Who would have thought that a new James Bond novel would be notable for a sophisticated writing style?
- Silence sat in the room, an univited guest.
- Amplified by the stillness, the noise of the M60 was unbelievably shocking… It was the sort of death that a British spy deserved. He stopped. The silence was almost physical as the night fought to regain its command.
Even before the first James Bond movie, it was the series of novels about the British secret agent that were wildy popular, brought to national attention by none other than President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy listed the fifth story in the series, From Russia With Love, among his ten favorite books in 1961, subsequent sales of that and the first four novels suddenly made Ian Fleming the best-selling crime writer in the U.S. He went on to publish six more 007 novels, short stories that were released in two collections, and a partial novel that was published posthumously.
The movie series was introduced the next year in 1962 with “Dr. No,” followed by a cinematic adaptation of “Russia With Love” in 1963 and the instantly-iconic classic “Goldfinger” in 1964 that catapulted James Bond to global superstar status.
So, how wonderful that this week we are being treated by a fresh 007 author, Anthony Horowitz, to an original 007 novel called Trigger Mortis that offers an engaging and refreshing throwback to the print version of James Bond as he existed in the Fleming books of the 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, the story premise and even a few of the words belong to Fleming. Even better, the story picks up just two weeks after the conclusion of the print version of Goldfinger, published in early 1959.
- He could feel the pressure in his ears and despite his efforts, the madness of panic and despair were close by, the other side of a mental barrier that could collapse at any minute.
There have been six writers assigned by Fleming’s estate to continue the series in 24 previous novels since Fleming’s death in 1964 (one in 1968 and the rest since since 1981), several of whom have done admirably, including John Gardner (14) and Raymond Benson (6). Other related 007 novels worth noting are the five Young Bond books by Charlie Higson (a sixth was published last year by a different author).
But Horowitz really nails the important mix of formula, homage, and fresh approach with his first effort (we hope there will be more from him than the last three authors from 2008-13 who were done after their first tries).
- Bond’s nostrils were filled with the scent of dust and defeat.
The book starts off with plenty of obvious and subtle nostalgia. Bond is still recuperating with Pussy Galore, who is happy to be sleeping with him in his flat, and who is still the dark-haired lesbian (or presumably bi-sexual) of the novel. There are references to familiar characters exclusive to the novels, such as his housekeeper May and his secretary Loelia Ponsonby, as well as crossover characters Moneypenny, M, and Bill Tanner. And there is the secret Soviet government agency called SMERSH, which was later replaced by Fleming in his novels and for the movies with a group led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld called SPECTRE to be more politically-sensitive during the Cold War and to be more universally applicable. (“Spectre” is also the name of the next 007 movie opening in November.)
- Rain swept into London like an angry bride.
The other thing that makes the timing of this story most appropriate is that it is set during a period of Fleming’s writing when, after seven James Bond novels, he was losing interest in continuing the series (he would only publish two more books in the next five years before his death that were fully-conceived as original 007 novels, as opposed to two others published during this time: Thunderball was an adaptation of the movie script and The Spy Who Loved Me is a story of a young woman in distress at a motel in which Bond has a minor role) and when he was increasingly distracted by developing film and TV adaptations of his famous character and even creating new stories and characters such as Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, and Napoleon Solo, later of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” fame.
In fact, Trigger Mortis is based on one of those outlines Fleming had written for a potential TV episode that he called “Murder on Wheels,” involving Bond in the world of Grand Prix auto racing and being mentored by real-life British racing legend Stirling Moss. Horowitz seamlessly blends 400-500 of Fleming’s own words of description and dialogue into Chapter Two of Trigger Mortis and uses the name of Fleming’s TV outline as the title of Chapter Seven (He replaces the real-life Moss with a fictional character — and cleverly also connects this character with Pussy Galore).
- Three bullets spat their ugly farewells…
From this point on, it’s all Horowtiz, and he crafts a story that is compellingly original and yet features the kinds of situations, the kind of women, and a villain that feel very familiar — his nemesis is a mysterious and odd-looking Korean millionaire/megalomaniac who is driven to evil by a horrific childhood and who feels compelled to share all the secrets of his diabolical plan with Bond just before he intends to kill him; and his main unintended cohort is a beautiful young lady with the memorable name of Jeopardy Lane who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself in most any situation, personal or professional.
Equally as impressive and adding to the credbility of the writing is the extensive research that Horowitz has obviously done to put the reader in a world of more than half a century ago with detailed descriptions of everything from cigarette and motorcycle brands and markings, as well as New York subway car designs, advertisements and models of binoculars, to specific engine components and body styles of Grand Prix race cars and track descriptions, and precise procedures, equipment and jargon used during early days of the testing of rockets intended to be sent into space (which, by the way, is where the title of the book comes from).
Let’s hope Trigger Mortis triggers more 007 adventures on the printed page from Anthony Horowitz, and, why not the inspiration for a new chapter in the film series?
— By Scott Hettrick