This review is from: Never Dream Of Dying (James Bond - Extended Series Book 34) (Kindle Edition)
Benson's 5th novel and the conclusion of the Union Trilogy sees yet another change in tone. After the dynamic High Time To Kill (James Bond 007) (1999) and the dark Doubleshot (2000), Never Dream of Dying (2001) is a deliberately thoughtful and even emotional Bond novel. No longer the prey and finally taking the fight to the Union, James Bond is reunited with his friend Mathis (the French secret agent) as he hunts down his enemies amidst the movie glitz of Cannes and the money of Monte Carlo.
Score: 6/10. The plot's fine so far as it goes: the problem is the storytelling. The previous books were set within the space of 3 months, with things getting nicely personal and the stakes increasing; NDOD takes place 9-12 months later, with the steam well and truly evaporated and 007 on other work. The Union and their leader are shadows of themselves, content to bump off minor characters and planning credibly unpleasant but scarcely original terrorist outrages. Even the writer finds the space to introduce the villain of the next book (the eponymous Man With The Red Tattoo) at the expense of Le Gerant who just broods a lot and gets the most lacklustre send off of any Bond villain ever.
It's all so disjointed. Individual chapters have a studied narrative, crammed with endless recounting of events, very much dictating rather than showing the reader the story. Even the action (oddly not Benson's forte) feels reported. Thus Bond appears in a succession of dull movie sequences: the generic opening run around a movie studio, his unconvincing 'Dirty Harry' interrogation of a suspect, the powerboat chase, etc. I cringed my way through the obligatory Boothroyd/Q scene, a lumpen parody of the Brosnan ones. Come back Q'ute, all is forgiven!
There's little here with that exotic, quirky 007 veneer. TV and film production is a poor backdrop for 007; too prosaic and familiar. Benson is no slouch in the research stakes but there really are no surprises- it's hard to know if he's serious with stuff like "Bond studied the production schedule for Pirate Island. Even though it was difficult to say what the movie was about since he lacked a script, the locations gave Bond a pretty good idea that it was an action-adventure film to be shot mostly on water." No kidding.
Bond's violent interruption of a French edition of Pets Win Prizes (punching staff and wrestling contestants) has to be an all time low for the novels. Meanwhile Mathis gets his own novel, visiting interesting locales (Monte Carlo, Corsica) & encountering mysterious strangers (the Mazerre), hot on the heels of the bad guy. Rather like Faulks' Devil May Care (2008) the best bits happen without Bond.
Then in the 2nd third it suddenly picks up, with the appearance in rapid succession of the love interest and a forgotten figure from Bond's past. You can tell the author's really making the effort in terms of characterisation. There's a mature and considered tone that brings life to these relationships. Indeed, the sex scenes with film star Tylyn Mignonne here are the most graphic yet in a 007 novel: nothing offensive but probably TMI all the same!
Sadly the run around action stuff starts again in the last third, with a lot of escape/(re)capture and people whizzing about in helicopters. The showdown in Cannes is a mess and the Union's final stand is dismal: they deserved better after so much build up, and side-lining the boss is truly criminal. At least the laser eye torture is nasty enough and 007's escape is pleasingly novel (if close to the bone). The underwater sequences, casino gaming and fine dining are also nice to see. Reminiscent of John Gardner's Never Send Flowers, this is an intriguing character piece but an awkward thriller albeit with exciting moments. Not for beginners.