Up until recently, James Bond could have gone one of two ways. The novels describing his adventures were outdated and the films that had built on his legend were staid. It appeared that Bond could either wither away from our cultural consciousness or continue parodying himself on celluloid.
Actually, said many, there is a third way.
The masterminds behind Bond’s estate re-empowered the franchise with an excellent new cinematic direction and hired one of Britain’s best novelists to reinstall Bond on the page. Bringing him back to the literary arena was a major test for Bond. I have read only two Fleming books, which I positively disliked. But I could look past Fleming/Bond’s racism, I could let his sexism go, I could even swallow his imperial arrogance – if only the novels were well written. Instead, they are dull fantasies with no brain and a lot of cliché. Had it not been for those early Sean Connery movies, Bond would have rightfully been forgotten. But he survived the end of empire and the British cultural revolution (testament to his adaptability, I’ll give him that).
And so we find him now in the hands of one of the most enchanting and exciting writers in Britain today. Faulks came as a surprise to many – but actually he was an obvious choice, having written about spies, foreign locations, historical settings and even diplomats incredibly well. Bond was a logical step. I wouldn’t be surprised if Seb had had a secret crack at 007 in the privacy of his study (so to speak). That was not to say it was easy. But Faulks has pulled it off, with the wizardry of one of Bond’s gadgets and the charm of the man himself.
Devil pulls Bond out of sabbatical to investigate a mega rich, mega eccentric Russian who is growing a lot of poppies not just because he likes red (no surprise there). Somehow uncharacteristically (more Marlowe than Bond), he is also drawn into searching for a beautiful woman’s kidnapped twin sister. Naturally, both cases are connected: the search leads Bond into the heart of Britain’s current cold war enemy Iran, plus Faulks’ familiar France and, somewhat inevitably, Russia.
Faulks accomplishment is extraordinary: he successfully blends Fleming’s Bond with a 21st-century mentality (this sounds difficult but the transformation is seamless: for example, his sexism is stripped out of his sexuality, fortunately leaving him no less Bond). Plus the final twist could never have been in Fleming but actually sits perfectly in Bond’s world – Fleming missed a trick.
Still, Faulks is true to his own voice: crisp sentences, instantly deep character insights and passionate dialogue – all again fit perfectly in Bond’s world. A page-turner, a romp and a remarkable achievement.