Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solo by William Boyd

William Boyd’s Solo, the latest James Bond novel, is a thrilling story with just the right touch of action. Boyd understands James Bond, and he puts his own considerable writing talent into a story that is at first compelling, and finally breathtaking in its conclusion. I enjoyed this book and I will rate it as among the best of the Bond tales by Ian Fleming’s many successors. There’s a lot to choose from with those successors, first with Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham), all of John Gardner’s and Raymond Benson’s 007 novels; and recently with Sebastian Faulks and Jeffrey Deaver. By now every James Bond fan has checked in and posted their “reviews” of Boyd’s Solo on the Internet with the general consensus being favorable. I noticed that when the core fan base likes a book they are quick to claim that such and such an author “writes just like Ian Fleming.” That’s nonsense. None of Fleming’s successors write like him, although most of them managed to capture the flavor of the Fleming novels, including Boyd. Too many readers are confusing their familiarity with Bond’s world with Fleming’s prose style. William Boyd is a much different prose stylist than Ian Fleming, but Solo works so well specifically because he not only understands James Bond, but he understands the world around him. Solo is a ripping good yarn. It takes place in 1969 but the late 60s cultural backdrop is modest. The first half has Bond involved in a West African nation’s civil war. Boyd writes with authority about Africa, a country that has occupied some key elements of his writing life. This is where we meet all of the major players. Solo, however, changes and becomes a breathtaking adventure when Bond decides to go “solo” (without sanction) to exact his vengeance on a bad-ass named Kobus Breed. Of course there are some romantic interludes, notably with an Hammer Films-type of actress named Bryce Fitzjohn who plays characters like Vampiria in films like The Curse of Dracula’s Daughter; but the second half of the book is the best and reminded me that Fleming himself was influenced by such pulp writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Boyd handles the action with expertise, and the startling conclusion begs for a sequel. Sadly, that probably won’t happen because Anthony Horowitz has been tagged to write the next Bond adventure. Bond fans and Fleming fans (those are, by the way, two distinctly different groups) shouldn’t miss Solo. It may not be the very best Bond novel (my choice for that distinction would be Fleming’s From Russia With Love) but it’s high on the list of great Bond novels. Pour yourself a martini, shaken and not stirred, and enjoy!

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