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Solo: A James Bond Novel
Solo: A James Bond Novel
by William Boyd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.00

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The thinking man's OO7, 11 Oct 2013
Solo is the right name for this book. Not because "OO7 goes solo" -- a nifty marketing slogan -- it's because author William Boyd goes solo into the juggernaut that is "James Bond OO7" and fearlessly does his own thing. Not since the very first continuation novel, Colonel Sun, has there been a Bond book less concerned with the industry that is James Bond. Not to join the mob of Devil May Care bashers (I enjoyed the book myself), but while reading Solo I couldn't help but think that this was the mature Bond book from a seasoned writer that we all expected from Sebastian Faulks.

Set in 1969, Solo is smart, serious, and much more concerned with capturing atmosphere than action. In fact, Solo is largely action free. Those who think this isn't "Bond" need to re-read their Fleming. This is Bond at the core. The real Bond. The thinking man's Bond. You don't read this book for exploding trains. You read it to visit West Africa. You read it to get a lesson on geopolitics in a post colonial Britain. You read it for sex. But above all, you read this book to walk with a committed middle-aged British bachelor with a fetish for the finer things in life and a damn dangerous job. It's not unlike paging through an issue of Playboy from the '60s with its mix of sex, politics, and bachelor lifestyle. Fun stuff.

Solo is also a hugely moody and internal book; a book that brings us back inside James Bond. Turns out this is a pretty dark place. But not in the obvious commercialized "darkness" of a Batman (or even Skyfall). Bond is simply a man who is resigned to living a solitary, voyeuristic, and dangerous existence which, like a cancer, is eating away at his soul and will kill him one sunny day. But Bond never openly thinks this himself. The Bond of Solo only worries about where his next shower and plate of scrambled eggs might come from. And drink. Bond drinks A LOT in Solo. In fact, you could go as far to say that James Bond is a functional alcoholic in this book. That's interesting.

But Boyd doesn't entirely throw out the formula. He still delivers two very memorable Bond women, a truly nasty villain, and a cool new choice of car (a Jensen FF Mark I). But he puts unconventional twists on all these classic elements, and even delivers a very unconventional ending (although it's one that would not feel out of place in a Fleming novel). But the ending of Solo is your final clue that what you just read was not a thriller or action book and certainly not an adventure of jolly old James Bond OO7. It was the next -- and maybe last -- chapter of Ian Fleming's dark man in silhouette. A man we have not heard from in a very long time.


The Making of The Living Daylights
The Making of The Living Daylights
by Charles Helfenstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £34.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another masterwork from Charles Helfenstein, 3 Jan 2013
Like his The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this latest book by Bond scholar Charles Helfenstein is an absolute masterwork! This is a day by day account of the filming of Timothy Dalton's debute Bond film, The Living Daylights, jam-packed with photos, ephemera, and information that you will not find anywhere else. I was especially impressed by the early chapters on the original Ian Fleming short story, and also thrilled that Helfenstein included a detailed description of the original aborted James Bond origin story treatment. For years Bond fans have heard rumors about this, but almost nothing about it has been known. Now here's the whole bloody thing! I also like that Helfenstein takes the Dalton story all the way to the end with a chapter on Licence To Kill and his 3rd unmade film. Passion projects like these are so much more informative than any of slick "official" Bond books out there. So if you're into Bond, or filmmaking in general, I would highly recommend The Making of The Living Daylights.


The House of Silk: The Bestselling Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)
The House of Silk: The Bestselling Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)
by Anthony Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific!, 1 Dec 2011
I really, really enjoyed this book! No Jack The Ripper or Dracula mash-ups or revisionist stunts, just a straight ahead superbly written Holmes story with a well crafted mystery and a shocking conclusion that entirely justifies why this is a story Watson could not tell at the time. I've read a handful of Holmes "continuation" novels, and I'll put this one right up there with The Seven Per Cent Solution as one of the very best. Great work, Mr. Horowitz.


Houdini: The British Tours
Houdini: The British Tours
by Derek Tait
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for the Houdini buff, 8 Nov 2011
Derek Tait's Houdini The British Tours is a real work of passion and an invaluable resource for us Houdini nuts. Derek has pretty much nailed down every engagement Houdini played in the UK and Scotland, and for the great majority of them, he's uncovered newspaper clippings and reviews that he's reproduced in full.

Reading this book one gets a very good sense of what Houdini's day to day act consisted of -- what remained the same and what he varied. I also like that Derek does not just excerpt the Houdini sections from these reviews, but reproduces the entire thing so you can see what other acts were playing alongside Harry (I was actually surprised by the lack of variety in some of these variety shows). And did we all know that Houdini shared the bill with Chung Ling Soo during his historic first week at the Alhambra in 1900? Oh to be a time traveller.

The book is profusely illustrated and includes lots of challenge broadsides and newspaper clippings. There is also a terrific drawing, made by an audience member, of Houdini on stage, which gives a great idea of how he laid out his props. A few forgivable errors do creep into the text, but Derek promises updates in the future as he uncovers more about Houdini's appearances in Great Britain.

A must buy for all Houdini buffs and fans of turn-of-the-century entertainment.


Houdini and Conan Doyle
Houdini and Conan Doyle
by Christopher Sandford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sandford conjures a masterful book about Houdini, 15 Oct 2011
Full confession. In my 35 years of obsessive Houdini research, I've always found his anti-spiritualism crusade to be the least interesting aspect of his life and career. In fact, I've sometimes felt I've had to slog though these sections in biographies. But all this has changed with the new book 'Houdini and Conan Doyle' by Christopher Sandford, which had me riveted, and is one of those rare books that I came away from feeling like I know Houdini better.

This is actually the third major non-fiction book written about the curious relationship between these two famous men. While full props must go out to the first two books, especially Massimo Polidoro's scholarly 'Final Séance: The Strange Friendship Between Houdini and Conan Doyle' (2001), I do feel like Sandford has synthesized all previous research with his own new findings and formidable skills as a biographer to create the best book yet written on the subject of Houdini and spiritualism. And maybe the most skillfully written book about Houdini in general since Ken Silverman's 'Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss.'

For all of Houdini's efforts to portray himself as a man of letters, it really wasn't until this book that I finally saw that man clearly. Houdini was a man of action (and reaction) to be sure, but Sandford shows he put more thought into these actions then he is generally given credit for. In other words, he really was a smart as he said he was! This is because Sandford has gained access to some key Houdini diaries (as well as some "unpublished writings" of Bernard Ernst, Houdini lawyer and close friend) that offer a counterpoint to what was going on between the two men in their letters and in public. There was what Houdini said to the papers; there was what he said to Doyle in letters; and then there are his own beliefs and private feelings that are sometimes very different.

While there are no real bombshells in 'Houdini and Conan Doyle', there are a several things that I found revelatory. My jaw hit the floor as early as page 3 when Sandford says Houdini, at age 11, attended a "series of séances" in a failed attempt to contact his dead half-brother Hermann. Also, at age 18, Houdini sold his watch to pay for a "professional psychic reunion" with his recently deceased father. Forget the death of his mother in 1913, certainly the seeds of Houdini's hostility toward mediums can be at last partially attributed to these early disappointments in his youth.

Houdini and Conan Doyle's narrative is pretty evenly split between the two men, relating their respective biographies in equal measures (maybe a little more weighted to Doyle in the first third). Of course, I came for Houdini, but I found the Doyle material just as fascinating, and sometimes downright shocking! I had no idea just how far off the rails Doyle went near the end of his life, firmly believing his prophetic spirit guide, Pheneas, that the end of the world was imminent and preaching preparedness to his followers. One thing Sandford never really addresses is why Lady Doyle, as the voice of Pheneas, perpetuated this fiction for her husband. (At times Pheneas would implore Doyle to buy new home furnishings or kitchen appliances.) It really is a strange, strange story.

My only complaint might be that the collection of photos included in the book leaves something to be desired. There is not even a single photo of Houdini and Doyle together (at least not in the UK proof edition, which is what I'm writing this review from -- maybe the final book will have more photos). But photos are not what's important to us Houdini nuts and historians. It's the text that matters, and this is where 'Houdini and Conan Doyle' by Christopher Sandford delivers!
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2011 10:00 PM GMT


Carte Blanche: A James Bond Novel (James Bond Novels)
Carte Blanche: A James Bond Novel (James Bond Novels)
by Jeffery Deaver
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.07

1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deaver mixes a strong Bond cocktail, 15 Jun 2011
The last James Bond novel was 2008's Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. A celebration of the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, Faulks elected to write the novel as a grand pastiche, imitating Ian Flemings style and structure, and even going as far as placing on the title page that he was "writing as Ian Fleming." While this could be seen a tribute (and I thoroughly enjoyed the novel for what it was), one could not escape the feeling that Faulks treated the assignment as beneath him -- that James Bond was not worthy of being a true "Sebastian Faulks Novel".

Happily, this is NOT the case with Jeffery Deaver's Carte Blanche. Deaver, an international bestselling thriller author, has embraced the assignment full throttle and delivered a terrific James Bond novel that respects all the franchise elements (girls, guns, cars, locales), but is also very much "a Jeffrey Deaver novel." The mix works like a well shaken martini (sorry, couldn't resist). Deaver has not only created a book that, literally, moves James Bond into the 21st century (although it is not as radical a reboot as some expected), but he's also produced a thoroughly modern thriller that I think would sit comfortably among his other bestsellers even if the main character wasn't named James Bond.

Deaver's pacing is superb (I love the short chapters), his choice of locations are original and all new to the Bond universe (hard to believe it took Bond this long to make it to South Africa), and his action set-pieces have just the right Bondian flair without going overboard (the books have always managed this far better than the films). But what makes Carte Blanche so strong apart from the pacing and evocative prose, is Deaver's pantheon of fully developed supporting characters. His three Bond Girls are each unique, compelling and sexy without being clichés. Bond's dinner with Ophelia Maidenstone (great name) I found to be particularly enjoyable, with an edge of melancholy that recalls Fleming's Bond, who didn't always get the girl. Likewise, Bond's various partners in the intelligence agencies all have shading, complexities and subplots. And his main villain, Severan Hydt, is top notch and very much in the Bondian tradition of a bizarre obsessive. I've always felt the best Bond books (and films) are those in which 007 is increasingly immersed in the villain's world - a Heart of Darkness journey into danger, violence, and perverse revelations. This is very much the case in Carte Blanche.

My only complaint is that the Dubai section -- which features Bond's traditional ally Felix Leiter -- seems to miss somewhat. This despite the freshness of the location (another first for Bond) and some real tension whether Deaver is going to "reboot" Felix's tragic injuries. Deaver seems to overplay his hand here, mentioned the ticking clock threat so many times that it starts to become obvious that it will be anything except what he is saying. But this is the only time one of Deaver's famous twists didn't utterly surprise me. These twists, by the way, multiply exponentially as the book races toward it's climax, making this, this longest James Bond novel yet written, a real page-turner.

Conceptually, Carte Blanche reminds me most of the very first James Bond continuation novel, Colonel Sun, by Kingsley Amis. It's James Bond in the hands and voice of a major writer at the top of his game. But the plot reads most like a John Gardner Bond novel, with an emphasis on real-world spycraft and threats of double-cross. Crafting a reality-based spy novel while still delivering a James Bond adventure, with all it's formula conventions and expectations, is a not an easy thing to pull off. (Faulks stuck rigidly to the formula.)

With Carte Blanche, Jeffery Deaver has delivered what I feel is certainly one of the strongest James Bond continuation novels yet written. Yes, there will always be Fleming purists who will not accept any book by another author (just as there are movie fans who only accept Sean Connery in the role), and there is a contingent who bitterly resent an American taking over the Bond mantle (some cloak their prejudice behind snarky one-star reviews). But for those of who are happy to read a new James Bond adventure from a top writer, Carte Blanche is a delight.

It's my hope that, like 007, "Jeffery Deaver Will Return."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 17, 2011 8:40 PM BST


Young Sherlock Holmes 2: Red Leech
Young Sherlock Holmes 2: Red Leech
by Andrew Lane
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Young Sherlock is back, 5 Nov 2010
Andrew Lane's second Young Sherlock Holmes book, RED LEECH, is every bit as enjoyable as his first. This time Holmes is off to America in pursuit of dastardly Confederates who are harboring a living (but deranged) John Wilkes Booth. Not sure why the publicity doesn't play up the Booth angle (it's not mentioned in the plot blurbs, etc.), because this is a heck of a hook! This Young Sherlock book is less of a mystery and more of fast-paced chase, with many imaginative set-pieces and terrific action. Sherlock's time aboard the paddle steamer SS Scotia is my favorite part of the book. Lane has obviously done some excellent research, and his description of the ship and voyage really transports the reader. I also enjoyed Sherlock learning the violin during this section, and meeting a very famous German ballon enthusiast (I won't spoil it, but it shouldn't be too hard to guess). All the American locations are wonderfully drawn, as are the villains, and I really love that we get to see Holmes use his first disguise while in New York City.

My only (constructive) criticism is there is no puzzling mystery that anchors the book and motivates Holmes' investigation (aside from the living Booth -- which is not really treated as mystery). Yes, the villains do have a master plan, but their plan is not teased out with clues that Sherlock sniffs out along the way. As I said, it's really just a kidnap and chase, and all is revealed to Holmes (James Bond style) when he reaches the end of the line. But I guess there's nothing necessarily wrong with this. In fact, I think the core readership will love the fast pace over mind work. But one of the things I so loved about Death Cloud is that it had the mystery of the killer smoke at its heart. That made it a Holmes book. Something to think about for book 3, BLACK ICE, which cannot come soon enough for this (Young) Sherlock Holmes fan!


Young Sherlock Holmes 1: Death Cloud
Young Sherlock Holmes 1: Death Cloud
by Andrew Lane
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meet Young Sherlock Holmes, 13 Jun 2010
Old-school Sherlockians may not entirely recognize this boy as their beloved, neurotic, purely cerebral consulting detective, but younger readers weaned on Alex Rider and Young James Bond will certainly love Andrew Lane's Young Sherlock Holmes and embrace him as a new addition to the growing pantheon of YA action heroes. While Lane's Sherlock may engage more in fistacuffs than deductive thought, Lane, a Sherlockian himself, does not commit any colossal crimes again the canon, as did Steve Spielberg with his 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes film where we see a junior Watson inserted into the timeline well before his established first appear in A Study in Scarlet. And this is what makes Lane's first book so successful, IMO. He creates a fast-paced action adventure as thrilling as any other YA novel, while keeping the story rooted in Sherlockian reality of proper period and tone (no supernatural happens or vampires here). He also sprinkles the book with many canonical references and clues. The action is good. The villain diabolical. The writing crisp, descriptive, and breezy. All in all, I think this is fantastic start for what I hope will be a long running series. I'm onboard all the way!


The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service
by Charles Helfenstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: £35.00

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most comprehensive look behind the scenes of a James Bond movie EVER, 28 Mar 2010
There have only been a handful of "Making of" James Bond books, and being official publications, they have not always provided a very satisfying look behind the scenes. Eon Productions do not open their doors very wide, something that Bond fans know all too well. In fact, the last two "making of" books have just been a collection of set photographs. That is why Charles Helfenstein's The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service is true manna from heaven for the James Bond fan. This is the most comprehensive look behind the scenes of a James Bond movie EVER.

Here is the complete story of the making of this particularly fascinating and unique James Bond film (now generally regarded as one of the best of the series). The author starts with the writing of the original 1963 novel, uncovering much never-before-revealed information from various Fleming archives and dispelling a few long-held myths (Bond's Scottish heritage was not a nod to Sean Connery). He also tracks the lengthy script development, which spanned many years as OHMSS was twice considered for production and then postponed. There's even a gatefold breakdown of all the scripts and their changing elements -- something you certainly will never find in any official "making of" book.

Casting of one-time Bond George Lazenby is covered in great detail, as is all aspects of the production. There is just too much here to go into, but know that there is, literally, a major revelation on every page. There is more information contained in the photo captions than you'll find in the entire text of most "making of" books. Even if you're not a James Bond buff, seeing the day to day production of a movie made in the swinging '60s is a real treat. The book is also jam-packed with never-before-published photographs, publicity material, and OHMSS collectibles. Visually, it's a mind blower!

If the book has a fault, it could be that the author doesn't really examine all that closely the conflicts surrounding star Lazenby and his legendary "bad" behavior on and off set (Lazenby, inexplicably, announced mid-way through production that he would not make another Bond film). Not that the legendary incidents aren't covered, but they are presented without much added information or embellishment (but also without judgment). The author spends more time explaining the challenges the production faced in getting a generator to work at the Piz Gloria elevation, which, actually, I found fascinating! So maybe this isn't a fault after all. All the "drama" of making OHMSS is presented in proper measure. Frankly, the generator might have been a bigger headache to the production crew than the antics of a wild star, which, the author speculates, may have been exaggerated by the press once Lazenby forsook the series.

The author completes with a chapter on the legacy of OHMSS, and just when you thought you heard it all, here comes another wave of tantalizing bonus info. Diamonds Are Forever pre-titles sequence with Irma Bunt. Photos of Pierce Brosnan's 1986 screen test using OHMSS scenes. And how about the original plot of Octopussy, using elements from a rejected OHMSS script, which has never been revealed...until now.

Expensive? Not when you understand and appreciate what this is. This is a life's work by THE leading expert on OHMSS -- a meticulously researched, rare gift to Bond fans and movie buffs that doesn't come along all that often. And because it is a small publisher (self-published?), it might not be around for all that long. It will, unquestionably, become one of the most hotly collectible James Bond books ever produced (I'm thinking of grabbing another copy as an investment). In fact, if you are reading this review and this book still shows as being available, consider yourself lucky. For all these reasons and many more you will discover on your own, The Making of On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an essential buy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2011 10:41 PM BST


Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier
Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier
by Charlie Higson
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for all Bond fans, 13 Jan 2010
Danger Society: The Young Bond Dossier is the essential guide to Charlie Higson's world of young James Bond. It's packed with information on the villains, girls, weapons, cars, locations, everything you love about James Bond both young and old. Best of all the book contains an all-new Young Bond short story, A Hard Man To KIll, set between the books Hurricane Gold and By Royal Command. It is a lengthy and hugely exciting story that is absolutely up to the high standers we've come to expect from this series. It also features what may be the most fiendish villain of the entire series, and we get the return of a favorite Young Bond Girl (but I won't spoil it by telling you who). The book is packed with Kev Walker's illustrations, including all-new illustrations for the short story.

Young Bond fans will certainly enjoy this book, but I would also recommend it to all James Bond fans, even those who for whatever reason have resisted the Young Bond series. In these pages you will see just how inventive the world Charlie has created for Young Bond is, and a read of the short story will give you an excellent taste of what the Young Bond phenomena is all about.
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