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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Buy Bond, 22 July 2011
This review is from: James Bond: Choice of Weapons: Three 007 Novels (Paperback)
Along with James Bond: The Union Trilogy: Three 007 Novels, this volume sees the republication of all Benson's original Bond fiction (ie. everything except the 3 film novelisations). In case you were wondering at the (seemingly random) punning title, it's drawn from Chapter 2 of Fleming's Dr. No where 007 is first armed with a certain Walther PPK.

By 1997, previous Bond author John Gardner had written more 007 novels than Fleming and some were great ones (eg. For Special Services, Nobody Lives For Ever (James Bond)). However, illness and a growing tiredness with Bond had led to some weaker entries in the series and a distinctly underpowered 007. Long time Bond fan (and author of the The James Bond Bedside Companion) Benson was given the job and set out to change that. Despite having never written a novel before (his 1st fiction was the 007 short story Blast From The Past (1997), included in the Union Trilogy), he went on to write some of the strongest Bond novels in years.

Zero Minus Ten(1997)-
Score:8/10. Having been prejudged by critics as being a novice writer and American (not sure which they thought was worse!) Benson proved them wrong instantly with this cracking tale and so clearly 'getting it'. Overseeing the UK's handover of Hong Kong, 007 of old is back: dark yet sensitive; dryly humorous rather than smug; sexually profligate but chivalrous; tough, resourceful and ruthless, but also a thinker who survives by his wits.
The Fleming-y touches are back: Jamaica, 00 Section, Q Branch, gambling, violence. Less satirical than Gardner, the flattering depiction of SIS is the Brosnan films' take on Fleming's wartime model: well-resourced, governed by old school manners not in-fighting, and policing super villainy in the colonies. The only major flaw is the story telling. Reading like a novelisation, descriptive passages come straight out of notebooks, while the plot prevents any one villain dominating. However it's a very good start, a quick read and a welcome entry in the Bond canon.

The Facts of Death(1998)-
Score:7/10. Benson's 2nd novel sees 007 in Greece and Cyprus, tackling the chemical and biological terrorism of the Decada- a terrorist group and SPECTRE clone inspired by Pythagoras! Fitting in a visit to Benson's home state of Texas and a cameo by Felix Leiter, it's excitingly written but suffers from a too ambitious plot and weak prose. Although I don't doubt the gadgetary is possible, it steals the show at times and the Pythagoras theme occasionally veers into a Maths lesson. However the set pieces are great, the locations are well drawn and the UK scenes are well characterised and surprisingly dark .

The Man With The Red Tattoo(2002)-
Score:7/10. We skip ahead to Benson's final Bond here. With Benson's 3rd, 4th & 5th books forming the Union Trilogy (mentioned above), this 6th book forms a follow up to rather than a continuation of those events. The opposite of The Facts of Death, it's serious both in tone and approach. Here, Bond faces a Japanese crime ring intent on mass murder. However, the events of the Union Trilogy and Fleming's own darkest novel You Only Live Twice hang oppresively over the action. Indeed, like the latter book, while the writing's up to scratch the author strays too far into travelogue. Benson's clearly incapable of writing a bad Bond novel, but it's a shame his last outing should be solid rather than earth shattering.

The 2 short stories from 1999 (published here for the 1st time in the UK) will be a draw for completists and fit neatly in between The Facts of Death and The Union Trilogy. The 20 page Midsummer Night's Doom (Score:5/10) sees Bond on the hunt for leaked MoD secrets at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion. A shamelessly obvious advert for Playboy's 45th anniversary, it's likeable nonsense and Fleming might have been amused. The 7 page Live at Five (Score:4/10) is a neat little retrospective tale of Bond aiding a Russian ice skater to defect. 007 appears on TV in the process, finally making it to Benson's adopted city of Chicago. A good collection and excellent value. Treat yourself!
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Oct 2011 09:55:26 BDT
Martin Stone says:
Thanks for this really helpful review.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Oct 2011 14:24:31 BDT
Amon Avis says:
You are very welcome!

Posted on 26 Feb 2012 15:43:30 GMT
Excellent review. Benson certainly nailed the Fleming Bond that John Gardner later lost sight of. I only thought it a pity that Benson - like Gardner- did not have have Fleming'd flair for great titles...but, then, who could?

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Feb 2012 21:12:08 GMT
Amon Avis says:
Thanks! Agree about the titles: you may already know, but there's an excellent 1993 Benson interview of Gardner reproduced at john-gardner.com. with the writer complaininghe hated the titles because they were forced on him by the publishers!
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