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on 20 November 2012
Why is it that when writers (Charlie Higson excepted) get commissioned to continue the megabucks 007 franchise they invariably screw it up? Faulks' homage to Ian Fleming is no exception to this rule. In fact it ranks as one of the worst post-Fleming novels. To begin with, it is less respectful of its source material than it is plain derivative. The villain cheats at sport (Goldfinger), there's something wrong with one of his hands (Dr No), he has an emotionless Asian henchman with a penchant for anachronistic headwear (Goldfinger), Bond kills said henchman after a fight in a train compartment (From Russia With Love), Bond dispatches a guard by dropping on him from above his cell door (Goldfinger anyone?) and on it goes.
Arguably, this could be presented as part and parcel of the homage, but coupled with multiple plot absurdities and some astonishing oversights, that idea has no weight. We are told, for example, that Bond's mouth is badly slashed after crashing a jeep, yet in the next chapter he manages to hide broken glass sharp enough to cut a rope under his tongue. When Bond is captured and returned to his cell, his excuse is that he had gone to find Gorner to tell him someone had escaped. There is no reference to the dead guard he must have left in the cell. Then of course there's the description of Chagrin's agony at Bond's hands on the train, when we have been explicitly told earlier that Chagrin was incapable of feeling pain.
But does Faulks come anywhere near to capturing the essence of Bond as a character? Far from it. His tactic seems to be to try and understand the man through what he eats, which is eggs, eggs and more eggs, as well as what he drinks, copious amounts of liquor wherever he can get his (surely?) shaking hands on it. The reappearance of old friends Mathis and Leiter is another tactic, but they end up being largely superfluous to the plot, Mathis more interested in his affair, and Leiter finding it difficult to negotiate the Persian sands with his prosthetic leg.
It is surprising that Faulks claims to have written the book in six weeks. Most writers would have taken half the time.