It has been far too long since I last wrote about everyone’s favorite international super-spy, James Bond. After spending the entire month of July in 2017 talking about the James Bond franchise in all of its various permutations and forms of media, I decided to take a bit of a break from Bond. Which was mostly pushed along by the fact that nothing new in the world of Bond had occurred. We haven’t had any new Bond movies, and while the Dynamite comic series has continued to be excellent, nothing really has lit a fire under me to dive back into the world of 007. But, when I heard there was going to be a new Bond novel, I knew it was time to get back into the swing of things. And, I was cautiously optimistic when I learned it would be a new novel written by Anthony Horowitz. This is Horowitz’s second Bond novel, after 2015’s Trigger Mortis, and I overall enjoyed myself with that book. It wasn’t perfect, and it ended up joining the ranks of so many other Bond stories that just kind of blend together, but it scratched that Bond itch in a way that I really appreciated. Horowitz has been one of the better writers to try and ape Ian Fleming’s style, something that has proven surprisingly difficult, and his use of plot elements and idea that come from the notes of Fleming himself certainly add to that, giving us the closest thing to more Fleming Bond as we can get. But, despite all of those positives, there was one element to this book that forced me to go in with quite a bit of apprehension. It’s the origin story of James Bond.
The novel begins with M being informed that 007 has been killed in the line of duty. He takes that news in stride, and immediately orders that the void is filled, and a new agent is promoted to the role of 007. And that agent is James Bond, a fresh-faced secret agent with experience from World War II who has just returned home after completing two assassinations. He’s welcomed into the world of the Double O program, and is given his first assignment, to complete the mission given to the previous 007. He died while investigation a Corsican criminal and drug runner named Jean-Paul Scipio and his connection to a powerful American businessman named Irwin Wolfe who has made his fortune in chemicals, specifically designing chemicals used in movie film. And, going along with all of that, Bond is tasked with find out what connection these two men have with a mysterious agent for hire known as Madame Sixtine, a formerly British agent who has been involved with anyone who can match her price. So, Bond heads to the French Riviera to pick up the trail already started by his predecessor. He quickly meets a CIA agent named Reade Griffith, and the two begin investigating Scipio, Wolfe, and Sixtine.
Bond is able to find a mysterious invoice for some chemicals coming from one of Wolfe’s subsidiaries, putting him and Griffith in contact with the chemical factory, and the surprise realization that Scipio is working out of the plant. Bond is almost killed in this investigation, and ends up changing course. He meets Sixtine while gambling, as he so frequently does, and the two actually end up hitting it off. Bond find Sixtine, an older pro, fascinating, and begins hanging on her every word. And, through their burgeoning professional relationship Bond is introduced to Irwin Wolfe, Sixtine’s apparent lover. Wolfe is a strange and passionate man, and almost immediately begins telling Bond about the new luxury cruise ship that he’s built and is getting ready to transport to America. Bond decides that Wolfe is the best route to investigate, and ends up getting much closer with Sixtine to accomplish this. The two end up sleeping together, and she lets him in on the truth. She’s investigating Wolfe herself, and has become convinced that he and Scipio are up to something nefarious in a Wolfe facility in the middle of a forest. The two manage to sneak into the facility together and learn that Wolfe and Scipio are operating a massive heroin refinery. But, after discovering the facility, and doing their best to destroy it, they’re caught by Scipio and Wolfe. Bond and Sixtine are then brought aboard Wolfe’s cruise ship, where they learn what’s actually going on. Apparently Wolfe has grown jaded by American politics after World War II, and has come up with a plan to cause the country to turn inward and fix its own problems without meddling in other countries, and this is going to take the form on him flooding the nation with incredibly cheap heroin, causing a massive opiate problem that the United States will have to take care of. Scipio then attempts to get Bond addicted to heroin to take him off the board. Sixtine is able to save Bond though, and the two manage to escape into the ship and are able to sink it and the massive load of heroin. Scipio is killed in the process, and so is Sixtine. This leaves Bond to track down Wolfe himself to deal with the last loose thread. And, once he finishes that task he heads out into the world, a little more jaded, and on the path to become the Bond we all know.
Overall I enjoyed this novel. I was really worried that it would fall into all the normal traps that an origin story can, and while it certainly does trip over itself several times, the pros outweigh the cons. The plot ends up hewing a little too closely to that of the Live and Let Die movie, what with the villain wanting to flood America with cheap heroin, it’s just the purpose that comes off a little different. Because Irwin Wolfe was under the false impression that America would do anything to stop an opiate epidemic. But, it was a brutal and breezy read, really leaning into that Ian Fleming aesthetic. The Bond of the Fleming novels wasn’t quite the glamorous figure the movies would make him, and this novel captures that really well, giving us a newly minted Bond who has to ruminate on the idea that his whole life is going to be watching other people die by his hand. The only thing that really kept me from loving the book was the fact that it really hit too many of the origin tropes hard.
I’ll always be shocked that the film Casino Royale works as well as it does, because I had always assumed James Bond was a character who worked best with a little mystery. We didn’t need to know what he was like before he was Bond, because it didn’t matter. The Casino Royale novel, while the first of the series, certainly isn’t supposed to be Bond’s first rodeo. So, having this book attempt to show us what Bond was like before we saw him definitely had he potential to not work. Prequels often don’t, because we want to see Bond being Bond. Not becoming him. However, this novel ended up working far better than I expected it to, other than the occasional blindingly dumb call-ahead jokes, primarily in the form of Sixtine teaching Bond the ways of the world. By the end of this novel you can tell that Sixtine is apparently Bond’s inspiration and hero, because through her he learns about drinking his martini’s shaken and not stirred, introducing himself last name first, smoking his particular brand of cigarettes, and any number of weird character elements that really didn’t need to be explained like this. We didn’t need to know that Bond learned these things from someone else, and every time these little moments popped up it completely took me out of the story, more than once causing an audible groan. But, those hiccups aside, Forever and a Day ended up giving us more of that classic Fleming goodness, and another solid entry into the world of James Bond.
Forever and a Day was written by Anthony Horowitz, 2018.
Categories: Page Turners