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A promising start, but dissappointing result....
on 8 September 2002
I have read every one of the Bond novels from Fleming to Benson from cover to cover. As much as I want to like Benson's, it's just an impossible task. While he has brought back the superficial connections to the Fleming character, each of his novels just reads like a mini-script, waiting for a movie to be filmed. They are the novels of Pierce Brosnan's movie-Bond, not Fleming's. I appreciate his wanting to re-inject the Fleming character's history to his novels, but it's just not enough. When will someone bring the character back to it's chronological roots in the 1950's? Really--back to where it belongs, with plots that are subtle and interesting and tie together well. With a book by book building of substance--well, as much as a fantasy spy figure can provide.
Firstly, the plots. I agree with an earlier review about Ray's inability to blend fact with the story line. It does read like a "wait, let me unfold the tourist brochure and tell you this...", then a refolding of the brochure to commence with the tale. The plot in general, as with the previous novels, are written as if they're movie scenes lashed together. Each one has a slap-stick chase scene which I find abhorent to the Bond character. In another novel, Bond's inexplicably shooting a villain in the face in an elevator and then running from the police through TV sets is painful. This one has a chase through a Kubuki playhouse simply to add some description of Kubuki. Bond finally finds a key character (the prosititute) in the latter third of the story, in Sapporo, and takes her with him on a dangerous investigation of the villain's HQ. Why didn't Tanaka pick her up and allow Bond to operate on his own? If she was so important to the case, she should have been in Tanaka's custody within an hour. When Bond's female partner and love interest doesn't make it past the latter third of the story, Bond forgets his anguish later on and beds the prostitute (as the earlier reviewer mentioned, he had already seen her as a chld-figure--so how did this change take place?) The dwarf is captured so easily after previous vicious battles, it seemed as if Benson just wanted to get rid of him quickly. Most obviously, is that with all this knowledge uncovered about mosquito-carrying virus being targeted for the G8 conference...do you really think the security services of those countries would have permitted the President, the Prime Minister, and other leaders to even step foot in Japan? The plot's major weakness was in having the conference continue to take place in a location identified as having an obvious breech in security. He should have figured out how to be more realistic, yet still involving the story line.
The characterization of Bond is again dissapointing. Bond is consistantly portrayed as a bit of a shallow, comic character--he seems to have learned nothing from his past exploits, he's easily deceived, his physical prowess is usually less than it should be. Benson had a terrific idea with this novel--bring him back to a significant time in his past and retrace some steps. This would have been great had he also extended the revisit from "You Only Live Twice" to "Moonraker" as well. What I mean by that is I found Fleming's Bond in Moonraker to be an extremely lonely, melancholic figure. The solitary "knight" who has no friends and sacrifices all for the good of his country. The last scene in Fleming's Moonraker was perhaps the most powerful in all the Bond novels. Benson had a wonderful opportunity to end this novel in the same way. He lost his love interest to violence, it dredged up all the old ghosts (I must point out here, though, that Bond reacts to the death of his love interest by selfishly lamenting about how it could be happening to HIM again, when the woman was the one who died--no thought to the poor victim, just to himself, not a very noble reaction for Benson's Bond). Ray had the great opportunity to end the story not with another cinematic bedding of a prostitute (that he had earlier seen as a child figure), but as the figure of solitude stepping out on the teeming streets of Tokyo, sad, alone, walking back into the faceless crowds of people, continuing his lonely, faceless existance. While not the bang-up action ending that accompanies the Brosnan movies, it would have been a true nod toward the Fleming Bond.
You see, bringing back characters and names is not the way to honor Fleming's Bond. That is much too superficial. Bringing back the characterization of the true James Bond would have been the ultimate salute. It's time for someone to put Bond back where he belongs in a novelization (I've given up hope for it in the movies)--in his correct time period, with the REAL Bond character, not Pierce Brosnan. As a hint, I'd advise Ray to view the old "Danger Man" episodes with Patrick McGoohan. That was the closest to the Fleming atmosphere and characterization. Just place Sean Connery or McGoohan's face where Ray has Brosnan's. I continue to lament for Fleming's lost James Bond. I hope some day he will return.