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A Terrific Read - And One of the Best Bond Books!
on 6 July 2009
Raymond Benson's fourth James Bond novel, "High Time to Kill" was released the same year as the EON's "The World Is Not Enough" starring Pierce Brosnan in his penultimate 007 film. Whereas that film had a convoluted plot and drifted into inanity, Raymond Benson was delivering what many Bond fans hail as one of the finest instalments in the 007 cannon.
The novel begins with a few nods to the past as James Bond relaxes on a Jamaican holiday with his secretary Helena Marksbury, with whom he is involved in a secret affair as colleagues aren't supposed to be romantically connected. They are invited to a party hosted by the Governor of the Bahamas (who appeared in the Fleming short story "Quantum of Solace" - unrelated to the Daniel Craig film) and all seems well until blackmail and murder raise their ominous heads. A chase ensues between Bond and the killer, and already we're off to a flying start.
This isn't really relevant - and after a Goldfinger-esque golf match, the main story begins when a secret formula named "Skin 17" is stolen by a traitor. M - the female chief of SIS (which M16 is now known) - sends Bond to follow the traitor to Belgium.
The formula is hidden in a pacemaker which is then implanted into a Chinese man, and during his journey via air, the plane is hijacked and crashes into Mount Kangchenjunga - the third highest mountain in the world. The organisation who stole the formula are naturally angry and plan to climb the mountain in a bid to retrieve the microdot which is worth billions. The Russian Mafia, the Chinese and also the Belgians are after it - and, under M's orders, so is James Bond. A mountaineering party is assembled, including his arch rival from Eton, Roland Marquis, and a pretty New Zealand doctor prophetically named Hope Kendall. The race is on to see who can reach the site of the plane crash and claim the priceless microdot, and storms lay await ahead.
Like Ian Fleming's classic novels, the action is downplayed in barter to suspense and espionage, but the books moves at a swift pace - even if the main plot doesn't really begin until page 130. Many fans and critics languidly compared it to the Sly Stallone flick "Cliffhanger", and maybe that's a worthy comparison, but whereas that 1993 film employed an over reliance on action scenes and set pieces, "High Time to Kill" delves heavier into suspense and mystery. There's an enemy sniper on Bond's team - but who is it? Such mystery is gripping, and the novel is a marvellous read throughout.
Its excellence is infinitely higher than Sebastian Faulk's ultimately mundane "Devil May Care", and Benson's novel is staggeringly more deserving of the former book's incredulously high marketing efforts. With "High Time to Kill", Raymond Benson shoots high - and lands right on target.