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3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
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on 30 September 2013
Promoting Solo in the Guardian newspaper (28/9/13) Boyd printed an 'interview' between himself and James Bond from 1969. Fun but it helped me put my finger on it- this is a 007 novel written as though Ian Fleming never existed. While it's obvious from the blurb that Boyd eschewed a classic Bond plot (playing cat & mouse vs supervillain), and clear that he hasn't attempted Fleming's voice, the wholesale dumping of the thriller style is a courageous mistake. The result is a curate's egg, lacking in action and pace but compelling in tone and atmosphere.

To start with the positive, he's got Bond pretty darn close. Beyond the welcome knitted tie, eggs, fags, etc, there's an appreciation for the dry, humane, pernickety but coldly professional hero. His voice especially shines through: be it grumbles at the service industry, or an impressively unfusty appreciation of young people's fashion and freedom. The mischief in Richmond didn't worry me from a character point of view: silly, reckless, ungallant, man without milk tray but very human.

Moreover the period setting is consummate, effortlessly weaving in the old world trappings that were a powerful counterpoint to 007's extravagant adventures: Dimple Haig, the old pound note, Jensen FF. By extension, the undoubted high light of the book is the fictional African failed state. Boyd's background obviously informs the wildlife, geography, politics of Zanzarim; the late colonial setting is perfect for Bond who operates best on a thin veneer of civilisation, the private club never more than a few steps from the urban guerrilla. Remoteness and exoticism are at the heart of the best Bond outings, and Zanzarim must be a contender for the most alien: vivid, horrific and haunting.

The problem is not so much the plot (I needn't repeat here) but the storytelling. This isn't a thriller by any means: too recursive and wandery, it's disjointed and lacks urgency. Not uneventful, but with little incident and almost no action until the halfway mark. Scenes occur so we can revisit them once something happens. I don't need shootouts and car chases, but to deprive a man of action of his purpose is dangerous. Without a proper mission or megalomaniac to hunt the pace flags badly. I don't mind continuation writers breaking rules (Amis, Gardner, Benson) but you better have a damn good reason.

Fleming's cardinal rule (borrowed from pulp fiction) was keep the plot flying and they won't see the plot holes. Here they appear cavernous, as chapters end with little coercing you to start the next. Gardner proved that 007 mysteries (semi-concealing the bad guy for plot reasons) need plenty of action, heavy on the quirky/bizarre/macabre. Without head to head showdowns over cards/cars/golf, 007 wilts amid a conspiracy. The girls and henchmen are well characterised but fail to loom large. Crucial as once out of Africa the leaden pace makes Bond's solo mission appear arbitrary, out of character and unconvincing.

In fairness the twists are good, and the prose better than I feel he's been given credit for. Erudite but unshowy, with an impressive knack for description, it's an easy read. I enjoyed it as a romance in the same old-fashioned sense that applied to Fleming's work (a story with scenes remote from ordinary life), but mourned it as a non-thriller. An interesting period companion piece about 007, but not a Bond adventure.
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on 29 November 2014
Oh what a disappointment! Ian Fleming was a great story-teller with one of the most enjoyable fictional spies ever imagined. Having read his books years ago I looked forward to this 'sequel' by William Boyd. But sadly Boyd is not Fleming. What we have is a poor pastiche of the style and, of course, the main character, but nothing more. Whereas Fleming had you gripped and turning the pages, this left me unengaged and frankly indifferent, both to the man and to what happens next. I appreciate that only Fleming will write like Fleming, but there are masters of plotting and narrative out there (Anthony Horowitz for one) who can write this kind of 'sequel' and have done it brilliantly for other authors. Sorry. I wanted to enjoy it, but I didn't.
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on 27 October 2014
This is moderately successful, better in some parts than in others, much like the Ian Fleming originals. There's a certain pleasure in ticking off all the generic conventions as they're duly called into service: fast girls, faster cars, particular - and often peculiar - dietary requirements, the right weapon, characters' bizarre names (Sunday, Blessing, Christmas), inventive death, etc, etc: yes, they're all here. Boyd even remembers the story of Fleming learning that in real life one always vomits when recovering consciousness. Fleming included the detail in his next novel, and here it is in Boyd, too. Twice.

While all of this may indeed 'A James Bond Novel' make, it doesn't in itself add up to an effective thriller. Solo is exciting in places, but drags in others, which I suppose is not unusual, but one has come to expect more from James Bond, perhaps unreasonably, especially as I think I remember the same being true of at least some of Fleming's efforts, though they at least had the benefit of originality, a luxury not enjoyed by Boyd.

Boyd has famously chosen to set the novel in 1969, so here we have a historical novel, too: while period detail is dutifully included and anachronism doesn't exactly abound, neither is it wholly absent, and it grates. I don't for a moment believe that she had a 'day from hell', and I'm suspicious of a hospital that was 'state of the art', or that Bond appreciates 'effective PR'.

A generally enjoyable literary exercise: well done. Now, put your money away, Mr Boyd, and write something much better.
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on 12 December 2015
If there was ever an index to measure the page turning appeal of an author, William Boyd would probably be one of the few who would surpass Ian Fleming. Reading some of the other reviews, the immediate pitfall is that Fleming's work is used as a barometer to judge Boyd's taking up the reins of the James Bond character. For me, this overlooks the fact that Fleming's books are incredibly inconsistent with efforts like "Moonraker" and "You only live twice" being pretty risible. Stripped down to a short story format or taken from an original perspective such as "FRWL" or "TSWLM" , Fleming seemed a better writer, the dodgy dialogue and bizarre endings factored out in a lithe and economic narrative.

It has to be said that "Solo" is probably amongst the very best of the Bond novels. Boyd has done his homework and the references to the food he eats, the clothes he wears and even his fear of flying demonstrate familiarity with the Bond novels. Fleming's last full novel, "The man with the golden gun" seemed to suggest a changing point with Fleming realising society was changing as the second half of the 1960's started. In my opinion "Solo" is strongly suggestive of the direction he would have gone in. Bond is now 45 and employed on an ill-defined missions to terminate a rebel leader who has staged a coup in the African country of Zanzarim. This is territory Boyd knows well but one totally unfamiliar to James Bond. The mission seems half-baked and Bond is out of his depth. Even when it looks like he is about to succeed, events take a sinister turn.

The first half of the book concerns the African operation and the story then shifts up a gear as Bond goes on a solo mission instead of convalescing in order to track down and kill his adversaries who have now relocated to Washington DC. This is more familiar Bond territory and some elements resemble "For your eyes only" - one of the best short stories by Fleming. By this point, the book goes in to overdrive with a rather unlikely twist and the involvement of a familiar face. The story rattles along with a terrific pace and the action would seem to conclude with Bond storming the mansion owned by the protagonists. Thankfully , Boyd eschews a more theatrically villain and the encounter with the repellent and cruel Kobus Breed appears to be the highpoint.

For my money, there are several reasons why this book is so good. I think Boyd is a much better writer than Fleming and his use of dialogue lacks the pantomime element that can mar some of Fleming's books. The scale of the adventure is also more modest and this makes the story more credible. I would also have to say that Boyd has thought through the development of Bond well, giving the character some back history and realising that a Jensen Interceptor would be a more appropriate car for the character to drive in 1969. However, the best bit of the book is that Boyd does something that Fleming never did and leaves one element of the story unresolved so that the final chapter has a rather understated element of menace about it.

As a fan of William Boyd, I felt that this might have been something of a lightweight effort and inferior to his own efforts even though I was very intrigued to read this book. Ultimately, what Boyd has produced is probably one of the best Bond stories and one that is only matched by "OHMSS" and "FRWL." Boyd not only nails Fleming's oeuvre spot on but offers a tantalising clue as to how the series could have developed. This is classic Bond.
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on 28 October 2014
I'd seen some negative reviews of this book, which initially put me off reading it. Well, I'm glad I made the me to read this solid little novel.
It's a "sort of" Bond, as he's now in his forties, wants to replace his Bentley with a Jensen, and looks like he wants to settle down. Nevertheless, the author his done his homework and has produced a decent follow up to the series.

Anyway, I enjoyed the story, which was evident by the speed I read it.
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on 13 May 2014
This is a far better book than Seb Faulks hammy pastiche of 2009. It has a grittiness and authenticity all of its own. Just as Boyd is a better writer, this is a superior effort, up there with Fleming's best. Why?

For a start, this character is more like Bond - he is violent, sexy, intelligent and a few steps ahead of most people. When he fails he fails spectacularly. The story is about deception - Bond thinks he is helping stop a civil war, in Africa but ends up in the middle of it, helping the wrong side. He is taken in by an African seductress, in true Bond fashion, helps a typically ruthless Bond henchman called Kobus Breed, and ends up on the winning side by going 'solo' to get his revenge. It avoids a lot of Bond cliché's whilst embracing them. at the same time.

I am happy that Boyd took this on. He is one modern Brit writer I always read, and this is more than pastiche. It is an addition to the Bond cannon - and moves it forwards.
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on 28 November 2015
I hadn't read a Bond novel before and wasn't sure what to expect; I eventually decided to start with this one because I'm a fan of William Boyd and thought it was a good entry point. Some critics seem to suggest that the style is quite true to Ian Fleming's and after reading this and thoroughly enjoying it I'm now going to work my way through the Fleming originals. For fans of the films I would suggest the style is a cross between the Connery films and the Craig films: the style is quite rugged and the action quite violent; there's no reliance on arched eyebrows and fancy gadgets so if you prefer that style of Bond I would tend to avoid. Actually I think that readers of Lee Child and Vince Flynn would probably enjoy this book, so for fans of the wider thriller genre I think this could be read without any prior knowledge of Bond being required.
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on 12 December 2014
I was looking forward to this book having read the gushing Press reviews and having read all of Fleming's books several years ago. Sadly it's a bit of a mess and not terribly well written either. If I didn't know it was written by William Boyd,and Restless is one of my favourite books,I'd have thought it was a half decent effort by a half decent author and ,sex scenes aside,possibly aimed at the Teen market.
Boyd's Bond hardly comes across as anyone British Intelligence would be remotely interested in,rather dim in fact,and the plot is full of "you can't be serious" incidents. I work in a factory putting things into boxes,I could see things writ large that bumbling Bond didn't appear to be capable of noticing. Possibly my talents are wasted and I should contact MI5 with a view to recruitment,more likely Boyd has got it badly wrong and had Rowan Atkinson's painfully unfunny Johnny English character in his mind rather than James Bond.
As a light read plenty will enjoy Solo,I found it pretty poor,not least having read the original Bond books.Anyone who is thinking of buying this would be better advised to begin reading the Fleming books. Anyone who has read those and enjoyed them but not yet read the original Robert Ludlum Bourne series will probably really enjoy those as well.
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on 26 May 2016
As a book iit's ok. Maybe 6.5/10.
Nothing really happens until half way through and even then the rest is distinctly lacking in action or interest. It's not even particularly well written. I'd rather read a Jack Reacher book, as a 007 book it's 5/10.
Don't bother. I've started reading Amis's Colonel Sun which despite being written in 1968 is twice as good from the start.
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on 4 October 2013
I really wanted to like this book. And for the first third I think I did.

I bought it on release day for my Kindle while on holiday in France and I very rarely buy books on release - the price usually falls within a few weeks so I wait.

The idea of setting the story back in the 1960's seemed to be a fantastic one.

I liked the simplicity of the first part of the book and I liked the pace - as I remember them Fleming's books were fairly slow so this book seemed to me to be following in those traditions. But on top of that I liked the idea that Bond's character was changing gradually with age.

The problems were mainly with the later parts of the book.

The plot is weak and the other characters are unbelievably dull and uninspiring. It might have been enough material for a short story. I certainly wasn't enough for a full length novel.

I particularly didn't like the attempt to overlay modern political views on characters from the 50's and 60's. I can't say too much as I don't want to spoil the book for others but to me it felt incongruous to say the least. The Bond character is entitled to change and develop with age and attitudes in the 1960's were changing rapidly - but I couldn't believe that a man with the background of James Bond would reflect on some of the events in the book the way he did.

The attitudes and politics that were acceptable in the 1950's are not acceptable for the "hero" of a book in the present day so we end up with a strange hybrid of a character who seems to be out of time with both then and now.

I think I'll be ignoring any future attempts to write new Bond books - they can't seem to live up to my expectations.
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