member of a deceitful profession which given that her job is to deceive and she is as trained a liar as he, I’ll generously take as being an authorial observation shot through with bitter irony rather than the nonsense it appears to be.

    As I suspect that I’ve mentioned, the book is light on action until the last few dozen pages, but the big, mid-book boat chase set-piece is notable. Mr Benson indulges his usual habit of getting all caught up in his lovely and super action (“He turned the wheel and his boat did a marvellous barrel roll…”, Bond hits a wave with “perfect timing” (well, of course he bloody does), and performs a flawless “stuff”), but it is so reminiscent of several of the stunts in the opening boat chase of The World is Not Enough that I am terribly confused about it. Is this:

    a ) authorial wit, answering the criticism that his books were just written Bond films so we may as well get a bit of an actual Bond film, see how it stands out, yeah, see how all the rest of my craft, my art. isn’t really like a Bond film with all the lovely writing what I done about clitorises (clitori? cliterati?), see, this is what a Bond film is like and what I was doing is Bond literachurrr, yeah?
    b ) authorial wit, that if the literary James Bond (put to one side whether he’s in this book) happened to walk onto the set of a film, he would—actually, yeah, actually in fact—behave like James Bond in a James Bond film? Admittedly, this is a funny idea, albeit it doesn’t so much as break the fourth wall as do a marvellous barrel roll right through it.
    c ) authorial wit, that only Bond fans would get this, a gift to them, and the half dozen people who would pick this book up who were not amongst the millions who saw the film, would not be troubled by it?
    d ) a shameless lift?
    e ) further evidence that he’s not really bothered any more so if he’s going to be criticised here, he can at least say “Well, it might be rubbish but you can’t pin that bit on me; it was Eon’s idea. Let me tell you some more about Japan.”

    Lksdfilsdfl skkkksdf ooosdofodsf salfslkfslfdkls sfpdsfsdfsdk ui7ewrhfn fsfksf! Osadfjsdjks, jksdfjkdfs kdfkfkdsfdsk llsdfjkdfkds. Sdfjidsjfj.asfsodsdfo. Kdsfgdjfkgsja dsfkkjdsjfkjdfkjfkj aslffksk;dfasd;f sdlfsldfjsdkjfkjssakjfjas saosfuuef9ewuefjsdf a lsdfasjfasgfasjlgas f of8eu9wqefsa safaofawfua fll iefuiosdfs fsdfl asifwsfyw89rywqofh asifasofA;OFU[0QWUEWE HASDFHKlfgkjdfgjds asodgfuugogjasdgfs sfuf99uafsnsaf sf asofisodfiaspdf.

    I agree.

    So, where does that leave us? It’s not a wholly pointless or dreadful affair—the incidents with the mazzere have atmosphere, the eye trauma is unsettling and Bond’s improvisation of a weapon from a rat’s bone having had to bite through the rodent to get it provides much entertainment but there’s an inescapable air of anticlimax, boredom and treading water whilst wanting to get on with the next book that distracts, and I truly don’t think that I’ve imagined this. Whilst I will claim here that I would be interested in considering anyone else’s conclusions on the point, the start of this rubbish gives you some idea of how much I will value your view.

    Digressions into adult infomercials aside, there’s not much here about which to get excited or bothered and symptomatic of this is the strange cover design of the UK version, a lurid green map of Europe that very oddly deletes Corsica entirely, and that irritates me hugely. I know one should not judge a book by its cover (even one with “by Raymond Benson” written on it) and I doubt that the writer has any responsibility for this, but, still, all a bit slapdash, careless, done it, over with, have you ever heard of Mishima?

    There are clues that he doesn’t appear to want to write it, I don’t really want to read it (the lengthy digression at the opening of this piffle is evidence enough): reader and writer as one (not physically; I doubt that my orifices could cope). It’s tired. Disappointing. Building up to a climax (fnarr) that on the one hand is credible and on the other is utterly ridiculous, a shocking surprise that is neither, with the rest of it going through on cruise control, this is a go-nowhere of a book. It has some nice passages. As does the Bond girl. Oh God, will the pørnography never end? Whilst Never Dream of Reading wouldn’t be a fair comment, and there are worse ways to spend a few hours such as being hacked to death or Rugby League, or Rugby station, don’t lose too much sleep deciding whether to re-read. Ultimately, it exists.

    Woof.

    Jim @ 2009-03-02
  2. Dear Mr. Fleming

    Jacques Stewart

    What follows is a little present from CBn for Christmas morning. Our Jacques Stewart weaves a correspondence of a “what if?” situation, the “what if?” being what if Ian Fleming had never found a publisher—until now?

    Pimhole, Mingeflap & Toss
    Literary agents
    www.pmt.co.uk

    13, Pearldrop Alley
    W1

    Jamantha Pimhole
    Hagrid P. Mingeflap
    Don Toss

    Mr. I. L. Fleming
    Goldeneye
    Oracabessa
    St. Mary
    Jamaica

    25 December 2007

    Dear Mr. Fleming

    James Bond

    Thank you for your letter and parcel of 11 August 1964, which we found last week upon reupholstering the pelican. Our apologies for a slow response. We trust that this has not unduly inconvenienced you and that this letter finds you well.

    We are extremely obliged to you for your manuscripts, albeit unsolicited. As with all agents, we are unashamed to admit that we are desperately keen to find a new phenomenon to match Harry Potter. Writing on behalf of this partnership, this is so that people are encouraged to read and enjoy a communal experience, and also to make absolute cocking bumloads of cash from the undemanding and easily deceived.

    We have read all that you sent to us, and consider that your character and your stories show much promise and imagination for a new, unheard-of author. Please do appreciate that in not being a sportsperformer, an East End thug or having come ninth in Celebrity Love Abattoir in 2003, your chances of securing an extensive publishing deal are minute.

    This noted, we consider there is much in what you have written that could be of a certain specıalıst interest. However, before we could possibly undertake to represent you and negotiate a small sum from a minor fiction publisher, we would recommend that you reflect upon our suggestions for alterations to your work. As the agents who secured the deals for The Rose West Christmas Kitchen, The Ken Kercheval Family Bible and Scrappy-Doo: My Wanton, Boycrazy Life, we consider that we know the business sufficiently well to make these observations.

    As a general point, we wonder how sympathetic a character this (late thirties? We are afraid that the birthdate is very unclear!) introverted gambler with serious drinking and smoking and killing people problems (more upon these later) will be to what should be your target audience. Perhaps you could consider making James Bond a teenage boy? Or maybe a wizard? Or maybe even a combination of the two? Additionally, he appears to have few, if any, friends. Perhaps a platonic relationship with a female character, and give him a slightly less able male friend for comic relief? We would urge you to think about this.

    Before turning to the specific stories, please bear in mind that it is our considered opinion that all your titles would be much improved by having the words “James Bond and…” preceding them. Brand values are critical for pester power, and marketing opportunities would be much strengthened. Would you purchase a deodorant called only “Quantum of Solace”? Think on!

    Turning to the books themselves then, we regret that for several of them we could not get beyond the opening lines.

    Casino Royale

    “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”

    This must be changed as it references the act of smoking in an enclosed space, which has been illegal in England since 1 July 2007, and in France since before then.

    Our suggestion is “Graham the floppy-eared piglet was having a troublesome day.”

    Live and Let Die

    Whilst the opening line is fine, we highly recommend a rethink of the title of the fifth chapter. Calling this “Nigger Heaven” is likely to cause offence as the use of “heaven” will tend to upset non-Christians and we recommend that you acknowledge religious diversity. Otherwise, fine.

    Moonraker

    “The two thirty-eights roared simultaneously.”

    This needs further work as it glorifies the use of handguns, which few if any publishers will wish to. We consider that choosing another weapon would not disrupt the meaning of the prose. Have you considered… a wand?

    Diamonds are Forever

    “With its two fighting claws held forward like a wrestler’s arms, the big pandinus scorpion emerged with a dry rustle from the finger-sized hole under the rock.”

    Whilst this sentence of itself causes us little difficulty, we suggest opening with something else. As written, this leads to the incident of the same scorpion being smashed under a stone, which is a breach of the Colwyn Bay PETA Accord of 1977; a publisher would be required to confirm that no animal was harmed in the writing of this book.

    From Russia, with Love

    “The naked man who lay splayed out on his face beside the swimming pool might have been dead.”

    We would recommend some thought on this, as it appears to be aimed at those with an interest in indirectly homoerotic thrills. Admittedly, we did read further into this one and would like to remind you that the Russians are our friends now. Save for changing the villain to Al-Qaeda or perhaps a renegade wizard spy gathering his own army, we very much doubt that this will find a readership.

    Dr No

    Again, we have no issue with the opening of the story, and rather like the fight with the giant squid (query whether a giant spider would be more realistic) but would ask that you review whether it is appropriate for your villain to drown in some pooh.

    Forgive the question, but are you completely insane?

    Goldfinger

    “James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”

    Encourages binge drinking, please remove this.

    From a View to a Kill

    “The eyes behind the wide black rubber goggles were cold as flint. In the howling speed-turmoil of a BSA M20 doing seventy, they were the only quiet things in the hurtling flesh and metal.”

    Appears to praise speeding, which is most unsafe. What if a four year-old were to read that? Have you thought of the consequences? Brr.

    For Your Eyes Only

    Whilst the opening line does not offend, the detailed and lengthy and lingering observation your James Bond makes of the villain could be construed as gay pørn. You may be amazed to learn that Harry Potter was notable for an absence of rimming, despite plenty of opportunity. We are not prepared to enter into a debate that this would have improved it. Whilst we acknowledge that Ms. Rowling did “out” Dumbeldore, we note her bravery in so doing once the series was over and her money was safely in the bank. We consider you capable of being even braver; the repeated references to women having bottoms like boys have not gone unnoticed. We think this is an interesting character point that you should work on and emphasise.

    Quantum of Solace

    “James Bond said: ‘I’ve always thought that if I ever married I would marry an air hostess’.”

    Your James Bond does seem to spend a lot of time in airports. We consider that some readers may find this interrupts the action. Perhaps you could consider a quicker way to get him airborne? Let us think of something.

    We do not understand the title.

    Risico

    “In this pizniss is much risico.”

    We have noted a tendency in your writing to stereotype regional or foreign accents. You need an eye to the overseas franchises; to do otherwise is poor business sense and insufficiently aware of this as a marketable commodity. How would you expect to sell James Bond skirting board to Italy if you persist with such things?

    The Hildebrand Rarity

    The incident with the sting-ray has to go; see Diamonds are Forever, above. Also, may be seen as insensitive to the family of that Irwin fellow. Additionally, you appear to have forgotten to complete the story; the reader will be left wondering who did it. Finish this one and we may reconsider it.

    Thunderball

    “It was one of those days when it seemed to James Bond that all life, as someone put it, was nothing but a heap of six to four against.”

    You must rewrite this. Gambling is not to be encouraged.

    Please ignore this point as a mere observation if inaccurate, but this does seem terribly familiar. Are you quite sure that this one is all your own work?

    The Spy who Loved Me

    Um.

    Moving swiftly on…

    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

    “It was one of those Septembers when it seemed that the summer would never end.”

    Whilst a rather lovely comment, you will need to alter this to take account of global warming. Change “Septembers” to “Januarys”.

    As your Christmas holiday special story, it requires a moral and, most importantly, a happy, heartwarming ending. This is the law.

    Whilst we accept that it is dramatically credible for your James Bond to marry, that it is to a woman came as something of a surprise to us. Review please whether this is consistent with the character to this point.

    You Only Live Twice

    “The geisha called ‘Trembling Leaf’, on her knees beside James Bond, leant forward from the waist and kissed him chastely on the right cheek.”

    Sexist, racist, probably misogynist, insufficiently culturally aware. It’s not really working, is it, Mr Fleming?

    The Man with the Golden Gun

    Opening is fine, but please take our advice: if you want this gay love story to work, you need to make it much more blatant. As the final tale in your character study, the readers will want a big, emotional, tragic payoff to your dissection of the self-deceit a middle-aged homosexual with considerable rage issues had to go through pre-Wolfenden (we assume this is the point behind the overall meta-narrative; we could not establish any other). At present, it falls very flat as a conclusion to the character arc and reads as if you haven’t had the time to finish it, or your heart was not in it, or not working. Evidently, the groundwork is all there anyway but don’t be afraid to pump it up, pump it up a lot. The leading lady character doesn’t work, and we rather suspect you do not want it to but lacked the courage of your conviction. Do not worry! You will not be convicted. Except in Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Maine, but we doubt that the American market will take much of an interest in these books anyway, so fret not.

    Octopussy

    “‘You know what?’ said Major Dexter-Smythe to the octopus. ‘You’re going to have a real treat today if I can manage it’.”

    This mocks those who believe that an octopus can talk. They are a significant minority interest group and this could be construed as a hate crime. The Pussy Pound is a big market and you really cannot risk sales in this manner.

    The Property of a Lady

    We wonder whether you recall the vicious websites set up in protest at Mr Ian McEwan’s decision to give one of his dour novellas the title “The Super-Duper Fluffpocket Scrumblenumpkin Lovely Adventure”. We recall such comments as “it is sounding like chick-lit”, “what color is yur wee 2day?”, “dont judge a book by its titel. you would’nt judge a actor by his hair” and “macewwan has raped my brain.” We consider that if you call one of your stories The Property of a Lady, you too will be subjected to such similarly expert views on internet message boards, and invite you to consider renaming this as a priority, for the sake of your mental health.

    The Living Daylights

    “James Bond lay at the five-hundred-yard firing point of the famous Century Range at Bisley.

    Guns, Mr Fleming! Guns! No!

    007 in New York

    “It was around ten o’clock on a blue and golden morning at the end of September and the BOAC Monarch flight from London had come in at the same time as four other international flights.”

    That thorny problem of spending so much time travelling on aeroplanes again! Air travel is not exciting to the twenty-first century reader. You must update these tales. We worry that your reliance on the hero travelling in aeroplanes (and vintage sports cars, for that matter) gives him a substantial and indefensible carbon footprint. Accordingly, our suggestion would be to give him a broom.

    Returning to general points, you noted in your letter that you wrote your stories to take your mind off your marriage. Please do not be offended by our suggestion that you do not repeat this too often; people will gain the impression, on reading your work, that your wife is an abominable woman.

    Please, having read the above, do not believe that we think your stories are without any merit. Much of what you have written is extremely marketable. The Ministry of Defence is plainly comparable to The Ministry of Magic. The hero has a significant scar, and parents who died in tragic circumstances. Your Blofeld, with his numerous acolytes and capricious insanity, is reminiscent of Lord Voldemort, even down to the inexplicable ability to change his shape. Your lead character has a beloved family member murdered suddenly by the major villain (or his female accomplice – this is unclear). This armourer character is evidently Mr Ollivander, the Intelligence Service is housed in a building holding many secrets and headed by a male patriarch who sometimes shows personal warmth to your impetuous male lead, although it would appear that your M. can whistle whereas Dumbledore probably cannot. These similarities suggest that you would be amenable to our overall recommendations for this James Bond, which are:-

    1. Drop the unconvincing pretence of heterosexuality, the casual sex, the gunplay, the gambling, the smoking, the drinking, the gluttony, the international travel, the incidental racism and general bigotry, the violence, the nudity, the end-of-Empire misanthropy, the adult characters, the country sports and the sexual fetishism. With such aspects retained, you will struggle to find any sort of readership. It lacks popular appeal.
    2. Broom + Wand = Magic!

    With this letter, we return your manuscripts. As a point to note, please send further agents (if not ourselves) your work by pdf attached to an email. Are you aware of the cost of posting to Jamaica?

    If, upon reading this letter, you wish to discuss our recommendations further, please do not hesitate to contact us. If you do not wish to proceed with our suggestions, thank you for your interest and we wish you good luck with your writing but do take our advice that James Bond, as written, just will not sell.

    Yours sincerely

    Hagrid P. Mingeflap

    Pimhole, Mingeflap & Toss

    Enc.

    p.s. Your recipe for scrambled eggs is lethal.

    Jim @ 2007-12-25
  3. The CBn Dossier, January – March 007

    Jacques Stewart

    Welcome to the January – March 2007 CBn Dossier, a wrap-up of all the latest James Bond news and rumours. Coverage will be focusing on Casino Royale, Bond 22, current and upcoming literary 007 releases, and much more…

    This quarterly dossier is written by Jim. If you think that’s bad, it could have been much worse: he could have sung it to you.

    Cashino Royale

    The end of last year provided substantial critical acclaim for Casino Royale; the beginning of this one demonstrated its extraordinary financial success when it continued to shovel megadollars Broccoliwards. By the end of January, it had passed the $100 million mark in the UK, unheard of for a Bond film, and by March had outgrossed every other Bond film in the US and Worldwide to become the most successful of an already pretty frickin’ outrageously successful series. I mean, this was hardly “Help a starving Broccolus”, was it?

    Never mind picking which country to set the next Bond in; they’re now pretty much in a position to buy a country. Possibly not China, where the film opened in January (and whilst Italy had a two month wait, China had a forty-five year one; was Amazon delivering?).

    Ah!, the naysayers would cry (they mainly operate in monosyllables, and even “Ah!” is an exhausting intellectual demand) “Ah! (or, indeed, “Nay!”) But that does not take into account that when Thunderball was released in 1732, the dollar was worth 11p (although that’s pretty much what it’s worth now, nicht wahr?) and everyone on the planet and every single one of the twelvety billion types of beetle went to see Goldfinger at a time when for one British pound you could still buy a cinema ticket, a round of lager (whatever that may be) and the home journey fare on some vile rattling public transport contraption and still have change left over for a Life Peerage”.

    So what?

    OK, so inflation unadjusted, it’s the most successful Bond film ever. Adjusted, it’s about fifth or thereabouts, something like that (I lost interest). Maladjusted, with august bodies flinging numerous awards at it and people the world over still chucking coin, it’s a terrible flop.

    “Thank you for a successful boycott”. Oh, it was nothing really.

    Oh go on, have some more of our money, please

    Equally discourteous to records, the DVD release of Casino Royale has also been hugely lucrative, helped by many retailers in the USA lobbing rare memorabilia/ghastly tat out with each purchase and, in the UK, substantial price-cutting. ASDA, allegedly a “shop” (? no idea) in the northern tundra of England, has been selling the DVD for only £7.00 ($1,356.99 US). A word of caution: given that a couple of years ago in something calling itself Newcastle-upon-Tyne one could buy a “house” for 50 pence, this may not represent such good value. “Casino Royale DVD: fourteen times more expensive than your shack”; tough sell. Rampagingly inadequate bivouacery aside, it does appear to be jolly popular even if the Special Features have come in for criticism, which seems unwise because the more they are criticised, the more inevitable the “we listened to the fans and therefore decided to release an Ultimate Megalith three disc edition £26.99, don’t blame us, you wanted it” in about, ooh, June. God bless Casino Royale, and all who profit by her.

    Oh! Scars

    Maybe it was a tadgette optimistic, but there seemed to be some surprise around these parts that, despite its extraordinarily strong reviews towards the end of last year, Casino Royale didn’t receive any Oscar nominations (and what have things come to – and how happy are we that they have? – when “Bond film not nominated for Oscars”is actually a bit of a shock?), and therefore did not win any (I think that’s how it works).

    Still, Martin Scorsese would really have been left wondering who he had offended in a previous life if the James Bond series – y’know, that one with the metal-toothed giants, psychopathic midgets, upsetting acting and invisible cars – had come along and handed him his perennial and umpteenth smack in the nadgers.

    Anyway, there was still the BAFTAs on 11 February, and the British “Academy” seemed to have been muchly keen – in its “academic judgment” (watching some films) – to hurl nominations at Casino Royale. On the night, Bond fans the world o’er had fingers (gold or otherwise) and hooks and electronic turbogloves of death crossed. Bit of a shame that it only came away with two; Best Sound (sounds lovely) – how do they measure that? “That one was a nice sound, but I don’t like that sound as much, ooh take it away”? Is it about one specific, individual sound during the film – if so, which one? I think we should be told – and Best Newcomer for Ms Green (looks lovely). One could apparently vote for Ms. Green at the BAFTA website although the one time I tried my screen froze and all sorts of horrible things started happening. Doubtless I am very old and even more less of doubt (I know that’s grammatically suspect but it pleases me) there was a very simple solution but I suspect that it was something to do with computers and accordingly, even if very simple, additionally very boring.

    Raising the Standard

    Early February brought the news that Daniel Craig had been awarded the “Best Actor” prize at The Evening Standard Film awards.

    This is evidently a conspiracy by the British film industry to award prizes to its pals and to try to ensure that American producers stay in the UK despite the strong pound and this is why every Bond actor has always received this award… um…

    Um.

    An EMPIRE. Conquered. Fact.

    Best Film. Best Actor. Best Female Newcomer. Splendid. Frankly “they” can give Ms Green as many awards as they want; I know I’d like to give her one. Gloss tarnished a bit by there being no EMPIRE awards ceremony until November (when, presumably, the films of 2007 will be suitably garlanded (early money for Best Actor: Optimus Prime)), but it’s still a pretty substantial haul and is one “voted for by real human beings” unlike the Oscars, which are presumably voted for by a plate of Marmite sandwiches.

    All very good, but can you now please kill Pritpal, and very horribly? Ta.

    Also “something to do with computers”, the year started with the release of Charlie Higson’s third Young Bond novel, Double or Die, a zippy rip-roarer of a read. Instant review in the heading to this bit.

    With some nice – but thankfully not overwhelming – references to “other bits of Bond” and his traditionally fine sense of atmosphere and often brutal violence, Mr Higson has surprised many with this series which, if the standard is maintained with the remaining two books (release dates now announced), will probably be reflected on in years to come as “a sound idea, amazingly”. But most impressive amongst the successes of Double or Die – instant bestseller, 120,000 sold – is that IFP managed to keep the final title a secret until the unveiling on 3 January. Given that the Casino Royale script seemed to be freely available months before we witnessed Daniel Craig administering fragments of toilet cubicle to that spaniel-haired man, and yet this teensy bit of info about YB3 was kept under wraps until the last poss min, Eon could learn a thing or two from IFP about business. And that’s not a sentence I would have believed credible a handful of years ago.

    On that point, hasn’t the Bond world really been shaken up of late? Eon and IFP really motoring and producing product of substantial quality. Young Bond. Blond Bond. Award nominations. Award wins. Critical credibility. It all seems to have been revolutionised and yet it’s still here, and earning as much (and more) than it ever did. This new Bond age seems to be chugging along very merrily. We seem to be heading into Centenary Year in 2008 very nicely.

    While I’m on, being a Bond fan’s quite good now, isn’t it? A few years ago, in polite company, one could have been stoned to death – or at least been made to wear a tag around one’s ankle – if one announced that one quite, well sorta, liked (sotto voce) James Bond. An opinion as welcome as a lusty paedophile popping out of a birthday cake. Yet now, the social stigma seems to be lifting (although obviously a middle-aged man buying and reading a book aimed at children is fine … um) and maybe there will come a time soon when we don’t have to sign a register at the police station, wait for the rozzers to confiscate our secret hoard of “Roger Moore sings Megadeth: Unplugged” videos and have to suppress our inner desires by pretending to like Jessica Tandy films.

    What do you mean that’s only me?

    The Man with the Olden Gun

    Ian Fleming’s Colt .357 Magnum (some sort of gun, apparently) sold for $23,000 at auction in March. I shall now record my reaction to this vital news through the medium of dance.

    You’re too kind.

    Top Nobs Speak!

    Barb Broc and an assortment of Lamonts and Arnolds popped up all over the shop to chat about Casino Royale and Bond 22, all giving off a whiff of a vibe of not quite believing how well it all turned out. Our new safely ensconsed 007 also discussed his belief in the “importance of non-Bond roles”. Said instant millionaire Daniel Craig.

    Purvis and Wade also speak! (But who wrote their dialogue?)

    Seemingly unchastened by having inflicted Die Another Day upon a world too lovely to suffer, but doubtless buoyed up by the generous scoops of praise decorating Casino Royale, the two lads spent some time dealing with rumours for B-22. Moneypenny and Q aren’t that necessary, it would appear (bit odd that it’s taken twenty-odd films to realise this), and will appear only if the story justifies it (given that their repetoire of “stories” has included The World is Not Enough and DUD, approach this with extreme caution) and the Algerian loveknot may turn into an Algerian love triangle, although filming in Algeria could be a problem – there seems to be a subtle hint of war there at the moment (unless the Broccolis buy Algeria, which may be feasible). The “Algerian Boyfriend” thingy seems to be gathering pace, and the usual Goran Whassface and Jean Reno rumours are hoving into view; my money’s on Reno (rather than in Reno) and whilst I accept that he’s Moroccan not Algerian, we’ve all just been convinced that a Dane can play an Albanian so it shouldn’t be too hard.

    Of most interest to CBn members, never averse to speculating, was Pee and Dubya’s comment that Bond 22 won’t be based on Risico. Whilst the reason’s very obvious to we eleven fans of Carole Bouquet’s handlebar moustache, this has inevitably raised the cry “Ah!” (here they go again) “Ah! But they didn’t say it wouldn’t be called Risico!”. No, they didn’t. But, on that logic, they didn’t say it wouldn’t be called “The Adventure of the Gay Elvis” either. Accordingly, Bobby and Neily have confirmed by their silence the following:-

    • 1. James Bond’s middle name will be revealed. They didn’t say it wouldn’t be, so it will. Fact!
    • 2. Given that these are the persons responsible for “Christmas Jones”, expect the middle name to be something stooopid like “Waitrose” or “Wroughton” or “Grrr”.
    • 3. The villain will be a holographic representation of the Second Test match against New Zealand at Lord’s in 1994. They didn’t say it wouldn’t be, so it will. Fact!
    • 4. The girl will be called “Sony”. This one actually has an upsetting air of the inevitable about it. Might be played by Abbie Cornish, but might equally be played by 7-Zark-7 from Battle of the Planets.
    • 5. Giancarlo Giannini will return (this is great – always liked him). And Bond will kill Mathis by cutting him open below the diaphragm, eviscerating him and throwing him off a balcony, his organs splashing to earth… well, maybe not. But somehow, it’s so Daniel Craig.

    Actually, James Grrr Bond seems to fit. Reminds me of the sounds Mrs Jim was making watching Mr Craig walking out of the sea in the entirely non-gratuitous product placement for Daniel Craig’s rolled-up socks.

    Anyway, that’s Bee Two Two. Expect the script to be leaked online tomorrow.

    You’d think they’d be queuing up to do it

    But apparently not. Both Roger Michell and Martin Campbell discussed in January their high probability of not directing The Adventure of the Gay Elvis. Fair enough; with premiere after premiere and, given the splendid product, having evidently given of himself hugely, Mr Campbell probably feels like he’s been buggered by a rhino. Still, it’d be nice to have him back in a few years. CBn wishes him the best for the future.

    Of Mr Michell, he who set Notting Hill before me, thank you so very very much for that, the main point of interest was that TAGE (pronounced “Tadger” to those in the know) was due to start filming in January 2007 (rather than the likely start in January 2008) meaning that we would have a marketing man’s moist fantasy (what a truly foul thought) of a Bond film in 007.

    Stuff it – in 2007 you get the DVD, by Blu-Ray (I have no idea what this means, nor do I want to find out) or by valve or steam or however the lovely magic works; be happy with that, and perhaps some collectors’ cards for a stultifyingly large price. 2008, the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, will bring us Young Bond book 4, a bit more of Moneypenny’s diary, the second film of a finally critically respectable James Bond and the centenary novel. What more do you want, and what more, really, could there possibly be?

    Well, probably some more of the comic strips from Titan, the latest of which, Death Wing, was announced in January (as a replacement for the previously announced Nightbird). And, frankly, if you think Death Wing is as good a title as “The Adventure of the Gay Elvis” you can just poo off, yer bounder.

    On that centenary novel, I did hear – I have my sources, albeit sometimes provocatively unreliable – about an author who had been suggested. A national treasure, immensely erudite, darker than the surface suggests, ostensibly of the Higson ilk, and if you’ve read his stuff, more appropriate than it may first appear, but as it may come to nought I won’t bother telling you about the Stephen Fry rumour.

    Meanwhile, back at the plot, if Bond Tutu has no takers for a director, I’m quite prepared to do it if no-one else is available. I have my price – not in cash, it’s just in ensuring that Mrs Jim is kept away from Mr Craig. I have rarely seen her salivate so. [Note: rarely. Not “never”. You mind your own businesss, you mucky pup].

    A second helping of Haggis?

    Towards the end of March, Paul Haggis dropped/flung to the ground with wanton abandon some thunderous hints about any prospective involvement he may have with Bond 22; whilst general reaction to his contribution to Casino Royale (if a little hazy as to what exactly can be identified as his) has been extremely positive amongst CBn members, it falls upon the nasty man in the corner (me) to point out that none of those awards won have been for best screenplay, have they? Nurr. Well, not yet anyway – the Edgar ceremony is due in April.

    Whoever it is, they had better get a move on: it appears that there is currently no finished script and the thing is due to open on 7 November 2008 against the unutterably unpleasant-sounding Madagascar 2, and about a fortnight before Dumbledore Does Death. That’s only nineteen months from now. Nineteen months ago was August 2005 when there was confident predicting amongst some of the more delusional brethren about a last minute deal to reanimate Mr Brosnan; that just feels like yesterday. Accordingly, November 2008 feels like tomorrow. Get a move on.

    For Sale. Several Careless Owners. $924 million o.n.o.

    I know that Aston Martins are expensive, but that’s ridiculous. Don’t want one now. No, take it away. You can’t make me.

    Oh, go on then. If it means putting the children out to work rather than having them learn French or Heroin or YouTube or whatever schools do these days, then so be it. That paper round had better pay well, or there’ll be trubbel*.

    *this is how one of my twin sons (thirteen) wrote “trouble” in an essay. Thirteen! When I was thirteen I…

    Still hurts.

    Lest We Forget

    Before we get too distracted by all that is bright shiny and new, there were some films ‘n’ stuff before October 2006, y’know. In April/May there will be a Bond Film marathon “in” Manhatten; a second wave of individual Ultimate Edition DVDs of the first 20 films has been announced and the popularity amongst broadcasters for Bond film series does not seem to abate. And there were some Bonds before Ol’ Blue Eyes: the slightly-can’t-quite-put-me-finger-on-it unsatisfying Hot Fuzz was worth watching due to a smashing turn by Timothy Dalton; one forgets how good he was as Bond, and how good he wasn’t quite allowed to be. Even the supporting of Manchester City can be overlooked due to his magnificent voiceover work for Brain’s Faggots.

    Stuff what we done

    During the past few months, Paul gave us all some French on the increasingly sophisticated CBn podcasts, which was exceptionally kind of him and made an old man very happy. Additionally, CBn interviewed the creators of The Art of Bond and Licence to Thrill: James Bond Posters and, thanks to CBn member Genrewriter, looked back at what was for many of our members their introduction to James Bond, and for others a welcome re-introduction, 1995’s GoldenEye. An impressive and heartfelt series of articles, although one awaits the rejoinder of “Last Hurrahs: Diamonds are Forever, A View to a Kill, Licence to Kill and Die Another Day” with some nervousness, because they’re all rubbish*.

    *NB this is an opinion and not necessarily representative of a collective CBn view. Yet. Give me time.

    Sometimes we come in hard copy too: thanks to Ajay and chums, a number of members have had the opportunity of seeing themselves in print in the latest edition of the JBIFC’s excellent magazine, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. 007 Magazine is also excellent. Both are excellent. Splendid.

    Good.

    Additionally, CBn also looked at the A.S.P handgun, weapon of choice of John Gardner’s James Bond in many of his continuation novels in the 1980s and 1990s. CBn hastens to add that it respects the right and freedom of citizens of the United States of America to bear arms, and notes that this derives from protecting themselves from British reprisals during the War of Independence. CBn calls upon you all to put down your guns because – and you read it here first – CBn is pleased to officially declare that the War of Independence has ended. We have that power.

    And we have that power because of our numbers: during January, CBn achieved 8,000 registered members for its forums. If you haven’t yet joined, why not give it a try? Particularly popular threads in the early part of 2007 have been: “What colour is Roger Moore’s brain?”; “Moonraker – Splendid or not so splendid?” (clue: splendid); “Never Say Never Again: Bettering the Cultural Progress of the Planet or Just Cynical Money-Grabbing Bewiggery?” and “Have you pleasured her today sexy man here are pills“. But, seriously, we do appreciate all our members’ efforts to keep our fora the most erudite, amusing and downright sorta comfynice of their kind. Many thanks.

    Don’t forget to enter our competitions, either. None of them involve premium rate ‘phonelines but do seek an adult’s permission, particularly if that adult doesn’t want you on the computer because he wants to look at pictures of dolly birds.

    …and CBn member mccartney007 had a film out.

    On the Slab

    So, as we look forward to 007 in 007 (y’see what I did there? Do you? Do you? Grim, wasn’t it?), what will happen? Will Bond 22 find itself a director and a title, and a story? Will the centenary novel be related to Bond 22 in any way? Will Bond 22 film in Pinewood or Prague? Will Colin Salmon please stop being a silly sausage?

    Yes, No, Yes, No. But not necessarily in that order.

    ‘bye ‘bye.

    Related Links

    Jim @ 2007-04-02
  4. The CBn Dossier, September '06

    Jacques Stewart

    Welcome to the September 2006 CBn Dossier, a wrap-up of all the James Bond 007 news and rumours for the month. In this month’s column, we’ll be covering all the latest news regarding the upcoming release of Casino Royale, Bond 22, updates here on CBn, and much more.

    This month’s CBn Dossier is delivered by Jim. He has seen diamonds cut through harder men than you. He has also seen Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

    Careless Whispers of Love and Hate

    As the month began, and as Casino Royale, comes ever closer, Bond 22 drifted just that little bit further away.

    One can speculate why this should be; the favourite theory is that Roger Michell, overrampagingly hot tip as director, backed out. There’s also Daniel Craig’s extremely busy schedule and the probable reality that “they” are waiting to see how Casino Royale, goes down with the audience. There are other more scandalous truths and we could tell you, but then we would have to kill you.

    Well, we don’t actually have to; but we might choose to. Everyone must get their jollies somehow.

    Still, it’s now looking like November 2008 for Bond 22. Or Bond v2.2. Or whatever it’s meant to be called. “Talking” of which…

    Bond 22 – a.k.a….

    Amongst the usual fun and larfs that is the CBn fora, with anonymous usernames telling all what they have been listening to, or what they are digesting into waste matter, or speculating about what Daniel Craig may be doing at that very minute (and given the worldwide reach of CBn, at any individual minute a member speculates, he may well be releasing a chocolate hostage; treasure that thought my lovelies), one of the many ooh chilli-hot topics is the mass debate about the title of Bond 22.

    Current speculation as to Bond Two Two runs as follows:

    Bond Tutu – James Bond goes undercover at the Bolshoi as the Archbishop of Cape Town. Stars Catherine Deneuve as Desmond Tutu and Brian Blessed as, oh I dunno, let’s say Heidi.

    Bond 22: Two Little Ducks – following the trend of changing the Casino Royale, card game, in the intense follow-up, Bond finds himself challenged to a high-stakes game of Bingo by the merciless killer Colonel Apocalypse. Played by Dido or someone equally vile.

    Bernard the Film.

    Ok, so this admits we have no idea. When we do, we’ll tell you. Until then, assume that we don’t know and it will probably be called Valerie.

    You Know My Name

    And my name is “what the Hell is that supposed to be?”.

    Pokemon Theme Lea…Casino Royale Theme Leaked!

    I’m sure that it will all make perfect sense in due course, and doubtless I am very, very old, but it’s all a bit of a row and a little disappointing. If you need the words “This is an OPINION” stamped over this column in mile-high letters, then just imagine that they are. Cope.

    But it appears that the majority view is that it is, at the very least, OK. Shows what I know. In due course I may learn to like it.

    “Yes. Considerably.”

    The second (query whether final) Casino Royale, trailer seems to have gone down very well amongst the CBn populace (when distracting themselves away from important matters such as “What colour is your brain?”). Some dialogue about bottoms, some things going bang and whizz, a choir going a bit mentalist and some traditionally, reassuringly awful dialogue for The Dench – all shaping up nicely.

    It’s going to make an absolute shedload, isn’t it? There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is because of who is in it. Not old Blondy Cragface, but…

    The Insider

    CBn forum member erniecureo was … well, read all about it here.

    Amazing story, and a real insight into how these films are made.

    And he’s in the trailer.

    I have accepted my foaming jealousy and moved on.

    Ish.

    Killkillkill.

    Kill.

    42-Hour Bond Marathon is on!

    The Empire Bondathon

    There have been shorter wars.

    You Know My Name, part two.

    Nope, still not too sure about it, but those opening chords are quite eventful.

    Here’s some tat that you can buy; hooray!

    Divest yourself of some money you would otherwise use to feed, clothe and house yourself, on some of this stuff. Credit card debt’s such a winning look, don’t you think?

    When you stare into the eyes of yet another fly-blown East African child, feel good that you bought this and that you have used your life wisely and unselfishly. Well done you.

    Have a badge.

    Pope Catholic. Water wet. And other assorted scandals.

    News reached CBn this month that Sony will be using Casino Royale to push some of its lovely consumer goods to potential consumers.

    Not that product placement has ever been absent from the Bond series – large chunks of the past decade has been adverts we have paid to watch – so this is hardly news. Even if it does appear to be a teensy bit grubby. Still, what do we know – we’re just the poor saps who pay for this stuff. James Bond uses this grotty laptop, so buy this laptop and you are immediately transformed into James Bond. That sort of rubbish.

    Ain’t It Cool? (Is that actually English? I despair)

    The website of a fat ginger person seems to have gained entry to an early screening of Casino Royale, and inevitably this appeared on the internet merely moments after it all happened – see here.

    I haven’t bothered reading this myself, largely because I can quite live without the overabundance of exclamation marks common to that site!!!!!!??!! But some may find it of interest. Such as Eon’s trained killers.

    Mr Owen says something potentially provocative, the scamp.

    Full story here.

    Whatever can he mean? And to whom could he be referring? Whilst you’re reading the next paragraph, I will retire and have a bit of a think.

    Mr Brosnan wins something-or-other.

    The Irish Film Academy (new to us too) awarded Pierce Brosnan a lifetime membership this month.

    Giddy as a schoolgirl and doubtless barely able to contain his glee, Malibu resident Mr Brosnan expressed thanks and in so doing expressed that he “can only hope that this will lead to the inspiration of future artistic generations to go forth within their time and place in history, fearless with desire”.

    Answers on a postcard please as to quite what that actually means.

    Mr Owen’s comment

    Nope. Still no idea who he’s talking about.

    Speculation – here.

    Old Bonds, Big Screens

    During the month there have been a number of screenings around the world of Bond films – for example GoldenEye, with some attended by Bond stars. Keep your eyes peeled (that’s a really unpleasant image, innit?) for other events by checking the CBn main page calendar.

    You Know My Name – part three

    Why does he start shrieking at the end? Is this a fashionable thing to do? Is it a necessary thing to do? Please help me; I feel suddenly decrepit.

    The Pod Squad

    The CBn Podcast continues to grow in popularity; the latest edition is available to download here. Many thanks to Rich Douglas for his music and to all who give up their time to produce something that continues to gather new subscribers as quickly as Apple produce new versions of their iPod thingy machine thing. In the run-up to Casino Royale, stay tuned: there are new developments ahead…

    Deva* Fever

    If you can’t make it to London for the World/Royal Premiere of Casino Royale (and if you haven’t been invited, assume now that you can’t make it), why not look north to the lovely city of Chester, which may well be getting a regional premiere of the film, given that it is Mr Craig’s home city.

    For those unfamiliar with Chester, it is an ancient walled city on the banks of the River Dee, a significant tourist centre and a city where it is apparently still legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow should he enter the city walls after sundown. Accordingly, after you’ve seen the film, celebrate Bond’s inevitable survival aginst a dastardly foe by getting in some archery practice.

    Remember: arm yourself. No-one out there will save you.

    (*Roman name for Chester, fans of “fact”)

    Pic of the Fic

    The CBn Fan Fiction fora continue to grow in popularity month on month, but during September something even more worthy of note occurred: the exclusive publication of Fenna Geelhoed’s second “Joyce Carrington 009” novels, “Past Bearing”: 600 pages of tip top action and secret agent fun slipped between covers once again the product of the genius of Evan W. Give it a try – give it a week! – and you won’t be disappointed; you’ll be thrilled. Roll on the conclusion of the trilogy; Fenna promises an absence of Ewoks, so it can only be good.

    Steeped in Blood

    During the month, and due to the continued efforts and vision of Dave Winter and Evan Willnow, the CBn fora underwent a transformation; not only are they now dripping with blood (and not just as a result of the ongoing “debate” about the “song”), but members can choose their own “watermark” Bond to appear next to their username. Although those of you with a particular fondness for the Casino Royale ’67 clapping sea lion may be disappointed, or arrested, there’s a wide choice not just from the films, but also from the comic strips and the books. Join up now if you haven’t and show us yer Bond face!

    Young Bond Book 3

    Is still called Young Bond Book 3.

    You Know My Name – part four

    Now it’s becoming a bit of a guilty pleasure, like The Birdy Song, or Pearl Harbor.

    Let’s rawk!

    Ok, let’s not.

    On and On and On

    News reached us this month that there’s a possibility that the final cut of Casino Royale will go on forever, or at least as long as the current “longest Bond film” title holder, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

    Whilst this has met with general approval, those of us with children and babysitters charging twenty pounds per hour would much prefer it to be about three minutes long.

    I suspect this is not that popular a view.

    …and On

    Coming up shortly, some film or other. More news when we get it.

    Related Links

    Jim @ 2006-09-30
  5. The Bond 50

    “Give the people what they want…”

    CBn’s Member Survey: The Best Bond Bits

    During July 2006, CBn ran an online survey to establish what its forum members consider to be the “Best of Bond”; moments that typify Bond for them, or perhaps moments personal to them and standing out in their memories.

    With over 6,000 forum members and the books, the films, the videogames to choose from, the potential for a rich and varied selection was evident.

    And so it proved!

    And the survey went beyond even CBn’s expectations as forum members proved themselves—yet again—discerning, witty, considerate and thoughtful in explaining why they had chosen as they did.

    For example, which scenes are being described here?

    “If they wanted to make a statement about the glory days being back, it’s hard to think of anything more they could have done other than… no, it IS hard to think of anything more they could have done. All your Terminators and Lethal Weapons and Die Hards never did this, and that’s because only Bond could. And he sees them all off within seconds of the film starting. The guv’nor’s back. Fantastic.”

    or…

    “Incredible stuntwork; film after film they come up with something amazing. This is one of the best, probably the best.”

    or even…

    “Everything they knew about making James Bond films went into this chase and it shows.”

    Why wait to find out?

    The

    Numbers 49 – 40

    Numbers 39 – 30

    Numbers 29 – 20

    Numbers 19 – 11

    Numbers 10 – 6

    Numbers 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!

    Remember, if you want your say, join up to the CBn Forums and watch out for further surveys.

    And if you join up now, you can get your chance to vote for Number 50!

    Bond Moment Number 50

    Will your choice be that 50th Best Bond bit?

    Huge thanks for taking part to those who did; for those who did not, enjoy anyway.

    Jim @ 2006-08-07
  6. The Impossible Job: DoubleShot

    I | II

    The Villains

    The Union seems to be teetering on the lip of the pit of doom into which the film SPECTRE fell—that from being an executive facilitator of other people’s terrorism (the start of Thunderball the novel, what one could make of High Time to Kill), it sought to become some sort of independent world power (everything else). Perhaps it hasn’t yet got that far—for it does seek to support Espada’s utterly crackpot scheme—but there are some selfish motives creeping in. I have to admit I don’t quite follow those ideals; the organisation seems to believe that regardless of the success or failure of the Espada operation, their standing will improve. Hmm… well, we’ll never know because, of course, James Bond’s plums are so very sweet.

    The Union’s plot to send Bond absolutely carpark is more interesting than the ostensible Espada scheme, but even so I have a couple of stylistic reservations about it. The first manifestation of things not being utterly oojah-cum-spiff in Bond’s life is the appearance of a double of Tracy Bond just after he’s had a Chinese meal. The effects of monosodium glutamate aside, I have a couple of problems with this; although it does just follow on from a passage where, given Bond’s poor state of physical and mental health we’ve had the statutory reference to You Only Live Twice, most of the reason behind Bond’s poor mood (a bump on the head aside) has been in re: Helena Marksbury. You remember, that twit. Reads oddly—grumpy about Helena Marksbury, grumpy about Helena Marksbury, grumpy about Helena Marksbury, he’s been ill before—surely you remember? Let me remind you—grumpy about Helena Marksbury, oh there’s Tracy.

    Why not a double of flippin’ Helena Marksbury? Wouldn’t that have made more sense—particularly given the way the plot develops with the Soho shoot-out? Given that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is specifically placed at the Christmas / New Year period of 1961 to 1962 and events and references and brand-names point to DoubleShot being set over thirty-five years later, credibly did we really have to be subjected to this in-reference? It disturbs the flow of Bond’s misery. Adds to mine.

    The other thing that bothers me about this Tracy reappearance is, admittedly, a retrospective one: given what we are told about the real mastermind behind The Union in Never Dream of Dying, isn’t The Union’s use of a double of Draco’s daughter a little… unlikely? Unless, perish the thought, Never Dream of Dying wasn’t especially well thought through.

    Le Gerant’s still blind, by the way, which means he got away without having to read High Time to Kill, so it has its advantages, although he must have received a pretty good description of the opening scene of Thunderball because he’s managed to do out The Union’s HQ in much the same way and holds a meeting at which the financial report is discussed and everyone gets a bit angry. He really is jolly clever, isn’t he? We learn a bit more about him due to Bond’s expositionist pal Latif “Obvious Dead Meat” Reggab who—swallow hard—went to university with him (although I accept that this must, in a work of fiction, be as likely as it is unlikely—although “oh, come on!” is a natural reaction) and he snarls a bit and doesn’t really do much else.

    The problem with The Union stating that it has no confidence in the Espada scheme tends to undermine that scheme in the eyes of the reader; it also tends to undermine such effort Mr Benson puts into clearly explaining what Espada really hopes to achieve beyond the instant result of taking Gibraltar, if only for a few hours. Just as well he appears to have expended absolutely no effort on that at all, then.

    Yet again, four in a row, we have a major villain whose ultimate goals are rampagingly unclear. And yet again, to get around bothering to explain this (although undermining the scheme from the off is novel), Espada is—of course—absolutely frickin’ barking. However, whereas Whassface in the first one was a drunk and Thingy in the second one thought he was a god and Kenneth Branagh had altitude sickness, unless he’s spent just too much time in the sun it’s not clear from whence this mania derives. Perhaps driven mad by popular adulation (there is this idea, and it’s a really unusual and creative one—not a baddie because people hate him but because people have loved him—but it’s not drawn out sufficiently to make it anything other than guesswork on my part). And, of course, he has the charisma of a Hitler or Mussolini (well, of course), and describing him as such is terribly lazy shorthand for bothering to establish how that manifests itself. Still, there you go—a sort-of-bullfighting-Hitler. From Spain.

    Personally, I think Hitler would have looked smashing in that gold brocade stuff bullfighters wear… beginning to need that sock quite urgently now, please.
    So, mad as a dog in a hot car, Espada is. The lunacy takes admittedly interesting forms—his murder of Carlos is an entertaining incident, the idea of unlimited concubines on tap suggests a (marginally more appealing) Hugh Hefner figure—but as a result of all the undermining of his scheme / never really bothering with it, although ostensibly quite a colourful character, Espada becomes a bit-part player in his own story; the writer is much more interested in The Union vs. James Bond and, although I may be alone in this, I get a genuine vibe in the book where Mr Benson is giving us some Espada that he’d much rather get back to Bond being chased around an arrestingly described North Africa and performing—or not—shocking acts of terrorism. Even the obligatory Bond-and-villain-snarl-at-each-other-over-local-produce-and-dodgy-sounding-wine scene isn’t up to much, as if it isn’t terribly important that the two actually meet. And y’know something? It isn’t.

    The doppelganger. If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry, this isn’t quite as jaw-to-floor stupid as it may appear. It does, however, rather write Mr Benson into a corner by requiring him to pull a structural cheat towards the end of the book which, if you’re with him on trying new stuff out (and I am) you’ll let pass with only minor wincing and if you’re not, you’ll probably issue some sort of fatwa. Without wishing to spoil it utterly, if you made it through The Man from Barbarossa and the big plot twist towards the end of that mess, you’ll survive this. Promise. Put it this way—the writer’s intention seems to be that if you were to stop reading at various points in the book and go back to the prologue, depending on where you had left off you would either think it could be Bond in that prologue, or it couldn’t possibly be. Hmm, sort of works… some benefit of the doubt needed, perhaps, but it’s another sound concept.

    Can’t see how the doppelganger—and his place in the plot—would translate to film but I rather suspect that it’s a deliberately anti-filmability move. It also leads to the magnificence of the whole underwhelming Gibraltar scheme being foiled because Bond has a memorable cock (although, interestingly, Margareta Piel doesn’t reminisce about its size: is it memorable because it has the dimensions of a terrapin’s head? Or because it’s green? Or he has three? I think we should have been told).
    Far more interesting about this doppelganger is that, under that dark, cruel mouth and all that other stuff that Bond has, lurks a Welsh football hooligan (presumably as a contrast between the real Bond—such panache—and the fake one. Although there is a school of thought that Bond is largely a hooligan anyway; can’t make my mind up whether this is a joke or not). I once went to this “Wales”—I still don’t know why; it appeared to be shut—and given my experiences there, it’s entirely credible that Mr Benson decided to make this book’s resident psychopathic bruiser Welsh. I seem to remember having to pay £5 to get in so it’s probably some sort of zoo.

    A suggestion, I think made on the fora of this website, was that this could be another in-joke, the Welsh James Bond fighting the incumbent to be James Bond, comment upon the transition of the film role between Mr Dalton and Mr Brosnan. Whilst that’s a fun notion (and it may be credible—I’m not sure what other reason Mr Benson has for making the doppelganger Welsh as opposed to any other Caucasian, other than his having the same intensely pleasurably time in Wales as I did), it’s probably not tenable because, obviously, the real Bond and the fake Bond are meant to be completely identical—apart from their penises (I’m really not joking about this; the “climax” (yeah, yeah) does depend on the majesty of James Bond’s custard chucker).

    Now, their respective purple-headed womb-brooms aside, of which I have only a passing knowledge (he claimed he was Pierce Brosnan anyway, the bitch. Doesn’t write, doesn’t call, just sends injunctions and multiple unsold DVDs of Laws of Attraction), Mr Dalton looks like a distempered Thundercat masticating a hot potato and whatever it is that Mr Brosnan is meant to look like, it isn’t one of those. Still, sticking with the theory for hell of filling up some space, perhaps it’s a sight more credible, some would doubtless say, than trying to convince us that Mr Brosnan and Mr Craig could be the same person. Quite what, the same delusionists will splutter, Mr Craig is meant to look like at all is another issue entirely. Personally I think he’s utterly butterly but I’m aware there’s a school of thought that would liken him to a boss-eyed day-glo yellow Viktor Yushchenko staring into the back of a melting spoon. Or Skeletor. Or roadkill.

    I digress.

    Most arresting of all these villains is Margareta Piel, the Praying Mantis; problems he may have—real problems—with creating convincing, or even remotely interesting, “good” women but Mr Benson can’t half give us a bitch now and then. Everything she does is of interest although because she is such an unutterably competent villainess—both in concept and in deed—one wonders why she’s kicking about with a loser like Espada (so does she, although this only works to further weaken him in the eyes of the reader). And it’s true, she is a “vicious homicidal maniac”; neck-slicing and base-jumping and Bond-knobbing, just as with Whatsit in The Facts of Death (you remember, the one who at the start was the male Number Killer and has her face burned off), on a narrative level she’s the most successful thing here and albeit largely the same character as Whatsit, just as much fun and downright Bondian entertainment. Despite the fact that she is the best character this will be a short paragraph, because I find little to fault her. I’m really not entering into these things with the right spirit, am I? Um… she has a Precision Dynamics Super Raven 4 canopy. Um… good character.

    The Girls

    Margareta aside (and she’s only interesting because she’s a baddie) the women are the book’s most significant letdown, and predictably so. Mr Benson’s women are… feeble, really (or, put another way, really feeble). Sunni Pei the kung-fu turbo-whore with an American College Education, then Can’t Remember Her Name but She Likes Helicopters and is Greek and Very Boring and (worst of all) Dr Hopeless Plotdevice are, to a woman, cataclysmically anaemic so although it’s another spin on the book’s themes of identity and duality, and something new for James Bond stories as a whole to have a prospective ménage a trois (the research must have been a killer, and I accept that it must be a hard task coming up with new stuff), having the Bond girl as a pair of identical twins doesn’t double the characterisation; it halves what little there was going to be in the first place.

    As a result, the twins Taunt, Hedy and Heidi, come across as even sketchier than the norm; one is more grumpy than the other, Bond knobs them both in the end (not physically in the “end”, although… no… that’s a very bad thought and not even Mr Benson has dared go that far; not yet, anyway) and that’s pretty much it. Oh yeah, they’re secret agents (well, of course they are) who turn up incredibly fortuitously. Yawn. They seem to be light relief for the hell of it, in what is a largely humourless book (not a bad thing; some of the jokes to date have been awe-inspiringly crummy). Basically, they get in the way. Just when the momentum of the story was building up, the inclusion of these halfwits does its best to derail it. The meal Bond shares with the twins is the one genuine structural misjudgement; an unnecessary pause. Take them out of the story and one loses very little. Actually, what one loses is the slightly dodgy concept of a female CIA agent hiding in a burqa.

    Oh, for the days of one of Fleming’s hopeless big thicky cretins who needed saving—Solitaire, Honeychile, Tracy, Mary Goodnight… I did promise to stop the Fleming comparisons, didn’t I?

    Right.

    Well—the Taunt twins are as good and as bad as any of the others so far and therefore Mr Benson has maintained his standards. At least he’s consistent, but these characters are the least happy aspect of the book and, whilst this is a book that has some fun concepts that largely succeed, this one comes across as a gimmicky and, at the point the curtain falls, of questionable taste and wisdom. A fine ambition to shake the system up a bit—and if DoubleShot is evidence of anything, it’s evidence of the author’s awareness of both his and a Bond story’s limitations—but it doesn’t come off. And, reading the book now, albeit that its publication preceded Goldmember by a couple of years or so, there’s something unnervingly Fuk Mi and Fuk Yu about them—“twins, Basil, twins…”

    Dr Kimberley Feare doesn’t cut it either; she is more effective as a (critical) plot point than as a character—the image of Bond slippering and slappering around in lakes of her blood, unsure of his culpability, is a Benson highlight. Even though she proves to have a most welcoming bedside manner and lets Percy into the playpen, it’s just another oddly unerotic sex scene. She’s much more value to the book dead. I feel nothing for her; feel quite a bit for Bond—if that was the intention then she’s a success.

    M’s still a cretin, though; at one point she proclaims of Bond “We think he’s missing…” Odd thing to think—either he is or he isn’t.

    Book or Film?

    Unfilmable. Not because it’s not worth it, but because it would a ) be tremendously difficult and confuse the hell out of an audience and b ) the strengths of the book are incapable of being replicated on film; it would be a film about someone trying to take over Gibraltar for the afternoon and that would seem a little low-rent for a Bond film, although it does tap the Eon vibe of using real international flashpoints and twisting them just so; whilst I’m digressing into that, why in Die Another Day was Kim Jong-Il never actually mentioned? Weird.

    So—unfilmable. And I suspect deliberately so; perhaps to counter (entirely fair, mind you) that much of his stuff to this point apes the Eon style, the international troublespot mining aside, this doesn’t. And I remain to be unconvinced of its cleverness, that rather than seeking to argue about the weaknesses of his writing, Mr Benson has embraced it and shoved it right back in all our oh-so-clever faces—the whole thing depends on it being rubbish—that it is so bad it’s good. Disagree all you want, but tread softly for you tread on my dreams. One day the truth may dawn and I may have to acknowledge that it’s so bad it’s bad (in a word: bad), but that day isn’t coming any time soon. You might think all this is the rambling of a loony and the book has no such depth and all this “cleverly terrible” incidents are just “stupidly terrible”. You might have something; I might be in denial at conceiving that anything so ostensibly banal could be created, a refusal to acknowledge that anything could be this awful (and bear in mind that I’ve seen Pay It Forward); but let me have some crumb of happiness, won’t you?

    Even if that house of sand and fog has to crumble and disperse, there’s still some of the best stuff he’s done in this book; Margareta Piel, Bond utterly losing it, a pretty-much-pulled-off “real time” shootout for the conclusion, convincing and illuminating research into bullfighting culture (a very Bond thing, surely) and a largely sustained momentum. Role of Honour? Nadgers to Role of Honour—hellishly slow and anticlimactic. Diamonds are Forever? What actually happens? Also hellishly slow and anticlimactic (I sense a theme). As a balls to the wall commercial espionage thriller story, with a twist, DoubleShot is the best fourth Bond book of any of them. (NB do read that correctly—it’s “best fourth Bond book” rather than “fourth best Bond book”—I haven’t gone completely mad—although it’s definitely in the medals when it comes to the continuations). It won’t let you down as much as the other two and there’s great potential in it for it to be considered actively subversive of the genre. I expected little. I gained a lot. This not only escapes the shadow of “Ian Fleming”; it escapes the shadow of “Raymond Benson”.

    Or put it this way; I seriously believe that had this been the only one he had produced, his stock as a continuation novelist would be far higher than it is. Immeasurably. Deservedly.

    Is it good or just relatively good? As a stand-alone piece of writing, it is—of course—for the casual reader pretty much impenetrable in both motive for The Union, the nature of Bond at the start of the book and the thickly ladled references. It’s also written in a manner which makes one sweat, and not in a pleasurable way. If you buy the theory, it’s a wonderful, knowing joke. If you don’t buy the theory, it’s more of the same and you’ll have made up your mind whether you like the Bensons or not. Even so, I would stress that you don’t let your prejudices derived from the others blind you to the merits of this one. Give it a go. Seriously. Shame that this is only really going to be picked up by the completists—it deserves a wider audience.

    Thought about for more than an atosecond, this is complicated and a rewarding read above and beyond the basic story, which is arguably neither here nor there. So, assuming (however recklessly, however uninterested) that the Star Trek theory is tenable, then if this RB JB IV is sound, that must make number five pretty terrible, yes?

    Jamie Cullum.

    Spock—chap with the ears, right?

    RETURN TO PAGE 1

    Related Articles

    Jim @ 2006-04-24
  7. The Impossible Job: DoubleShot

    The following article is the opinion of one individual and may not represent the views of the owner or other team members of CommanderBond.net.

    Also see:
    DoubleShot Reviewed
    by Daniel Dykes

    I | II

    Star Trek.

    I suppose that I must have subjected myself to it once or twice, probably during a moment of weakness when the darts wasn’t on. Given that I’m married, have no hatred of fresh air and have never masturbated into a sock, Jacques StewartI have always assumed that it’s not meant to appeal to me. From what I’ve dared watch of it, it seems to involve either T.J. Hooker (very wig/weave) or Yorkshire’s finest Frenchman (very no wig/weave) being put on trial by people with lumpy gravy stapled to their foreheads (habitually non-Caucasian character actors—what’s all that about then?) and forced to answer for humanity’s sins, usually because the uniformly humanoid gravyheaded people have just intercepted a broadcast of a Nuremburg Rally or International Speedway live from Wolverhampton or that episode of “Columbo” with George Hamilton in it that always seems to be on. Which sets one thinking about how they’re going to react when they’re subjected to The World is not Enough; they’ll probably come down and massacre us. Justifiably so, too.

    But, in truth, everything that I could tell you about this Star Trek you could drunkenly carve with a rattly jackhammer into a pinhead (the item, not the person, although your confusion is understandable because I did start with the words “Star Trek”). There’s some corporate-sponsor pleasing pontificating about being lovely to everyone—because they’re all potential consumers—some things that go “wooshhhh” and “fizzzz” and “slapacockledoodah”, probably, and I’m pretty sure (unless it’s yet another brie-dream) there’s something about Klingon dictionaries and that something disturbs me: if it was worth doing, the Klingons would have done it, surely? And if the reason for not so doing is because they do not exist, then this comes full circle to why bother? Y’know, I read the other day that the potato has more chromosomes than a human. And whilst it must be true of all of us, there are some people whose selfish oxygen-gobbling can only serve to remind us of the fact. Why they don’t do themselves in defeats me (and if anyone considers this a call to suicide upon which the impressionable may act, consider this: it’s one thing to commit suicide because of illness or inescapable personal trauma or reading Deception Point and realising that a world that allows it to happen must be really horrid and it’s better to leave. Committing suicide because something one read on the internet or saw on TV made it look like a good idea—that’s natural selection).

    Yet, this stated, given that the white chocolate-wonderful interweb has exposed me to many, many delights—dwarf porn, goat porn, dwarf goat porn, probably other things apart from porn, dwarves and goats but substantially less than half as much fun—amongst the information eruption screenburnt into my skull has been the vital knowledge that the Star Trek films follow a pattern in terms of quality.

    Relative quality.

    Odd numbered films (for those educated by the British state, that’s 1, 3, 5, 7 and… um… 9 (note to self: check))—bad. Not “bad” in the sense that Hitler, Pol Pot and Sesame Street were “bad”; considerably more evil than that—Scrappy Doo bad. Yoko Ono’s films bad.

    Jamie Cullum bad.

    Even numbered films—better. Better in the way that finding a maggot in one’s peach is better than finding half a maggot; why am I suddenly reminded of Jamie Cullum? Doubtless someone out there will squander some of the only life they will ever have on telling me that this doesn’t strictly hold true, and doubtless I really won’t care when it’s pointed out to me that—actually—Star Trek part III: Cack-A-Rama-Spocky-Wah-Wah contains—actually—scenes that are—actually—worthy of Shakespeare (Craig Shakespeare, erstwhile West Brom midfielder). This may well be so, but then a hell of a lot of Shakespeare isn’t—actually—worthy of Shakespeare either (especially the ill-advised move to Grimsby Town). Putting aside the rumour that most of his stuff was actually written by Christopher Marlowe (or was it Gerhard Berger?—one of the two, anyway), have you seen Timon of Athens? Don’t—it’s crap. Cymbeline? I’ve vomited—and celebrated vomiting—more substantial things than Cymbeline. Two Noble Kinsmen? Jamie. Cullum.

    Anyway, the reason I really don’t care whether this so-called Star so-called Trek so-called theory holds true is because I’ve still not seen any of these so-called films; they are the sort of thing the existence of which one is vaguely aware and has to accept will happen but will ideally rarely witness first-hand, like 3.15 a.m. or one’s parents wiping themselves clean post-copulation, or Northamptonshire. Intelligence gathered suggests these films are something to do with spaceships and David Warner is in one or more or all of them; more news once received. But the reason I raise it is that the same utterly-trivial-once-the-bomb-drops odd-numbers bad, evens marginally better notion could apply to the Raymond Benson James Bond books, to whit:

    Number 1: worthy, bit dull, overpadded, finding its way, sort of gets there;
    Number 2: zips along merrily, much more confident;
    Number 3: terrible. Catastrophic. No, worse; probably illegal;
    Number 4: …er…um… pretty OK…

    …actually

    Yep, sorry to break it to you gang, especially those weighed down with the expectation that I’m just going for the throat mercilessly with these ephemera, but DoubleShot is, in essence, really decent stuff. Surprisingly so.

    On its own merits.

    Well, obviously. What a traumatically stupid, redundant statement that is. It’s not as if it’s going to be the same sort of thing that Fleming wrote and (sharp intake of breath) it’s not as if it needs to be if one ignores any pretence that it’s meant to be similar. On that basis, all that it needs to be is competent and entertaining, something (even at that undemanding level) still defeating its immediate predecessor in an upsettingly baffling way, so as far as those criteria go, it succeeds. In comparison to the spectacularly tragic High Time To Kill, DoubleShot is light from dark, a (relative) leap in quality. By way of contextual comparison (and no, I don’t quite believe I used that expression either), it is what we saw with The Living Daylights being produced by the same folks who considered it a job well done to hurl A View to a Kill at an innocent and fluffpuppy world only a handful of months beforehand.

    It almost does enough to wipe the memory clean of its immediate predecessor; Hercules and the Augean stables spring to mind. In other words, one can walk away from this one undefiled; the sun will not have dimmed, mighty rivers will still flow, unwiped genitalia will remain unwiped by it and life will plod along in its usual shambling way. Please don’t misunderstand me: it is by no means a great work of fiction—a more accurate description would be “unutterably colossal piffle that will probably only be read by eleven people”—but given that it cannot seriously (surely?) have been intended to be anything other than complete and utter tosh, that it succeeds in being diverting (as opposed to wretched) renders it… a success. Or put it this way—unlike its immediate predecessor I have no desire to ram this one straight back up him.

    And if it’s time to stop raising futile comparisons with Fleming’s stuff, then so be it. Time to compare Mr Benson to himself. DoubleShot is his best one so far. Leave to one side how magnificent an achievement that actually is given its patchy competition and believe me. But can I make the comparison more than in a backhanded manner; and more than out of kindness? Can I go further, can I really go further and suggest that as a “fourth book” and as a piece of straightforward entertainment it’s the superior of the directionless and podgy Role of Honour and the exquisitely written if Norfolk-flat Diamonds are Forever?

    Yes.

    Yes I can.

    “Make it so.”

    I feel so ashamed. Anyone got a sock?

    DoubleShot

    A bit about the Style and a bit about the Plot; this part has a dual identity. A magnificently appropriate approach and not just me being lazy.

    Let me—go on, let me—tell you a story. A criminal organisation, maniacally vengeful and peeved to the point of frowning really quite hard indeed, seeks to destroy the credibility of the British government by humiliating its best agent, framing this agent for a crime of lustpassion, and being generally mischievous and, oh I forget, something about a typewriter oder? This story is (the film of) From Russia with Love.

    Let me tell you another story. A criminal organisation, maniacally vengeful and peeved to the point of frowning really quite hard indeed, seeks to rescue its own wounded reputation and destroy the credibility of the British government by (ostensibly) supporting a mad nationalist bullfighting absurdly over-priapic gangster “type” in a siege in Gibraltar. As a little bonus, it also seeks the destruction of the mind of Britain’s best agent, not in the best state of health to begin with, by framing this agent for the graphic blood-soaked slaughter of a young woman, a kill-frenzy on a passenger ferry and, eventually, multiple murders of several politicians. This gets to the point that the agent’s own people order him to be eliminated. This story is DoubleShot (who said there were no original plots?). Interested?

    Let me tell you another story, before you come up with an excuse to edge away and make polite conversation elsewhere. A criminal organisation, maniacally vengeful and blahblahblah bibbledy bobbledy boo pookily mookily, is thwarted in its scheme because James Bond’s willy is a very good willy. This story is also DoubleShot. Squirming?

    A dual identity tale of dual identities—the Union trying to establish and recover its reputation, a psychopathic doppelganger wandering about and causing “trouble”, identical twin agents, the main villains having distinctly different public and private personae (the latter not being that unusual in a Bond story but it fits the mood)—DoubleShot appears, oddly, to be the least “discussed” (cough) of the Union trilogy, almost a forgotten Bond. Certainly it’s not as flashy in its concept as High Time To Kill, which is not a problem as this is a considerably more even book, rather than a succession of feculent incidents waiting for a damn big mountain to turn up. Nor is it as rampagingly over-the-top (and flat-out inexcusable) as Never Dream of Dying (again, greatly to DoubleShot’s credit). As a “middle” story it may, I suppose, suffer the undeserved perception that it’s simply a bridge; undeserved because even if a bridge it be, it’s a damned solid one. Given what’s either side of it, it’s one stuck in the middle of a particularly scrubby desert—the London Bridge that twerp bought and shipped to whatever hellhole it was in Arizona springs to mind.

    It’s far from perfect and doubtless as you read through this pus, you’ll probably think I don’t like it that much. Well, I’ve liked other books more, which is not a terribly challenging feat, but then I’ve liked more less (the computer has just underlined “more less” in green; who or what do “they” get to program these things? Nor does it recognise the word “saveloy”, the wretch). But the potency of cheap shots may overwhelm me so I’ll bung the core of my review here: me like. Me like a lot.

    It’s difficult to express why unless one stands back from it for a moment and thinks a little. It’s the stronger for what it does not contain than for what it does; this tends to show a greater confidence on Mr Benson’s part in divesting himself of the expectations of his norm; without apparently having to include as many of the trappings (an appropriate word—fact) of “Bond”, the book’s more enjoyable for it.

    The usual problems are evident; it’s not so much of an improvement that it could be by a different author. You must know these by now…

    …the stultifyingly leaden dialogue, a particularly chortlesome example being “She is well known in Spain as an equestrian instructor and performer, but she has quite a dark side. She’s a vicious homicidal maniac.” Mmm, handy. That is quite a dark side, isn’t it?…

    …the—provocatively?—underwritten descriptives? Somewhat present in having to trawl through guff like “M was a bit shaken by this news” (a “bit”? Which age group is this stuff aimed at?) although he does somewhat appear to have a new favourite—“virtually”—which crops up somewhat too frequently for somewhat comfortable reading. Somewhat…

    …careless proofreading (some curious Americanisms, the UK first edition has several typos in it and there’s a very odd bit when referring to Orson Welles which should be followed by a comma but is instead sporting an apostrophe). I appreciate that these remaining in are not the fault of the writer but they add to the air of wanton slapdashery about the enterprise…

    …but…

    …and yet…

    …but…

    …but this much we knew anyway and, given that one hardly read the book at gunpoint—I didn’t have to plough through it, nor do I have to subject it to this petty abuse—it would be repetition to keep harping on about them, and capable of being misinterpreted as personal rather than critical. By now, these key features are oddly reassuring; this I cannot explain but there would be much missing from the Benson-reading experience if one was deprived of the frustration / smackage du gob endemic in the exercise. Things haven’t actively worsened, so that’s something and probably the most one can hope for, realistically. So, enough. If you want a full dissection, see the previous review. Enough to say it’s the traditional problem—can create a decent enough story but writing one is more of an issue. No real progress; query whether it’s all just a big tease by Mr Benson and his editor(s?) to keep on doing it like this, but we’ll put that to one side.

    The distinctiveness—contributory to the book working—is in the missing elements; no Boothroyd scene (those to date have been apocalyptically poor, so this is an improvement); no tricked-up car and therefore no Flying Scout (undoubted improvement number two) and little, if any, Eon. Arguably, given the pivotal plot device of the double, the timesplitting structure and that it all boils down to our hero’s knobelisk, it’s practically unfilmable. It would be very difficult to pull it off convincingly—and that’s not a willy joke, however fine a one it may be. The danger in this divesting itself of the traps and trappings of the film formula is one is less inclined to watch it hurtle past the eyes in its unchallenging way as a film, than to approach it as… well, a book. Of some description.

    On the surface, for the usual stylistic reasons, it’s as good or terrible as the commercial norm. But, but… there’s more to this one than meets the proverbial.

    Humour me.

    Let me walk you gently through this. Part of my initial problem on reading the book whenever it was way back when was a nagging doubt—which is true of so many of the films—about why The Union doesn’t just kill Bond and replace him with the double. It has plenty of opportunity as the book progresses, and it would also mean that its plan is not thwarted for it is precisely because it hasn’t killed him before he infiltrates the villain’s lair that the whole scheme collapses. At first blush, this looks like careless plotting (although no better or worse than countless other opportunities in other films and books)…

    …at second blush, however, the cleverness behind the scheme becomes apparent. Bond is kept alive precisely because The Union is having its kicks destroying him. They could just swat him off the face of the Earth and choose not to, for fun. A long, drawn-out death, weakening him at every stage, and destroying his reputation (query the wisdom of a secret agent having a reputation to destroy, though). In this “humiliate Bond and SIS but keep Bond alive until the critical point” plot, as noted there’s patent overtones of From Russia with Love but Mr Benson dares—and in me view, for whatever that’s worth, succeeds—in taking the plot a stage further. It’s not simply a case of killing Bond in as humiliating and discrediting a way as possible, but to destroy his mind first—and then killing him in as humiliating and discrediting a way as possible. That’s a sadistic little twist to the expectation of what could be a run-of-the-mill “Kill Bond now!” plot, and it pretty much pays off. We’ve had Bond injured before, many a time. We’ve had Bond psychologically fragile before but that was largely his own self-destructive persona taking control. However, Bond deliberately being sent over the edge by the enemy into self-doubt is new. The book is one long torture scene. Interpret that as you will; I mean it positively.

    There are some problems to overcome. The expression of this self-doubt is a bit curious in that frequent fecund ejaculations (fnarr) such as My God, what the hell happened here? Was he losing his mind? shift from first to third person in an eyeblink and look most odd—who is doing the thinking here, Bond or the author? This curious way of expressing the inner trauma aside, having Bond relentlessly under-par works for the most part and helps a key idea: everyone including Bond (this is critical) thinks he may have done these things. Not that there are many from instant recollection, but on previous occasions when Bond has been framed, he (and therefore, the reader in no doubt as to the purity of the hero) has been certain of his innocence; whilst it may take a stronger writer to have pulled this off utterly convincingly, the idea that the reader (for a bit, anyway) may doubt as much as Bond does whether he did murder various bods is one worth raising; the reaction to the death of Dr Feare is a highlight of the book, and probably the most narratively arresting in all of the Bensons, and arguably in all of the Continuation Bonds.

    It’s only if one recalls when reading that passage how, in the flashforward prologue, the writer refers to “…the man identified…as James Bond…” that the idea crumbles—but how many people will do that?

    I only wonder whether the writer missed a trick by, whatever the face-shifty running around firing guns finale achieves, it still came out as a horrid little sting in the tail that Bond did murder Dr Feare but SIS will cover it up; perhaps that’s a little too bleak in what is only intended as a throwaway (read this one before throwing it away, though).

    This internalised plot (the external plot about Gibraltar is a wan half-baked frippery disguising what this book tries to do) does make Bond more interesting as a character; until now, Benson’s Bond has been a passenger in the events, or in the back of a remote-controlled car, reacting rather than acting, and possessing approximately half the charisma of an abandoned shoe. Here, he doubts. Here, he’s called John Cork (no point complaining, it’s been published now). Here, he is abandoned by his own people and (albeit half-heartedly) chased by them. Here he is on the run and… yep, it’s Licence to Kill. Without the excremental Q. Which makes it worth experiencing. Finally, we have from Mr Benson a story about James Bond rather than just another James Bond story.

    You might not trust me—you might not like me and I doubt if I need you to—but all I ask of you is this—DoubleShot has more finesse than its presentation immediately suggests.

    But there’s more. And that more is where the book moves from being just solid Bondy fun into being potentially great.

    I assure you that I have not lost my mind.

    Let’s start with the obvious: the dialogue hasn’t improved much—the conversation Bond eavesdrops upon in the Soho is hilariously stilted in its lack of naturalness and, also, really pretty ridiculous given that the participants say exactly what Bond wants them to say at that precise moment. I have to accept that this has to a) move the plot forward and b) is a staple of any sort of detective/spy fiction but one is left a little disappointed when one of the conversers doesn’t pipe up with “I really hope no-one’s listening to this.” Likewise, the propensity of the same minor villains—a pair of pornographers (is he obsessed?)—to wander about with secret plans (the sort that appear to have “Secret Plans” stamped all over them) in their pockets is staggeringly unlikely.

    Unless one considers this on two levels.

    Firstly, as a pure plot point, this pair of incompetent stooges is being set up by The Union to have Bond kill them—so in a neat little twist, Bond does indeed end up working for The Union. Cast aside any thought about whether credible characters would really be so stupid as not to realise that they are—in an unusually violent way—being constructively dismissed, and watch the fun develop—especially when “Bond savagely sliced the man’s neck, then stabbed him in the heart.” Nice. Anyway, any instant irritation at the plausibility of such characters is diminished by considering their purpose in the story on this initial level. As a flipside to Bond laying thunderously unsubtle clues and getting the villain to do his dirty work in Licence to Kill, this is the villain using Bond in much the same way. Funny.

    And yet there’s something even smarter. This is where you’re either with me or against me. And if you’re against me, expect me to invade your country soon.

    It’s this: is Mr Benson having a joke with us? Is he exhibiting self-awareness that his dialogue and coincidences are not… um… amongst the strongest, so here they are deliberately stagey because they are meant to be deliberately staged? These aren’t actually the usual plot holes through which one could drive distempered cattle, but key plot devices Is Mr Benson being cleverly—and amazingly humbly—self-aware in his shortcomings as a writer—it is precisely these shortcomings that give Bond his clues and keep the plot moving. In short, is he recognising that if he were a better writer of incident and dialogue then there would be no plot here at all? If there were no such staggeringly unlikely conversations and happenings, this tale would not progress? Has he created a story that relies more on his frailties as an author—and the reader’s acknowledgement of his frailties as an author—than any capability? That’s at a more sophisticated level of deconstruction than any archly over-Eon references in any of the predecessors; actually, it verges on brilliance.

    What he has achieved here—intentional or not—is to breach the barrier between reader and storyteller and welcome the superficially underwhelmed audience, about to shred the book, with “I know that this is crap; you know that this is crap; so I’m going to embrace the crapness and give you a story that has to rely on my output being crap because if this were any better, then it wouldn’t actually work.” Could a better writer have actually produced this? Is there challenge in the idea—no-one else could do it as badly so no-one else could have done this plot so much justice? The dialogue being deliberately rubbish and fortuitously overheard, minor villains acting in wildly unlikely ways (but consistent with his previous output) because they need to—splendid idea, wonderfully aware of his own strengths and weaknesses and so subtly executed that it’s hidden under what appears to be the standard moribund badinage and coincidence. The existence of the book entire has to rely on him being an unspecial writer. If this is intended—and if it was not, it’s truly the happiest of accidents—Mr Benson has delivered an immensely complicated idea here, and without shouting about it. This is why I like the book. This, this is fantastic.

    If one accepts this proposition—that he is writing with an acceptance of himself and not just the usual lifewasting awareness of “Bond stuff”—then this book deserves to be read; not for the usual tiresome girls and guns and all that sort of silly rubbish, because it doesn’t really add or detract on that score, but for the extraordinarily interesting double-bluff, the wonderful trick in letting the reader think that he is witnessing one thing (yet another gruesomely poor book about as appealing a prospect as one minute in Las Vegas) when, in fact, quite the opposite is happening.

    Just like the plot.

    Clever.

    Compared to this, the notoriously tricky (well, relatively) The Man from Barbarossa has all the complexity of Pingu. This is the most sophisticated—and unexpectedly so—Bond book in a generation. Love it.

    I’m not kidding.

    Unless this is utterly fanciful and it is really as abject as it first appears. But don’t tell me that, for nah nah nah not listening. It’s almost worthy of Shakesp…

    Oh God.

    Self-hatred will now set in. Forever.

    continue to page 2 of The Impossible Job: DoubleShot

    Jim @ 2006-04-24
  8. The CBn Dossier, September '05

    Jacques Stewart

    Welcome to the September 2005 CBn Dossier, a wrap-up of all the 007 news and rumours for the month. In this month’s column, we’ll be examining the never-ending rumours and news of Casino Royale, the current status of the upcoming videogame, From Russia With Love, the Young Bond series and much more.

    This month’s CBn Dossier will be delivered by Jacques Stewart.

    Enjoy.

    Casino Royale … flop?*

    One of the more interesting things that CBn learned during the month was that in Casino Royale, the twenty-first James Bond film to be produced by Eon Productions Ltd, the centrepiece card game will be… nope, that’d be telling. So we told.

    “Mixed” is the most appropriate way to sum up reaction to this development**. And just be grateful that it’s not dominoes. Or Su-Doku. Or Rugby League.

    *not an early review; simply a clue as to the game.

    **although smashing one’s face into a wall in astounded frustration seems popular***.

    ***not that this is an endorsement. CBn in no way recommends repeated frenzied headbutts of disbelief as a lifestyle choice****

    ****although it does respect the freedom to choose amongst those who have chosen to do so*****.

    *****this is a lie.

    Pierce Brosnan may or may not be James Bond in Casino Royale

    “Probably” Pierce… & Final Decision Next Week…

    That pretty much covers all angles there, then.

    Moving on…

    Still in the Lion’s Den

    Of all the recent rumours, of all the shortlists and speculation, the one constant name is Daniel Craig. This month, an interesting phenomenon – when the Mr Brosnan returning rumours hot up, the Mr Craig rumours die down and vice versa, although CBn accepts that this is probably inevitable. However, has anyone seen them in the same room together?

    Oh.

    Bang goes that theory.

    Autographica Magnifica

    Thanks to Graham Rye for informing us all about the Autographica event taking place at the end of next month – big news here is the first ever convention appearance of Ursula Andress, the Bond Girl of Bond Girls.

    Given that other Bond notables attending Autographica will include a villain, a comedy sidekick, an obligatory sacrificial lamb (and motivation for a plot) a Felix Leiter, a stunt arranger and assorted technical folk, if anyone brings a video camera there’s an instant (and pretty damned good) Bond film in the making. Could get Mr Horak to do the poster, too. All that would be needed is a James Bond…

    The Announcement

    A race between yesterday’s man, a host of relative unknowns and a youthful pretender… the right choice is critical given the dominance of the competition… will it lead to a total reinvention?… is it all too late to save something that was once dominant? … it could get nasty but will the rest of the world really care? …everyone has their favourite but none of us can really make the decision… and if this doesn’t work, is it oblivion forever?

    Who will be the next leader of the UK Conservative Party?

    Ooh, see what I did there? Not clever, not funny. And not particularly interesting either. Something else is rapidly getting that way too.

    The outcome of the German general election…

    Aha! Oho! But you know what I mean…

    How long Sven will stay in charge of England…

    OK, I’ll stop it now.

    People not doing things they were never going to do anyway shock!

    Charlie Higson will not be writing Adult Bond (not yet, anyway). IFP have not entered into negotiations (not yet, anyway) for Young Bond film 1 nor for the author for the 2008 Bond book.

    I deny all rumours that I intend to eat Cornwall.

    Not yet, anyway.

    Stuck who to choose? Let Brown Majesties decide for you

    I often find (this is complete rubbish, by the way) that when stuck in coming to a decision, an anagram may help (I repeat: this is not true. I do have some sort of life – it’s just that I found an anagram site on this interweb thing and messed about for ten minutes, although you’d have to wonder about the quality of my life if I am the sort of person who goes looking for such things on the internet when there’s so much lovely free pornography available).

    Accordingly, given that the alternative seems to be sticking a pin in a list of names, if you’re still undecided – choose your favourite anagram!

    Henry Cavill is James Bond – “Damnably cleverish joins”. OK, that’s meaningless, but then some would argue that “Henry Cavill is James Bond” is equally so.

    Goran Visnjic is James Bond – “Is jingoism and craven jobs”. Not evidently in English. You insert your own comment… […here…].

    Pierce Brosnan is James Bond – “Rejoice! Brain snob dampness”. I’m saying nothing. The alternative is “What? Him again? I thought he was about eighty.”

    Alex O’Lachlan is James Bond – “Sex-mad jail snob, clean halo” which is a tabloid story just begging to be written.

    Dougray Scott is James Bond – “Take another photo of me, sonny, and I’ll do yers”. In fact, that isn’t Dougray Scott in the photo – it’s Tom Cruise in a silly Dougray Scott rubber mask.

    Ewan Stewart is James Bond – Lest we forget him, “Brown majesties, as wanted”. Well, there’s another euphemism for poo-poo. As, sadly, is “Ewan Stewart is.. etc…”

    Sam Worthington is James Bond – “Not braw, handsomest jingoism”. Whoever Sam Worthington may be, he makes for a rubbish anagram so best not be him.

    Daniel Craig is James Bond – “Bad ladies’ man rejoicings”. Even the anagrams diss the poor sod’s looks, but you read it here first – this time next week, it could well sum up “the” announcement.

    Charles Axworthy is James Bond – “Clownish Majesty, drab hoaxers”. Sums the whole thing up very neatly – accordingly, Charles Axworthy is James Bond.

    Solved!

    Form is temporary; class is permanent

    With all the speculation flying about, all the rumour and counter-rumour and stuff allegedly being leaked about whether or not company A wants X to be the stand-in for the stuntmen in the twenty-first slice of this silly old tosh, isn’t it nice to take a peaceful moment and reflect on…

    a ) the munificence and understated class of Sir Roger Moore recording commentaries to the DVDs of his Bond films and

    b ) the magnificence of him doing so in Monaco.

    Truly, we are lucky to have lived at the same time as such a top chap. [Although it’s a bit of a pity that we had to watch some of his films, but those really weren’t his fault].

    Given the ostensibly “difficult” relationship between Eon and at least one of its other Bonds, and the apparent silence on the subject from the others, why not let Sir Rog do the lot? That’d be a hoot. Oh come on, it would.

    iThink therefore iPod

    Just in passing, CBn’s podcast received 1,900 listeners August to September, so thanks to everyone for your support and keep listening (it’s free!) – with the potential for major news about Casino Royale and the Literary Bond in the near future, keep downloading and logging on and importing or whatever it is one does with these things; oh, for the days of the transistor radio and only three types of cheese. Life was much simpler then, wasn’t it? Rubbish, though.

    Cigarettes and Alcohol

    Highly reminiscent of the Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of smoking at the end of Licence to Kill (message: smoking will kill you but putting people in decompression chambers is OK by me), our Heiko Baumann noted some rather odd and pretty inexplicable changes between the UK and US editions of SilverFin.

    My two lads, having read SilverFin “undiluted”, have yet to develop gaspers ‘n’ booze dependency* so to all you good folks out there who should be reading SilverFin anyway (it’s pretty sound), you’re really quite safe y’know.

    *although their crack habit is out of control.

    I’d say things are shaping up nicely

    The more detail CBn gets about the upcoming From Russia with Love videogame, the more interested the more susceptible of us become to demanding children – the character detail (especially, from the writer’s point of view, Rosa Klebb) looks pretty solid. Still no gypsy girls yet, which is a bit of a disappointment to the colossal pervert amongst me.

    Great Chieftain of the Pudding Race

    Mr Haggis has come up with some sound stuff this month, albeit potentially controversial. Just in case you were unsure of his work, some facts about Haggis:

    He consists of minced lamb heart, lungs and liver mixed with pepper and oatmeal, cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Mmm – very Atkins.

    Robert Burns considered him highly sophisticated and mighty (perhaps he cried at Million Dollar Baby, who knows?) and consequently wrote an ode to him, albeit several decades before his birth.

    Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face

    Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!

    Aboon them a’ ye tak your place

    Painch, tripe, or thairm:

    Weel are ye wordy of a grace worthy

    As lang’s my arm

    In modern parlance – don’t **** it up, sunshine, honest sonsie face or not.

    Location, Location, Location

    Wherever Casino Royale may be set, “Not France” seems to be the agenda. Does the return to The Bahamas mean underwater scenes? Does it mean a return to the widescreen spectacle of Thunderball? Does it mean a rather surreal volte-face and that scenes set in a Buckinghamshire chalk pit will actually be Nassau dressed up as a Buckinghamshire chalk pit?

    Weekly World News

    Oddest item of the month (other than practically everything else) was that a Bible written entirely in limericks has likened Samson to James Bond.

    People may remember other strange Bond / religious connotations brought to light (or just made up), amongst them the appearance of the face of Timothy Dalton in an almond croissant, the horrific incident in 1994 when a spectral Lotte Leyna descended amongst eleven partially undernourished Finns and talked to them about speedway for an hour, and the generation of men who worship Claudine Auger as some sort of goddess.

    Quiet, isn’t it…? Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Or is it…?*

    Amidst all the rumours and counter-rumours and our willingness to be fully and thoroughly and satisfyingly facted until we squeal, exhausted and moist, by whatever comes along, momentum does seem to be building on Casino Royale – CBn learned this month that with post-production on the Zorro sequel largely complete, Martin Campbell is pushing ahead with Casino Royale (even if no-one else is). Watch this space; things could get a lot louder very soon. Very soon. If I told you any more than this, I’d have to kill you. Or be better at making stuff up.

    *it is.

    Just think…

    This time next week, we may all know…

    This time next year, the film may [note: may] be in the can…

    This time in two years’ time, we’ll be banging on about the next one and whether it will be better / worse / feature the return of the giant talking leper badger.

    Jim @ 2005-09-30
  9. The CBn Dossier, May '05

    Jacques Stewart

    Welcome to the May 2005 CBn Dossier, a wrap-up of all the 007 news and rumours for the month. In this month’s column, we take a look at Michael G. Wilson’s nine Ultimate Answers, CBn’s discussion with Lana “Plenty O’Toole” Wood, Daniel’s Craig’s brush with Bond (or not), the latest from Ian Fleming Publications and more. Today, Jim looks back on the month that was.

    Enjoy.

    Mostly Harmless


    In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the mighty computer Deep Thought, after considerable cogitating, produces as the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, the number 42; upon understandable complaints, the computer remarked that the question had not been specific enough.

    Doubtless after equivalent Deep Thinking, Michael G. Wilson produced the following nine Ultimate Answers, ostensibly about Casino Royale. Quite what the Ultimate Questions were is moot. Accordingly, mooting ahoy…

    • “I don’t know which actor” [“Which actor provided the voice of Teddy Ruxpin in “Teddy Ruxpin IV: Teddy Ruxpin goes to Hell?”]
    • “January 17” [“In 1983, when was which Breakfast TV was broadcast in the UK?”]
    • “October 19 2006” [“When’s Big Sam Allardyce’s 50th birthday?”]
    • “Aston Martin” [“How would the name Martin Aston appear in a school register?”]
    • “Casino Royale” [“For the lyricists amongst us, what’s the best rhyme for “Casino Royale” then?”]
    • “Martin Campbell” [“Which company has, since 1980, developed an effective and cohesive commercial property consultancy in the Richmond-upon-Thames area, which is based upon a core activity of commercial property agency supported by strong professional disciplines, with the aim of safeguarding the commercial property interests of both owners and tenants?”]
    • “Prague and South Africa” [“Where’s cheap?”]
    • “Yes, Judi Dench will be back” [“Will there be any scenes set in a distillery?”]
    • “No, Halle Berry won’t reprise” [“What’s the latest you’ve heard on “Catwoman II: More Kitty Litter?”]

    Some tricky questions there, so top marks to the chap who lives “in a fishbowl”.

    Further mooting by CBn Forum members at this thread. Given the reference to South Africa, query whether some almost forgotten ruminating about the Sun City complex on CBn suggested the idea to him.

    As for these suggested locations, the first tabloid cry of “Czech mate, Mr Bond” is overdue and if South Africa is gospel, one awaits the inevitable headlines “The Mandela with the Golden Gun” or “The Veld is Not Enough” with a heavy heart. Although it seems a bit odd that Northern France doesn’t (yet) appear on the slate, plausible that Prague could pass for it, so those wedded to the book shouldn’t worry. Yet.

    As always, CBn will keep you up to speed with developments, and let you know when Mr Wilson next plays Jeopardy.

    “Hey, what the Hell is this? A perverts’ convention or something?”


    CBn members DLibrasnow, Doctor Shatterhand and Doublenoughtspy were plenty fortunate enough to drop in on Lana Wood to reminisce about the making of Diamonds are Forever – read about the time she quizzed them about her night attire here, and the quote of the month from our own Mr Helfenstein (“Speaking of lingerie…”).

    You think this title’s bad? Given that the only real alternative is a spectacularly vulgar play on the good lady’s name, in pursuing its rigid standards CBn would never stoop to heading any of its pieces “CBn gets Wood”.

    CBn gets Wood


    In July 2005, the Internet will celebrate 5 years of being married to CBn (apparently the “wood” wedding anniversary, no mucky chuckling at the back there); some special things planned (beyond “just” being the www resource for Bond news, views and abuse (para-rhyme)).

    Stick around for some “interesting stuff” in the lead-up to our anniversary. We have asked Eon whether they would be prepared to let us have the name of the new Bond on the anniversary date. They haven’t actually said no. Well, not yet, anyway.

    In other news, the CBn Forums celebrated reaching 4007 members, and we thank you all for making CBn the place to come to discuss Bond, speculate about the future of the character and defame people in an entirely conscience-free environment. Particular gratitude to those of you who keep linking us to Wal-Mart bargains. Ta.

    For $28 million you can buy either…

    a ) 70% of Mr Brosnan in Casino Royale; or

    b ) 100% of Mr Broccoli’s house.

    Your choice, really.

    Although query whether Michael Wilson should have the house, given that at present he claims to be living “in a fishbowl”, which can’t be very comfy.

    May the Fourth be with You


    On 4 May, it appeared that MGM had a James Bond 6 (or, if you count Casino Royale version 1.0, James Bond 312): Daniel Craig. Bit of a pity, according to Mr Craig himself, that Eon didn’t appear aware of it. Not much of a story, as it turned out, but really couldn’t resist the title here. Not much of a story there, either…

    So – who runs the show?

    “There’s been some sort of move in my direction but there’s been a move in a lot of people’s direction. Possibly it’s a way of trying to raise debate. They throw out some names and then people start discussing it and then they can make a decision.”

    He may not be everyone’s favourite, nor everyone’s idea of the cinematic James Bond, nor someone people have actually heard of. But Daniel Craig came up with an interesting suggestion in there that fansites such as CBn and AJB and others are seen as a valuable resource for reaction to suggestions for Bond 6. Vote Jack Davenport. So, in answer to the question… you do…

    On the basis that this Daniel Craig stuff is accurate, George Lazenby is no longer the briefest official Bond: Daniel Craig appears to have had the role vote Jack Davenport for about… ooh… twelve minutes.

    And then Fishbowl Boy chipped in. So, as with almost every other month, we end this one being blitzed with numerous possibilities vote Jack Davenport, but knowing increasingly less. Odd, that.

    Oh, the usual rubbish…

    Pierce is in, says Dench. No he’s not, says… er …Dench. Gary Stretch, perhaps? Or some chap from ER? Julian McMahon? Or a 22 year-old? Or a 52 year-old? “Why won’t they give it to me? Nurr, don’t want it anyway”, “says” Owen.

    Yawn.

    Writing Young Bond is like making love to a beautiful woman


    Well, he didn’t say that really, but Charlie Higson was traditionally engaging and amusing when CBn members attended a couple of stops on his US promotional tour for Young Bond 1, SilverFin. First up, zencat and Athena in Los Angeles, and then the unstoppable trio of DLibrasnow, Doctor Shatterhand and Doublenoughtspy (“3D”) in Arlington. Lots of splendid information about the genesis of both YB1 and YB2 – which sounds fascinating; stick with CBn for further updates in the run-up to its release in early 2006.

    Regrettably, Mr Helfenstein forgot to raise his trademark lingerie query, which seems like something of a missed opportunity.

    In other literary developments, two unutterably fascinating sounding books are heading our way – Ian Fleming’s James Bond: Annotations and Chronologies and James Bond: The Man and his World – the Official Companion. All sounds very promising. Just when the film series seems to be disappearing up its own… fishbowl, the literary side is chugging along very merrily. Excellent.

    Spot the Dog: The Moneypenny Diaries. Young Bond 2. Large print version of Raymond Benson’s The World Is Not Enough. Only one of these concepts is not sanctioned by the heirs of Ian Fleming. Arguably, it’s not that easy to tell, at first glance…

    Shame though – Moneypenny as Bridget Jones? “Monday 6th June. Bought new bottle of scotch for M. V. pleased. Silly old bag. Sent 113 expendable agents to their deaths by mistake. Tried to delete Microsoft bloody paperclip office help thing, appeared to have nuked Zurich. V. naughty! Fantasised about JB then cried self to sleep. V. good. At 10 a.m. – vv bad. 3 cigarettes, half a rock of crack and a bottle of WKD – at least the fitness regime is holding up.” Well, I’d buy it.

    OK, but will they keep the gypsy girl fight?

    If EA manages to achieve this with the From Russia with Love game previewed at E3 and enjoyed greatly by our Athena007, then it may well indeed be the massive and (ahem) stimulating success it already promises to be. The promise of being able to interact with such an environment… hmm…

    Fnarr…

    Without whom…

    28 May was the anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth. It’s that simple.

    Related Links

    Jim @ 2005-05-30
  10. The Impossible Job: High Time To Kill

    The following article is the opinion of one individual and may not represent the views of the owner or other team members of CommanderBond.net.

    Also see:
    Raymond Benson’s All Time High
    A Look Back at High Time To Kill
    by John Cox

    “In hard covers my books are written for and appeal principally to an “A” readership, but they have all been reprinted in paperbacks, both in England and in America and it appears that the “B” and “C” classes find them equally readable, although one might have thought that the sophistication of the background and detail would be outside their experience and in part incomprehensible.”

    Ian Fleming, letter to CBS, 1957

    “I write what is referred to as ‘commercial fiction’. I’m convinced that if Casino Royale was delivered to a publisher today, it wouldn’t get published! Publishers want an easy-to-read style when it comes to thrillers, except in the cases they call “literary thrillers” such as Mystic River.”

    Raymond Benson, interview with CBn, 2004

    Query whether that comparison of the motives behind the supplies (and suppliers) of written Bond is entirely fair, although what it may illustrate [aside from crashing (if magnificent) snobbery on Fleming’s part] is a perception (correct or otherwise) in the changed nature of the demand.

    Jacques StewartWhether that perception is the product of the writer’s (both writers) own reflection on what he achieved and did not achieve – and contemplation of what he was seeking to achieve – or a demand imposed upon him by the publisher, one cannot immediately tell. Evidently, however, there is a difference in outlook. Regardless of origin, the shift in attitude to what was trying to be produced may assist any conclusion about whether Mr Benson succeeded in Mr Fleming’s job; he did not because the job was [simply] not the same one. Therefore, is comparison inappropriate because the motives and intent were not on a par?

    Yet, whychange the motives and intent? Is there really no market for Fleming’s approach any more, and a greater one for Benson-esque output? Whilst I appreciate that it would be “odd” for Glidrose to commission a series of books that would be deliberately uncommercial (however much their weaknesses put the core Fleming material in a better light – a conspiracy theory too far, perhaps), what was their understanding of what commercial written Bond is? Selectively targeting one’s audience and grateful for whoever else tags along for the ride – which seems to be what Fleming was up to if that quote is anything to go by – or just trying to cover all bases instantly, and democratically, without evidently directing the product at capturing a particular audience other than undiscriminating and gullible collectors who would acquire anything “official” with the words “James Bond” on it?

    Are the answers to be found in the fact of which of these authors gets regular reprints despite the antiquity of their work, and which does not – and, I believe, will not? [There is an essay on how Fleming, initially seen as terribly racy, if he courts popularity now it is for a charming/absurd ancientness, and when this switch in perception may have occurred: but this bain’t going to be it]. Not being sufficiently discriminating, was that the reason for the Benson “commercial fiction” not being a great commercial success? Are we to believe that the general – “commercial” – market would have been insufficiently intrigued by the potential cognitive dissonance that efforts to appeal to a select audience would have birthed, instead of feeding just more of the same old commercial stuff in, indistinct from the narrative capabilities and incapabilities of the bog standard?

    Isn’t hindsight great?

    Wouldn’t they have been better off conceiving “new old” in avoiding a mass market that Bond was never (apparently) intended by its creator to be (“new old” in the sense that a more conscious effort would have been made to appeal to Fleming’s perception of Fleming’s reader (y’know, like giving the old maggot some credit for coming up with something successful), not Mr Benson’s editor’s perception of Mr Benson’s perception of Glidrose’s perception of Eon’s perception of its 15-hour-Bond-movie-marathon overweight burger masticators)? Is it admirable, this apparent desire to give the general commercial market some “same old” and let it flounder along with mounds of similar stuff?

    Or, more succinctly – who the hell dreamt this scheme up? Did he/she/it really think that it would be a sensible proposition to try to cram into an already brimful general commercial pap “C” appeal thriller market, rather than develop something that would stand out? Y’know, like Fleming tried, with his frustrations at attempting to write something and his insecurity that his wife’s clever friends despised his efforts at what is – if not literature – then trying to be literary.

    This is not to put Fleming on some sort of pedestal as a “Great Writer”, more as a distinctive one. There’s more to this than a wide vocabulary, and more to this than “being Ian Fleming” which is a biological impossibility to emulate and therefore a trite position from which to attack – or indeed to defend one’s self.

    What seems to have been ignored in the grand scheme is not that one sought a Fleming clone, or pastiche, but that some attempt was made to give the books as much distinctiveness as the Flemings had. This doesn’t mean one has to write like the man, nor be the man; just appreciate what he was trying to do. The perspective of Bond novels expressing attitudes and reactions to the events more than mere reportage of them is a key ingredient. The mass market appeal comes from offering something different, not something familiar (be it apeing a “commercial” style, or a film style), allowing that market to expand itself rather than absorb more of the same. If you overface it with the same diet, it will reject. The commercial market is encouraged to evolve, and it will react with greater interest to material that forces its evolution; anything that maintains it is merely sustenance but of no substantial value to its development. Consider Harry Potter; ostensibly children’s books but enough of unique content, style, attitude to interest the adult market – more than the “same old” children’s books. And they’re not “literary” by any stretch of the imagination.

    Why consider these ideas here, by way of general preamble? Primarily because they have been generated by High Time to Kill and what it represents. I’ve tended so far to go easy on the Benson writing style (I assure you, compared to what’s coming, that was “easy”), but High Time to Kill is such a fundamentally frustrating book because of it. The main reason is that it is bold in its conception, and has a number of solid ideas that one seethes and starts bouncing off the walls in desperation that they didn’t get someone else to write it for him.

    Its ambition is betrayed by its quite, quite dreadful expression. An ounce of uniqueness, or novelty, about the manner of delivery, coupled with its inventive structure, and this could have been a genuine contender to break out of the cycle of being hunted down only by the Bond fans. Instead, it’s a mess and exceedingly difficult to like. It really won’t do, y’know. “The Impossible Job” made just that more impossible. Lord alone knows whose fault it really is; but it’s Mr Benson’s name on the cover. Perhaps it’s someone in the lengthy frontispiece of “thankyous”; I’m tempted to blame the staff of the splendidly named Hotel Yak and Yeti, but I doubt it’s them really.

    What’s of particular annoyance is that Raymond Benson (or whatever committee goes by the name of “Raymond Benson”) takes leaps with his confidence in structuring the story (far from perfect, but interesting) but the prose has barely advanced. Indeed, so much has he reachched with the one that the other appears to have gone backwards. Accordingly, the gulf between the two disciplines – structure and delivery – is far more marked here than in the opening two books. Therefore, whilst High Time to Kill exemplifies Mr Benson as a plotter, it exposes him horrifically as a writer. He doesn’t do his story anywhere near the justice its conception deserves. Strong skeleton, but gutless. It remains a skeleton.

    The mystery is that, on reflection, Fleming’s plots, divorced from their delivery, can be unengaging. The plot of Goldfinger, for example, is terrible and, taken apart, suffers from gaping logical lacunae. Consider some of the rest: James Bond beats someone at cards. James Bond stops a diamond smuggling ring. Woo-hoo. But it was never what was done – it was how it was done. It is better to travel hopefully than arrive. I’m afraid Mr Benson appears to be all about the destination, and we can sit in economy class to get there. There’s a genuine shift in outlook here – a desire to emulate the plot driven commercial easy-to-read – and shoddily written – market rather than creating, or in this case perpetuating, a mystique.

    Did they really think it was strong enough to survive? That cheapening the Bond series in this manner was (gulp) a good idea?

    Too harsh? In truth, as Raymond Benson has said himself, he’s no worse and no better than the majority of commercial fiction writers – much of Clancy and Grisham, at the most successful end (and don’t even mention The DaVinci Crud; have you read it? Isn’t it dreadful?), contains staggeringly inept prose that one would not choose to inflict on anyone, and one is carried along by the plot alone – but it’s not much of an ambition to be “no worse and no better”. How does one stand out if that’s the extent of the perception of what one seeks to achieve? If that was the extent of the ambition, it would be churlish to propose anything other than he achieved it. But, still?

    Note: Inevitably, this will contain substantial spoilers. Page references are to UK first edition hardback. The views expressed are not necessarily those of CBn. Not necessarily. But they’re honest.

    High Time to Kill

    Plot

    (I’ve evolved this (i.e. changed my mind) and abandoned strengths and weaknesses, because it may come across as a bit out of “balance”).

    You’ll have heard that it’s Bond meets Cliffhanger. It’s a lazy description, but about as strenuous a precis as the book merits so I’m happy. In truth, the story is misrepresented to you if that’s the expectation; the climbing doesn’t start until page 177. Most of that is effective: there seems a need for it to happen although I have wondered whether taking a helicopter up there would be quicker. I assume that anyone getting out of it would have to acclimatise anyway (and it may offend all sorts of gods and monsters and cause an international incident to bung a helicopter onto Kangchenjunga (albeit we could probably stuff Nepal in a fight, Skin 17 or not; as a world power they’re “not much of one”)). In essence, the mountain climbing plot seems plausible. No more implausible, anyway, than “James Bond does Top Gun” or “M is kidnapped” or whatever else rot the continuation authors have seen fit to inflict upon us.

    Whilst all the larking about on the mountain is fairly engaging – without being particularly fascinating (but that’s probably more to do with the fact that mountain climbing has never interested me and never will), the majority of the book’s serious flaws are contained within the preceding 176 pages. Stretching the metaphor, it’s a hell of a trek before you get to the good bit and query whether it’s really worth it. The first hundred pages or so are a genuine struggle, and the three “set pieces” within them just don’t work. This may of itself create a danger that one views the mountain sequence more generously (and in hindsight, it exposes the rest of the book as pretty hopeless timewasting) because it is inherently more unusual than the early stages, but hey ho. Except insofar as it feels drawn out and a bit of an opportunity for Ray to whack us over the head with his research, on the whole the mountain bit is entertaining stuff that pretty much works.

    On the face of it, it seems fresh to have a plot in which everything has gone wrong for everybody. That’s funny, and it seems novel: the book is preceding in such-and-such a manner and then this damn great mountain hoves into view and thwarts everyone. Interesting idea: the villains are as frustrated by their plot going wrong as Bond is frustrated in his mission; everyone has to readjust, scrabble about in a bit of a panic. An odd note is sounded by M’s rather ambivalent motive: expressing in relation to Skin 17 “I wouldn’t want Japan to have it” passes by without any sort of explanation.

    On reflection, though, it’s For Your Eyes Only II – a defence device developed by the British, the purpose and effect of which is hinted at but never generously overexplained (in this case, maddeningly anorexically at pages 55-56), is lost and Bond and the villains are in a race to retrieve it (with some climbing involved), but the recovery of the “thingy” takes a definite backseat to the “real” plot – which, here, is the question of what’s going to kill Bond first – the traitor, the Union, Marquis or the mountain? Or the teams of competitors? Having had a fill of nuclear devices and warheads in the previous two books, it’s a twist on the expectations to let the hardware take a less significant role. The slight difficulty have is that Skin 17 is even more abstract than the silly Polaris typewriter machine and whilst I’m sure it’s super and that what it can do is accurate, it’s not that interesting. Still, the apparent idea of the story would be ill-served if it was nuclear bombs again, so this slightly out-of-focus plot device is probably a success. It does generate a really fine idea – the microdot on the pacemaker battery is a splendid conception.

    The unfortunate downside of this idea to make the environment the threat to Bond, rather than another host of colossal whizzbangs, is that there is little “threat” in the book until the mountain climbing starts and various members of the mountain climbing team start being picked off. The motive behind the recovery of Skin 17 is basically preserving Britain’s image – interesting as a plot, although there seems yet another missed opportunity for Bond to reflect on the shabby pointlessness of risking his life for that; nowhere does this happen. The problem is that before the point of the book turns up over halfway through, there is no tension. Accordingly, because Skin 17 is so undernourished that it cannot be seen of itself to be an dangerous thing, and Britain or her interests are not directly in peril, to create a threat means deviating into directionless set pieces and underwhelming Helena Marksbury traitor issues Helena Marksbury that don’t Helena Marksbury succeed.

    Overall, inevitably the greatest similarity is to Thunderball – the Union/SPECTRE pinching some British military hardware is a patent similarity, but there are a couple of hamfisted nods elsewhere – for example Bond’s quip “Someone probably lost a contact lens” – a direct lift from Bond’s “Someone probably lost a dog” from Thunderball “da movie”. Unfortunately this is the best joke in the book and is in essence the same joke in response to the same situation – crime syndicate pinching war stuff from Britain with the help of a traitor. There are also echoes of Blofeld’s attitude to the Lektor in FRWL (film) in Le Gerant’s determination to retrieve Skin 17 and keep his deal going, and GoldenEye in the rivalry between the fair (but unfair – see what he did there?) Roland Marquis and the dark (but shiny) Bond. The story rattles along nicely enough but one is basically waiting?waiting? for the mountain climbing to start.

    The far more significant problems start at the?er?start. The book contains three particular incidents that require the mountain climbing to turn up to rescue it; if that hadn’t happened, this really would be a wretched effort.

    Incident one: the opening. An unlovely take on Quantum of Solace, that tedious tale of betrayal, and gruesomely unsubtle in its devotion to its source. Involving Helena Marksbury in this (utterly unwelcome) sequel is an elephantine day-glo clue as to the “twist”; Bond and Marksbury betray each other to greater or lesser degrees during the book – that “certain degree of humanity” is lost, a quantum of solace of nil. That Benson fails to come good on this twist by refusing to make Bond as culpable as he should be is a hell of a lost opportunity. To introduce that theme, even though he handles it in an underwhelming manner, the involvement of “the Governor” character from Quantum of Solace may – may – be justifiable as an idea. But it creates a number of problems.

    Well, two anyway.

    The problems are exposed by the only two ways to read it: with knowledge of the “original” story, or with ignorance of it (I apologise for the triteness of that observation, but you’ll see the point in a moment).

    “Knowledge”. In the original short story (which I’ve never liked because it is very obvious, tedious and substantially the least interestingly written thing that Fleming wrote) Bond and the Governor are not friends. The Governor is merely a cipher for the tale; it is evident that at the end, Bond is at best cordial, rather than chummy; they still don’t like each other. No explanation is given by Mr Benson for the “friendship” that he is keen to emphasise here. Additionally, QoS refers to a colonial life of many years past, and given the context, must refer to Britain’s position in the mid-to-late 1950s. Also, the Governor in QoS is pretty decrepit even then. This can’t be in the same time sphere. To give Mr Benson some credit, there’s acknowledgement of this with the Governor’s mock accusation that Bond is jacked up to the “fountain of youth” – although the double edge is that by this comment there is an acknowledgement that Bond must be older (retirement age, if not beyond) than he is actually represented otherwise in these books (at a guess, fortysomething). Anyway; sum total of “knowledge” approach – inconsistency.

    “Ignorance”: There is no physical description of the Governor – he remains a cipher – but that’s simply not good enough when he is ostensibly the tale, not just the teller. He doesn’t come across as having any sort of character whatsoever. So poorly fleshed out is he that the Union threat to him strikes no chord of concern. At all. Additionally, there are at least four overt Fleming references in the opening half-dozen pages – QoS, Scaramanga, Mary Goodnight, Mr and Mrs Harvey Miller which, to the uninitiated, will be baffling, and is a terrible display of redundant Bond knowledge, and gives the lie to any suggestion that one need not read QoS to “enjoy” this. I cannot see anyone ignorant of James Bond not being puzzled by all this stuff. It’s ticking off the Bond references one by one, letting each thump to Earth with a solid clang. And they are primarily references to one of the more obscure Bond stories, so what on earth is that apart from pure swank? Sum total of “ignorance”: going off and reading something less (tragically) boastful instead.

    Gardner abandoned Fleming (for better or worse – but he abandoned James Bond too, which was a key problem) but Benson seems so determined to hang onto the coat tails that it’s wearying how many references are chucked at one in the opening few pages. Laying it on a bit thick. Not a character worth bringing back, the Governor. He never meant anything, and he means even less now.

    It’s just trying too hard to connect his Bond to Fleming. If Mr Benson doesn’t want to be compared to Fleming, why do this? It really isn’t a credible stance to whinge that he isn’t Fleming and shouldn’t be criticised when he brings it upon himself in this inglorious and baffling manner. Surely, if he did not wish to invoke comparison, wouldn’t it have been better to come up with “some new stuff”? Gardner tried. Habitually a bit of an effort, but at least he “tried”. A character other than the Governor would have sufficed; the tie to Quantum of Solace could have been recognised in passing rather than have it thrown at us. Mr Benson would have been much better off tying his Bond to the film Bond; there’s material in Benson’s output that’s the equal, and in many cases the better, of some of the pus that has been banged out by the infinite number of braindead committee-monkeys Eon have been conned into paying for. I accept that as damning with exceedingly faint praise – after all, the “scripts” of the Bond films are hardly something anyone with half a synapse should wish to aspire to unless they have troubling self-esteem issues – but it is praise.

    To whom are these directed, these strange half-remembered bits? The reference to Scaramanga and Goodnight is a reference to the novel; subsequently referencing the DB5 later in the book, however, is a creature of the films. Falling between the two, not satisfying those who seek a literary Bond, potentially confusing those who know only the film Bond and distancing itself from those who know neither. Not surprising these things didn’t take the world by storm: the potential to satisfy no-one when seeking to satisfy all is immense.

    Second incident that fills one with dread – the golf. As an incident it sets up the rivalry between Bond and Marquis, but in the nature of the detail of what is reported it reads as a facile introduction to the game, assuming one knows nothing of it. It comes across as a terribly podgy incident, descending into a tedious litany of golfing expressions painstakingly explained as if to a ‘B’ or ‘C’ – “[A] birdie, or one under-par? [A]n eagle, or two under-par”. You don’t say. This verges on “Golf is a game. Games is stuff done in spare time. Time is an abstract concept. A concept is an idea. An idea is what this lacks.”

    Fleming, with his “A” market, wrote the Goldfinger game relying on an assumption that his audience knew what would be going on; there’s little or no explanation of the rules, it is a given. Let the Bs and Cs catch up. Similarly, the explanation of bridge in Moonraker is pretty impenetrable if one has no knowledge of card games. Here, however, everything is laid out on a plate and it’s facile stuff. They play golf, but one doesn’t feel it happening as Benson breaks off and explains what a “birdie” is for the billionth time. The suspicion is that he is not writing what he knows; it comes across as yet another thing Ray has researched but not experienced. In the same manner that one cannot know what it is to drive a car by listening to three lectures about how the internal combustion engine works, there is no evident participation on show here, or a willingness to draw the reader in by sharing it. Accordingly, he has substantial difficulty transferring it to us with anything approaching conviction. By way of comparison, whilst it has a questionable place within a James Bond story, Bond in the Tex-Mex horror in The Facts of Death was evidently written from familiarity, and it shows. Perhaps Mr Benson does not participate or enjoy English country sports; at the very least, he hasn’t transmitted it. Best advice would have been to have left well alone. He doesn’t do himself any favours here.

    Additionally, it just doesn’t work as an incident. Aside from the apparent discrepancy whether Bond likes a flexible or firm shaft (fnarr), it is nakedly and clumsily expositional, a huge amount of snarly dialogue (as ever) being scattered about – and inevitably has unfortunate overtones with Goldfinger. This is hardly accidental in the way too cute setting of the game at Stoke Poges; naff. Why not fencing? Yachting? Polo? Cribbage? Snap? Slapsies? Something not seen before which wouldn’t waken the dead. Something that wouldn’t raise inescapable and unfortunate comparisons. Did he really think he had done enough in the past two books to go head to head? He can only be squished, and squished is what he is. Weird choice. Disastrous choice. Don’t want to be compared, Ray? Don’t do this, then.

    Third incident, and the most fetid of the bunch: “The Road to Brussels”, chapter 6, is the most lamentable chapter in any Bond book. It is a monument to colossal feculence; that it contains plenty of car crashes is testament to its nature. For sheer awe-inspiring banality, for birthing the urge to crawl into a foetal ball and sob giant salty tears at the desecration, it has no equal. Not one. I don’t want to look for one, anyway. I couldn’t bear it. Please don’t make me.

    If it was only the very boring writing it wouldn’t stand out from the rest of the very boring writing, so that can’t be it. Nope: the reason it is so noticeable is the idea – and the culpability for that can’t realistically be that of the editor, but the writer. This goes beyond an editor’s glitch in failing to eradicate a few Americanisms – this one is fair and square Mr Benson’s problem.

    Bijou problemette one: it’s a car chase. These things happen, I s’pose. It is a Bond book; no credible objection to a car chase other than it being about the fiftieth one. Must be hard coming up with a crisp spin. Accordingly, what novel slant, what fresh hell has its creator devised for us now? The new angle of naked pointlessness – there is absolutely no reason for it to happen. It’s a chase just for the hell of it. Lot of exposition in the preceding few pages of the script, so time for things to start “blowing up”. Hmm. Why Mr Benson isn’t “writing” the films is a bit of mystery; he apes the Eon logic perfectly.

    Second minty fresh idea: Bond only has to sit in car – “that scout thing” is back, fans of “that scout thing” – and shout things out. (I’m not making this up; please remove your jaw from the floor). “Prepare silicon fluid bomb?” “Ready rear laser..” “Count of three for one-second laser flash?” Christ it’s ghastly. I feel emotionally soiled reporting it.

    Bond is never in peril. He doesn’t even have to drive this car; totally disassociated from the action. By way of technological advance, neither does he have to press buttons this time. Reminiscent of the BMW chase in Tomorrow Never Dies, in that Bond doesn’t actually have to do very much to “win”. There’s no risk, no danger, and no guile in escaping danger; accordingly, no interest other than disbelief at having to waste precious minutes reading it. You won’t get the time back, y’know.

    Thirdly – and this is the worst aspect (it tops the second, and – agreed – that is a pretty incredible achievement) – there’s something eminently disturbing about it. The antagonists are on three motorbikes. However, in the course of dispatching them, Bond destroys two “innocent” lorries and it’s not clear whether their drivers survive. Is this because two lorries being damaged is more immediately “cinematic” than motorbikes, which aren’t as big and viscerally satisfying when they go down, kablooey!! But doesn’t Bond’s licence to kill only extend to those who would threaten the state – it is after all, the state who has granted him the licence? This just seems to be an act of wanton destruction; unlicensed (attempted) murder of the general public. Terrible. He may have a licence to kill, but this is not to be used wantonly. “That should get the attention of the police, thought Bond”, yeah, you an undercover secret agent ‘n’ all.

    So, along with the traditionally, by now almost heartwarmingly anodyne manner of blank reciting of the incident, an exceedingly unfavourable impression is created about this entire (unnecessary) incident. The book struggles to recover. If you’re determined to persist with this rot, don’t read chapter 6 (you lose little: he goes to Belgium and meets his contact, Gina Hollander (and she can be safely ignored)). If you’re determined to read chapter 6, do it drunk; it dulls the pain. If you’re determined to enjoy chapter 6, isn’t there some sort of register the police make you sign? Please stay away from me and my family.

    It would be inaccurate to suggest it’s all rubbish before the mountain climbing starts – it’s not: it’s predominantly rubbish. Couple of incidents pass by entertainingly, particularly the fight in the hotel room with Basil, which is increasingly vicious (Bond does get unpleasantly injured but this is quickly forgotten – still some sort of superhuman) and accordingly, viscerally satisfying. And redolent of OHMSS, given that Basil is a big black man and they trash the room – whether this is the subtlest of subtle clues as to the Union’s genesis?nah, that’s overgenerous. One odd point: frequently (if not entirely) Basil is described as “the black man” – why not just “the man”. There’s only two people having the fight, after all, and we know one of them well. Perhaps that’s inconsistent of me; after all, Fleming would probably have chosen even more provocative epithets.

    Another moment of interest is the SIS Visual Library – nicked for TWINE (including the involvement of a BBC news reader, oddly). It’s a nice “visual film” touch, and at least stops M and Bond from playing their usual Benson game about “who knows more about the ostensible plot this time.” However, it is still script. Why is he so terrified of descriptive narrative? Also, is it really the case that, although the author wants to give some context, an archive would really present its information in such a History Channel fashion – this is an information archive, not a museum. As Mr Benson notes “The narration was terribly clichéd” which seems to undermine his purpose.

    What else? This is a bit of a struggle?um?the hijacking of the tourist ‘plane is an effective sequence, and it’s just as well it works because of its critical nature to his sleight-of-hand construction. However, on the whole, the majority of the book is significant only for its crashing banality and excuses for film-like sequences of little genuine merit: a pointlessly Eonesque Boothroyd sequence – no reason for it, could have been done by descriptive narrative rather than dialogue; an attempt on Bond’s life by a sniper in Kathmandu which seems to serve little purpose other than “time for a chase and a bit of local colour”, which seems to involve trashing a temple in true Eon “ah, stuff the locals and respecting their ways – can we blow it up?” manner.

    Then they climb the mountain.

    Style

    Structurally, there’s little else like this in the Bond books (although it is reminiscent of a few films and therefore not too alienating). As a departure from the written norm, the plan works. This is, in its framework, one of the more distinctive books; the preceding two were very much by the numbers (The Facts of Death especially, although arguably none the worse for it) and, after all, Fleming was at his most interesting when playing with form – From Russia with Love, as an example.

    There are a number of interesting visual ideas – that the golden boy – in appearance and success – is the dark hearted one, and the darker child is the true hero. (This is something more successfully drawn out here than, say, in GoldenEye with its casting of the fairer Sean Bean against the dark Pierce Brosnan).

    His killings are becoming more gruesome (really nice, sadistic deaths for the “bit dim” Dr Wood, the sinister baddie Glass and poor old Chandra), his sex?well, that’s becoming very silly, but he seems to be trying his hand at stretching himself in terms of manipulating the form, which is confident.

    However?

    By Christ, his editor should be ashamed. This book contains some of the sloppiest and most uninspired, clumsy prose since I had to grit my teeth and agree that my twin sons’ Batman rip-off for a school project was “really good”. But they’re ten. Unless Glidrose is into child labour, there’s really no excuse for the abject manner in which this story is flung at us.

    There remains too much exposition dialogue; do people really talk this way? Bond is teetering on Basil Exposition territory – it’s still a script. An easy way to do it but it does make Bond come across as a fearful know-all (and given that this is a book in which Bond makes mistakes and faces the consequences (-ish) of them, it doesn’t quite ring true that in other respects, he is an oracle). The moribund determination to shun narrative in favour of dialogue can only undermine the purpose of exposing Bond’s frailties and poor judgment.

    There’s still a lot of “these are my chums” – namecheckery ahoy for Paul Baack, George Almond, various others who may or may not be important to the world. It’s a bit-injokey, but fair enough – Fleming did it. But not in every single book. Additionally, the “character” (such as it is) of Baack gives rise to a pretty rum final twist, which doesn’t work. Bond not checking Baack’s body is unlikely and all it really achieves is an opportunity for Baack to say “It’s high time to kill, James” – ranks down there with “Wow, what a view”/ “To a kill” as crass shoehorning. It’s a shame that Benson feels he has to twist one final time (other than to give his buddy a moment of posterity) because on the whole, whilst similarly enamoured of the plot twist as Gardner, Benson’s major spin achieves something (whereas most of Garnder’s were terrible and nonsensical): the betrayal by Harding of the Union works because it has a consequence – it sets the mountain climbing plot into motion. As such, that’s a success. Shame that Mr Benson kept feeling the need to do the “Gardner unexpected turncoat” routine.

    A fair few chapters – particularly when starting the long climb – pass by with ends of passages (or, indeed, chapters themselves) where Bond is musing on the Union getting ready to strike. When the “strikes” come, they are diverting and entertaining – but count the number of times Bond “waits” for them. Then, rather oddly, there is a truncated final approach – basically, having had a long time milling about (this demonstrates the tedium of acclimatising effectively – if unintentionally) there’s a very short burst during which a huge amount of climbing is done, as if Mr Benson was getting just as bored with it as I was.

    “Minister of Defence”. We have a Ministry of Defence which is headed by a Secretary of State for Defence, supported by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the Under Secretary of State for Defence and Minister for Defence Procurement (basically a government sanctioned arms dealer) and the Minister for Veterans. There is no Minister of Defence, as such. OK, the Bond films have never paid too much attention to veracity [one thinks, for example, of the obvious traitor Frederick Gray keeping his job as “Minister of Defence” (note the terminology – Benson’s choice of title is an indication of film Bond rather than book Bond) between 1977 and 1985 despite a change in governing political party], but in a Bond book the detail sells .

    You might think it is a small point, and it is admittedly no more than a minor detail (albeit one repeated, gnawing away), but why it disturbs is this: if one cannot trust the accuracy of information such as this, given that it is very, very simple to check, why should one then trust the accuracy of anything else that is presented to us, and if one is prevented from so doing, when that detail is thrown at us (and a lot of detail is indiscriminately hurled at us during the mountain climbing episode – a brandname bonanza, a lot of name checking going on with the equipment – probably enough to make Milletts fetishists chuck their custard) one doesn’t take it on trust, one doesn’t engage with the material and – indeed – one skims over it, which cannot have been the writer’s intention. Given the amount of ostensible detail that is there, accordingly it becomes very tedious very quickly if one is prevented by mistrust at the potential accuracy in engaging with it on any level. One just looks at the info, cannot connect with it, moves on. Maybe Fleming has the advantage that his references are beyond many of us, antiquated and therefore we take them on trust. His stuff’s doubtless full of sloppy tosh, but at least one has the panache as a distraction. Mr Benson does not have that (or, more charitably, has been deprived it by an complete absence of skill on the part of Glidrose).

    “Wood placed a blank compact disk (disc?) into the recorder and punched the computer keypad. The entire Skin 17 formula was saved on the disk. He removed the disk and placed it in an unmarked jewel box. Wood found a red marker on the desk and wrote “Skin 17 Gold Master” on the cover”.

    There’s no joy, no flow, no art in this?this thing. It is bland recitation of events. It’s an audio-loop for the blind of the onscreen activity. Mr Benson may be “seeing” this and wishing to convey what he is watching – his predeliction for talking about his characters in terms of the actors who will play them is a dead giveaway – but I’ve seen the James Bond films and seek a different satisfaction, a different experience, from the Bond books. If I wanted the James Bond films, I would watch a James Bond film. This just isn’t meeting the Bond book requirement. Nowhere near. Due to the undemanding nature of the prose, no-one can be in any doubt about what is going on, but it’s really not challenging enough. It may work as commercial fiction and thus meet its underwhelming ambition, but it’s awfully plodding. He did this. Then he did this. Then he did this. Then he did this. Easy to read, I agree. Impossible to admire. It’s just nowhere near good enough. Simply using some words to tell the story. Fine. Just don’t pass it off as anything to do with the literary Bond. If the words “James Bond” weren’t on the cover, I might feel more generous (but then, it’s more probable that I wouldn’t have been conned into buying it in the first place).

    Then?then there are the depressing turns of phrase. “Completely destroyed” – “destroyed” is a complete state. Something is either destroyed or it is not. Who the hell did they get to edit this overexcited imprecision? “Then he picked up the phone [sic] again and put in some coins” – why be so irritatingly vague – why not one pound? Fifty pence? What international denomination of currency is “some”? “She had sent him packing” is rancid in its vulgarity. A Russian “looked a lot like Joseph (sic) Stalin” Bit lazy there, Ray. “He had let his loins do the thinking for him once again” Ugh. And then it descends (just about possible) into the hollow qualifications of “somewhat” and “quite” as descriptions – look Ray and handlers of Ray, you’ve really got to try. “It was somewhat cold” tells one nothing more, without an explanation of the nature of the cold, than “It was cold”. The use of “somewhat” is so?underpowered. It is a misery of a word, a bad rainy day of a word, a February Tuesday of a word. It is vile, lazy and coy, the siren song of the intellectually featherweight. Ultimately, it means nothing. As for “?located in Buckinghamshire in the south of England”, that’s grotesque. This I assume is to distinguish it from the Buckinghamshire just outside Mombassa. Or the one on the Moon. As for the trite dialogue – “It’s all a big mystery that I’m still trying to sort out” (says Bond: does this really sound like James Bond?)- yes, well, quite. It would be no mystery (of whatever size) if you had. The inertness of the vocabulary is ludicrous.

    When it’s in English. There’s a slipping in of some references – “granola” (whatever that may be; sounds unpleasant), the Stoke Poges membership referred to as “dues” (fees, man, fees), somebody “snickered”, a reference to a device or state of mind or country (I know not which) called a “burlap bag” and vomiting described as “heaving” – which whilst (potentially) being in English, aren’t English. The overwhelming impression is slapdash, of “that’ll do”.

    No. It. Won’t.

    What else? Slightly odd that he feels the need to translate into English the food that Bond and Gina Hollander are served – to anyone with an ounce of an acceptable education it’s evident what the stuff is; let the Bs and Cs aspire to catch up; don’t do it for them. The dull metronome style, the painstaking and largely unnecessary description of matters well within the experience of those to whom it should be directed, renders this potentially energetic Bond book into an everyday story of spying for really simple folk. It’s Bond for the thick.

    This ill-advised casual attitude to what is being artlessly churned out is at its starkest in (repeated) clumsy constructions: consider this, a paragraph after Bond has been fired on by a sniper from a Bhuddist temple (don’t ask):-

    “No, I’m coming with you.”

    Chandra made a face, then went into the temple. In Nepal, there was a fine line between Hinduism and Buddhism.”

    The dismal cliché aside, that reads really poorly; some action. Stop. Dull desire to show off knowledge without finding a stylish way of doing it. Stop. Then back to action.

    This phenomenon often happens. Paragraphs meander; their endings rarely tie up with how they began – it’s terribly frustrating and genuinely offputting. It doesn’t give one any confidence that Mr Benson, his editor and Glidrose, collective culpability, know what they’re up to here. Another example? Bond watches Marksbury eat and then ruminates on her mouth and kissing it; however, the image remains with the reader (because it’s in the same paragraph) that the mouth is still full of food. Urr. Another example? The descriptions of Stoke Park start with a character description (Bond’s choice of Callaway clubs (would he choose American clubs?)) and then suddenly switch into a lengthy tract about the location. Another example? The start of Chapter 5. Unless these are genuinely admirable micro-records of the structure of the book – starts off in one way, takes a distinct deviation halfway through (which would be brilliant, but I’m being way too generous) – this constant inability to construct, or in editing reconstruct, a coherent paragraph is shocking.

    Apologies if this comes across as relentless abuse. Deserves it. Absent of writing, absent of rewriting, the pervading impression is of being carelessly abandoned rather than carefully nurtured. It’s just there, flung onto the page. As an experience, it has all the enjoyment of one’s puppy dying.

    continue to page 2 of The Impossible Job: High Time To Kill

    Jim @ 2005-05-03