2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Close Second,
This review is from: Solo: A James Bond Novel (Hardcover)
This is very much a William Boyd novel, which is no bad thing. The man has established himself as one of the foremost British writers of our time. So here we have a William Boyd novel with James Bond as the central character. Boyd doesn't try to imitate Fleming's style - Fleming had a very particular form of genius; forget the subject matter for a moment, but how many fiction writers can get such atmosphere and vividness across with so few words? Here, however, Boyd plays to his own strengths, which are considerable.
There are only two problems; otherwise I'd have given this a 5-star rating.
Problem one is that like all his predecessors, with the exception of 'Robert Markham' (Kingsley Amis), who wrote 'Colonel Sun', he gets the literary Bond confused with the screen Bond, though perhaps not as badly as some. Problem two: he seems to know very little about spying. This works in his 'Waiting for Sunrise', set just before and during the First World War, because the secret services were very new in those days, and the amateurish quality lends, perversely, an air of authenticity. But it doesn't work in the secret world of 1969.
These two factors come into play most jarringly in the chapter where Bond sleeps with a woman in order to steal her passport, with which to forge one for himself. Any number of screen Bonds might have done this, but Fleming's Bond would never have countenanced such caddish behaviour. Take a look at those originals, and you'll see what I mean; Bond was less a love-them-and-leave-them playboy, more of an incurable romantic. Secondly, as a professional spy he would never have needed to take such rash and risky action. He would already have had a passport (false, but not forged; see 'The Day of the Jackal' - Fredrick Forsythe - for details) with a matching driving license, a change of clothes and - well, it's 1969, so let's say - the equivalent of £2,000 in various currencies, stashed away somewhere close to - but not in - his home.
Neither was I convinced by his motive for going solo. I'm not giving anything away when I say that poor old Bond seldom came through any of Fleming's adventures without needing medical attention by the end of it. Being shot in the shoulder must be very painful, and extremely irritating, but not quite enough to send him halfway round the world on a vengeance kick.
It's a shame, because the rest of the book is really very good indeed; a ripping yarn with exotic locations and even more exotic women. The African chapters work particularly well. Here, Boyd is on familiar ground ('A Good Man in Africa' and 'Any Human Heart' to name but two.) His recreation of some of Fleming's side characters - M, of course, and Felix Leiter - are very well done. So, all-in-all worth a read, but could have been so much better with just a little more attention to detail.