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A 'forgotten' Bond novel makes a welcome return
on 23 January 2006
Most Bond fans are familiar with the James Bond continuation novels by Amis, Gardner, Benson, and Higson, but few are familiar with this one-shot continuation novel written by John Pearson in 1973. This book claims to be the "true" story of James Bond, secret agent and colleague of Ian Fleming, who gave a one-time interview to John Pearson while on leave in Bermuda in 1973. Pearson’s straight-faced presentation of how he came to meet the real 007 is the first highlight of many in this excellent James Bond novel. I mean biography. I mean…well, you know.
The book cuts back and forth between the author's adventures interviewing the sometimes uncooperative Bond in Bermuda and Pearson’s own retelling of Bond’s life story. Many of the events Pearson chronicles read like James Bond short stories -- and good ones at that! For Bond fans who have longed to hear tales of Bond’s early missions and his wartime adventures, you have it all here. Some of the stories have a bite that rivals Fleming. Bond’s mission to Stockholm to kill a former colleague is quite shocking, both in the events and the clean, clipped economy of the writing.
We also get looks at Bond’s failings and the periods between missions: James Bond forced to consider taking a job as a Harrods department store detective during a period of desperate unemployment; James Bond the social dropout living off his looks and wealthy women in island resort communities (Pearson reveals the events of “The Hildebrand Rarity” took place during one of Bond's beachcomber periods). One of the strongest moments in the book is when Bond, during a period of suspension because of scandal, takes a seat at a Blades gambling table, not to best a villain or win over a woman, but in a last desperate attempt to make a living. All of Bond’s nerve and skills fail him. It’s as if the universe itself rejects a James Bond who is not 007.
The premise of the book is strained a bit in the last third (abruptly sectioned off with its own heading titled “The Man and the Myth”) in which Bond recalls how the famous 007 novels were a plot concocted by Fleming -- and endorsed by M -- to convince Bond’s enemies in SMERSH that 007 was a work of fiction. The sudden appearance of the more fantastical characters of the Fleming novels don’t seem to belong in the same universe as the more realistic Pearson adventures. Still, the “conspiracy” approach to the novels origins puts an interesting spin on things, and it’s amusing how Pearson explains that Moonraker was a pure work of fiction, concocted by Fleming and Bond, to further confuse and frustrate the Russians.
It’s a delightful game Pearson plays in this book -- using fiction, posing as nonfiction, to explain how famous works of fiction where, in fact, nonfiction. (Did you get all that?) The entire book is an exercise in misinformation, a twisting-and-turning spy experience for the reader. In the final chapter, Bill Tanner lays out the details of an Australian assignment involving Bond’s old nemesis Irma Bunt, setting up what would have been a terrific second Pearson novel. Unfortunately, this second novel, if there ever was one planned, never materialized; and Bond fans are left to wonder how James Bond handled “The Giant Rats of Crumper’s Dick.”
I recommend this book highly.