Sunday, 22 June 2008

TV

Top Gear
11x01 (22/6/08 edition)

Fiction

The Art of Hellboy by Mike Mignola
Pages 112-199 [the end]

"Devil May Care" by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming

"Bond is Back" proclaimed posters for a few weeks leading up to 28th May 2008, the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming -- the creator of Bond, James Bond, a man who needs no introduction. And the posters proclaimed this because, on that date, Penguin published Devil May Care, a new sequel to the fourteen Bond books Fleming penned, written by respected literary author Sebastian Faulks in the style of Fleming. Mildly controversial among some Bond fans (it ignores at least twenty continuation novels by other authors), it has been an unquestionable sales hit -- Penguin's fastest-selling fiction hardback ever, with sales comparable only to Terry Pratchett and Martina Cole ("genre writers with an enormous loyal fanbase").

So, is it any good?

Well, it's received mixed reviews (for a summary, try The Bookseller) but -- to merrily generalize newspaper reviews without reading most of them -- it's probably too populist and simply entertaining for such literary reviewers. Just like Fleming's originals, then.

Personally, I found it to be a very enjoyable read. There are some great bits in there -- Bond's touch of retrospection/introspection near the start, for example, or the style, motives and actions of the two main villains -- and, while there's the occasional misjudgement (an early car chase sequence that seems to serve no purpose other than the need for a chase then; the meandering final few chapters), it's mostly great fun. While I've only read a few of Fleming's originals, and even then a few years ago, it's clear that Faulks has captured his style incredibly well. At times it seems to tip over into parody, but for the majority it remains on the respectful side of homage.

It's a success, then; certainly it was a success in terms of sales -- a huge one, as mentioned -- and so it seems likely that, in a year or two, someone else will be delivering 'Bond 16'. If they do, they've got a high bar to leap.


Chapter-by-Chapter

As regular readers may have noticed, while reading Devil May Care I posted my daily thoughts on this blog. As well as succinct summaries (of some elements) of each chapter, they include review-like thoughts from as I was reading. As such, I thought it might be vaguelly worthwhile to collate them here.

Chapters 1-4: Faulks' James Bond continuation novel (which, in case you've managed to miss the hype, has been written to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Bond's creator, Ian Fleming) gets off to a strong start, with a dramatic opening chapter in Paris followed by an excellent portrayal of an aged and weary Bond considering virtual retirement as the world moves on. Complete with numerous, well-handled references to previous adventures, it so far feels like a last hurrah for an aging hero. Standing as the 15th (and, perhaps, final) book in Fleming's Bond series, that seems only appropriate.

Chapters 5 & 6: A tense tennis match between Bond and the villain, Dr Julius Gorner -- very much in the spirit of Goldfinger's round of golf or the Casino Royale card game (among other sporting encounters in Fleming's novels) -- is followed by another Bond obsession -- food -- and a huge chunk of exposition.

Chapter 7: Bond heads to the Middle East for the first time, an area of the globe Fleming disliked (Faulks cleverly uses some of Fleming's views as Bond's own). There he meets Darius Alizadeh, head of station in Tehran and, as a character, a natural successor to the likes of From Russia With Love's Kerim Bey. In what I assume is a move based on Fleming's style, Faulks has an annoying habit of characters finding any excuse (including interrupting more important discussions) to narrate their entire life history to Bond.

Chapter 8: Bond and Darius have dinner and visit the Paradise Club, "heaven on Earth" for people who like drink, opium, and naked swimming. Mainly, the chapter's about a little exposition and a little local colour. Also includes a reference to the Young Bond books, which seems to nicely affirm them as part of the Bond series as much as this is. (Of course, knowing Higson, he may've been referencing something from Fleming that Faulks is also independently referring to. Just to make things complicated.)

Chapters 9 & 10: Bond finally gets on with investigating Gorner in these two chapters. Initially hindered by a lack of translator/driver, he bumps into the CIA's man in Tehran (who warns him off)... and someone altogether more surprising (who helps him along)... Following the latter's lead, Bond discovers something even more surprising at a boat builder's yard. Faulks begins to bring in fantastical-yet-believable elements here, another staple of many of the best Bonds. The plot, as they say, thickens. (The end of Chapter 10 marks the novel's halfway point.)

Chapter 11: As Bond escapes and recovers from his investigative previous chapter, Scarlett somehow finds him again. She's becoming increasingly suspicious, that girl, and yet somehow Bond accepts everything she has to say, and even takes her along when he returns to investigate the 'Caspian Sea Monster'. Is there a poorly thought-through 'twist' coming with her, or is her story just as ludicrous as it seems?

Chapter 12: In which, true to traditional Bond structure, Bond and the girl are captured and taken to the villain's lair, where he's treated to an explanation of the villain's Evil Plan. From memory, Gorner is certainly one of the most despicable, sickest, least vulnerable villains Bond has encountered. Super.

Chapter 13: Faulks cleverly protracts the tension of Bond's capture by taking us away from him for a whole chapter. Here we get a chance to see the present actions of some of Bond's allies -- Mathis, Leiter, 'M' and Darius Alizadeh -- all of whom, it seems, will have a greater part to play yet...

Chapter 14: More unwieldy exposition, as Gorner tells Bond the history of his henchman, Chagrin. The explanation for Chagrin's ruthlessness is pleasingly Bond-style (essentially, an operation removed his ability to empathise), though Faulks takes it a step too far by also adding the clich├ęd "he can't feel pain" to the mix. The chapter also includes what I take to be an amusing dig at Rupert Murdoch, before Bond is hauled off on a suicidal errand -- could it be the death of 007? (With six chapters to go -- and, of course, the money-making potential of future sequels -- I don't think the answer will surprise anyone.)

Chapter 15: An action-packed few chapters begin with Bond being retrieved from the desert by Gorner and is once again treated to a handy description of a new despicable plan, which essentially involves nuking chunks of Russia and blaming the British. Ooh, that dastardly foreigner! But Bond has his own escape plans...

Chapters 16 & 17: Bond is stuck on Gorner's stolen British passenger plane, headed for Russia's main nuclear factory. Meanwhile, Leiter teams up with Darius to try to stop the destruction. But there's a traitor in their midst... These are an exciting pair of chapters, with a climactic feel, though things are far from over yet.

Chapter 18: Unsurprisingly, there's a certain degree of success stopping Gorner's plans, but to escape home Bond and Scarlett must journey into the heart of the Soviet Union, the country Bond's spent most of his adult life fighting! Though Gorner's plans are apparently foiled, Bond and Scarlett are left half-lost in the heart of Russia, while Gorner himself is still alive, thousands of miles away. Plus there's still that mystery of how truthful Scarlett and/or Poppy are being...

Chapter 19: On their train to freedom, Bond and Scarlett are assaulted by the henchman, Chagrin. No Red Grant-style fight of consequence, but he is afforded a great, brutal death. After that, their increasingly long-winded escape goes on a bit; although quite tense, we've had several chapters of this now, and it's not quite what you expect from the final few chapters of a Bond novel

Chapter 20: In Paris, Bond's mission seems to be over... until Gorner catches up with him! It'll be no surprise who wins, of course, and, like his henchman, Gorner receives a nicely brutal death, with a distinctly filmic final touch. And, finally, the truth about Scarlett is revealed...

Days til New York...

20

For a full explanation, please see the start of the countdown.