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Facts and Figures
on 24 February 2013
Zero Minus Ten (1997) was the 1st 007 novel I read in the year of publication, so I'm fond of Benson's work. Though full of adolescent excitement (good enough for Fleming!) I'd worried they wouldn't have worn as well as Amis' or Gardner's contribution. In fact, they remain quite fresh.
Score: 7/10. The fragile peace between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus is threatened, as a Pythagoras inspired terrorist organisation (Decada) begins a wave of chemical and biological attacks. With UK peacekeepers caught in the middle James Bond is astonished to discover a link to M's love life. Benson freely admitted his 2nd novel was a Bond film in print and it shows, bursting with gadgets and endless Brosnan quips.
From the contrived 'pre-credits' chapter (007 leaping in and out of helicopters for little reason) to the big set pieces, it's fun: the baccarat game, helicopter stunts, cable car acrobatics & car chases (the XK8 no more outrageous than the DB III was in its day). It's reminiscent of the action oriented Thunderball (Decada obviously modelled on SPECTRE & a dry run for Benson's Union Trilogy) or Gardner's For Special Services. Once more the innovations prove stronger than the (nevertheless welcome) nods to the past. 007's relationship with the new (ie Judi Dench) M neatly anticipates the Daniel Craig films, while Bond, Helena Marksbury (his new secretary), Sir Miles and M's lover are particularly well drawn in the UK chapters.
Once into the USA, though, it's the wandering storytelling that lets it down. Overlong and ambitiously plotted, it tries too hard to cast 007 in the role of investigator at too many taped off crime scenes. Fans will enjoy revisiting From Russia With Love and Amis' Colonel Sun (looming large thanks to the shared Greek setting) and meeting Leiter again (for once depicted by an actual Texan). However the protracted USA sequence (police raids, explosions, comedy scene in sperm bank) is more like a daytime TV procedural- maybe a raunchy episode of Diagnosis Murder!
Jumping from scene to scene, it's uninvolving at times but a rapid read. Strangely action isn't one of Benson's strengths: plenty of it but it tends to sound anecdotal. More like a cartoon (the 1990s James Bond Jr. springs to mind) than a movie, it's probably the least likely 007 book ever. From the mathematical terrorists to the missile puzzle, why the Decada think their plans have a hope is a mystery. But then they're all as mad as a box of frogs.
Without the journalistic background of other Bond authors, it's a bit dense at times: one too many geography/ history lessons re: Cyprus and it's a better man than me who can follow all the maths. Though the girl's not very memorable she's sexy company, while 007's switched drinks again to The Macallan. Whereas Zero Minus Ten read as major league fan-fiction with a fun identikit plot made up of Fleming scenes in (broadly) one location, this has new ideas, multiple settings and a surprisingly dark tone. Purists will find much to enjoy and it's entertaining stuff.