Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts

Saturday, April 15, 2017

James Bond Hammerhead by Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher!

This is the second of three graphic novels I'm reviewing this weekend, and I started out thinking I wasn't going to like this, but it won me over as I read on! It's not your movie James Bond. Luca Casalanguida's illustrations bear no relation to any Bond from the silver screen. This Bond harks back much more to the traditional Ian Fleming Bond (there's even a cover shown towards the back which pays homage to the paperback Bond novels of the fifties and early sixties). It's not exactly Ian Fleming's conception of the character (who Fleming believed should look like a cross between Hoagy Carmichael and himself!), but it admirably fits the bill. That said, it's a very modern story in a modern world, so while it felt like a clean break from the movies in some regards, Andy Diggle tells a story worthy of any screenplay.

There's everything here you've come to expect from Bond: a big plot, continual action, a terrorist on the loose with a cool code-name, subterfuge, assassination attempts, double-cross, daring Bond exploits, and the inevitable cool Bond girl. Bond begins the story in the doghouse. M, in this story not a woman but an Anglo-African, kicks him out to an arms convention in Dubai where he meets Lord Hunt - Britain's biggest arms dealer, and his sophisticated and charming daughter, Victoria, who knows her way around weapons of any calibre!

Unfortunately, Lord Hunt is assassinated, and Bond and the young Lady Hunt are thrown together in pursuit of the villains, so once again, Bond is back in business looking for super villain Kraken, who seems to be targeting the very thing the Hunt weapons manufacturing concern is charged with renewing: Britain's aging nuclear deterrent. Bond is of course led astray, but in the end gets back on track, and saves the day.

Note that this Bond is a violent one, and the artist shows no fear of illustrating that violence. This might have been rather shocking before Bond was rebooted with Daniel Craig stepping into the role and making it more gritty and brutal, but still, there's rather more gore and red ink here than you see in the movies, so be warned of that. Overall, I really liked it, and I recommend this as a worthy read.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

Title: Sebastian Faulks
Publisher: Penguin
Rating: WARTY!

This guy Faulks makes a game attempt to replicate Ian Fleming's writing, but the problem is that he goes too far - to the point of essentially cutting and pasting directly from Fleming's originals. We have a villain with a deformity; one of his hands has the appearance of an ape's, with hair and claws. Why a billionaire would not get this fixed (since we're told that it bothers him so much) is left unexplored.

He has an assistant who is a complete rip-off of Oddjob from Goldfinger, and who can feel no pain, like the villain Renard in the Bond movie The World is Not Enough, and all the Bond tropes are there, which is sad. The novel was intended as a continuation from The Man With the Golden Gun and as such is set in 1967, but Faulks could have done so much more. Fortunately, he's declared that he will write no more Bond novels. I have to ask why he wrote even this one.

"Devil May Care" is a chronically over-used title. You'd think the author or the publisher would check this stuff out to find a title that's a bit more original and distinctive. BN lists over 20 novels with this title on the first page, although some of those are other editions of Faulks's effort. It's not like the title has anything whatsoever to do with the novel's subject matter. It actually should have been called Doctor No, Not Again....

The villain, Dr Julius Gorner (named after Julius No, from the Fleming novel Dr. No, isn’t really a villain - he's just a drug lord when you get right down to it, who harbors the asinine delusion that he can bring the British empire (what empire?!) to its knees by flooding Britain with drugs! Why is Bond even needed? As if Faulks realizes how badly he's under-calculated the magnitude of his villain's villainy, he lards up the plot with two greasy dobs of villainous fat. On the one hand he depicts Gorner as having a plan to make it look like Britain has bombed the Soviet Union, like anyone - even the Soviets themselves - would swallow that. On the other hand, he also expects us to believe that the US is so pissed-off that Britain didn't go into Viet-Nam with it, that it's effectively complicit in this plan because it would finally get the Brits off their "arses". Really? This whole "plot" is a joke.

In this novel, released to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, most of the action centers on Persia - Iran before it became a fundamentalist nightmare. Gorner has factories which produce legitimate pharmaceuticals, but he also produces and sells heroin in large quantities on the black market. During the course of his snooping, Bond discovers Gorner's smuggling transport: a Soviet-made ekranoplan, supposedly some 300 feet long (the Soviets actually built a functioning test version which was over 200 feet long). The problem with this is that Bond has a golden opportunity right there and then to destroy it, but he runs away!

The Bond babe in this edition is Scarlett Papava who has a twin, Poppy (not to be confused with the opium poppy…), so we’re told, but it turns out that Papava is actually agent 004. The non-existent Poppy is supposedly being held captive by Gorner, hence Scarlett's involvement, so she tells Bond. How Papava can be a double-0 agent, and yet so useless is nothing short of a farce. How her Majesty's Secret Service would even put her into the field without informing Bond is even more ridiculous. Why Bond suspects nothing when this woman was quite obviously stalking him brings us completely into the absurd.

Faulks also includes the disposable assistant, in the form of an Iranian by the name of Darius (seriously?) Alizadeh, and he also hauls in both Mathis and Leiter, Bond's opposite numbers from France and the US. I’d always read that latter name as 'lighter', but the audio book reads it as 'liter'. I have no idea which is correct, not that it really matters. The audio book reader does a fairly decent job, and has the right voice for a Bond story, but I wasn't overly thrilled with him.

The biggest problem for me was that I really didn’t buy any of this story. It just wasn't Bond, despite Faulks' freely plagiarizing the canonical Fleming stories. There were also some writing issues. Faulks is supposedly a highly-regarded writer (I've read nothing else by him so I can't comment there), but when he writes that the Bond cannot control the plane he's flying, and then has Bond take that same plane up to sufficient a height to parachute out without any difficulty, I have to ask how good of a writer he is. In another instance, Faulks has Papava and Bond all-but-naked in a hotel room about to have sex (before they’re 'forced' into coitus interruptus!); later he has her turn her head modestly when Bond is changing into different clothes? Really? That struck me as so false it was inane. On the other side of that coin, I'm pretty sure that Faulks didn’t write the word 'new-cue-ler' so why the audio book reader pronounced nuclear like that is as much of a mystery as it is an annoyance.

In short this novel is warty! I've now read, I think, four 'post-Fleming' Bond novels over the last few years (the most recent one before this is reviewed here) and I've found none of them up to snuff, although I have to say that Kingsley Amis at least got close with his title! I think Colonel Sun was a cracking good title - one which Fleming might have come up with himself. That novel, unfortunately, sucked. So, I have to announce that I'm now done trying to find new novels that effectively capture Fleming's spirit! Time to move on to something different.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver

Title: Carte Blanche
Author: Jeffery Deaver
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: WARTY!

I'm a James Bond purist, I admit it. If it isn't Fleming, it isn’t cannon, and it’s second-rate no matter who the author is! Not that Fleming was a brilliant writer or anything, but he did have a certain style, and more than that, he had a history in intelligence which lent a certain authenticity to his novels even as he invented the most outrageous fiction with which to clothe it. I've read a few non-Fleming Bonds, and I've been singularly disappointed with them all, so I gave up. All this is to say that I went into this one with more than a bit of trepidation. I've already reviewed Diva's The Bone Collector, and while I wasn't completely thrilled by that, I was curious to read other material by him. This one's a start, and the novel was on close-out so I figured I had little to lose even if I didn’t like it!

We know that book blurbs nearly always lie. The sparse one on the back cover claims that Jeffery Deaver brings James Bond into the modern age. And it’s a lie! Yes, it does depict him in the 21st century, but it retains all of Fleming's 1950's era snobbery, which was one of the things I found most obnoxious about the original novels. I honestly don’t care if he wears Sea Island cotton shirts or sports a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. I'd been hoping that Deaver might do something more along the lines of what Eon Productions did in 2006 when they brought in Daniel Craig to star, Martin Campbell to direct, and Haggis, Purvis, and Wade to write. He didn’t.

Deaver knows his stuff (and commendably gets his "British-isms" right!), but it’s far too larded with brand-names and details. It’s like he took copious notes when he researched, and then couldn’t bear to leave any of them out of his text. It’s like he really didn’t want to overhaul Bond, and so couldn't leave any of the trademarked Fleming snobbery behind. So yes, this Bond is updated, but no, he's still an anachronism, and worse, he's not appealing. This Bond is a 1950's throwback without the 1950's milieu in which to live and breathe. He's way-the-hell too upper class for his lower-class origin to make any sense at all. None of this snobbery fits with his trope modern military history (although how that's even supposed to work given that he's still a Royal Navy commander is a complete mystery - there's not a lot of ocean in Afghanistan).

I always did love that Bond was a 'commander': there's something about that particular title which outranks everything else for me, but I’d have been happy to see that go if it meant we could get the panache and √©lan of Fleming's Bond, but set in modern times. Deaver's problem, it seems, is that he was so obsessed with holding on to everything with which Fleming had adorned the original Bond that realism was ejected from his too-tightly-squeezed fist. He features Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis, Mary Goodnight, May (his devoted housekeeper), and his Bentley - although it's a Continental GT now, not the growling, late 1920's Bentley Blower of the Fleming era. Talking of lighters, the new Bond doesn’t smoke, but that's the only real difference I noticed from Fleming's original. And let’s not even ask how Bond can afford a car priced at an eighth of a million pounds….

Bond is now in the Operations Branch of the Overseas Development Group, but he works for Miles Messervy, so we’re essentially back in 1953 when Casino Royale was first published. We meet him in Serbia, preventing the derailing of a train, which would not have done much damage anyway, so the question in Bond's mind is why Niall Dunne, someone who seems to be very much like James Bond in his skill set (and who is the object of Bond's attention as we begin), would waste his time on it.

Pursuing scant leads, Bond runs into the main Bond villain with the inevitable attendant psychopathy. Severan Hydt is of Dutch ancestry, and is a distinctly warped individual who takes an unnatural interest not so much in the killing of people, as in the dead bodies which the psychopathy leaves in its, er, wake! Hydt appears to be pursuing some sort of disaster which is estimated to take down about 100 people. This is only a practice run for something much larger, it would seem.

Unlike in the Fleming era, Bond evidently has no authority to investigate in the UK, only abroad, so he's stuck with being classed as an observer under the authority of someone who can investigate, and we're hammered over the head with how irritating and incompetent this man is. He wants to shut down everything as soon as the perp is ID'd, whereas Bond wants to let it play out until they discover who’s ultimately behind it all, lest shutting it down alerts the real power behind the throne, allowing them to escape to fight another day. From England the action moves to Dubai where the practice 'event' is supposed to take place.

Felix Leiter is white in this outing, just like he was in the original. Carte Blanche is not only a seriously over-used novel title! We're told he's Texan, but his name is Felix? Okay. His cover is that he's a freelance journalist blogging music: blues, R&B, and Afro-Caribbean. And he's in Dubai, because you know there's a whole heck of a lot of that music generated there! So he and Bond follow Hydt, trying to figure out what this 'practice run' is supposed to be, and they end-up watching Hydt as he confers with an Arab colleague whose business is developing industrial machinery, hence his tie to Hydt. Deaver has Hydt and his friend go into a closed office for no evident reason other than to introduce another character, because as soon as they're in there, they turn right around and come back out. That struck me as weird, especially since that character is bumped-off very shortly afterwards.

Genderism rears its ugly head on page 148, Deaver describes Bond and Leiter spying on Hydt as he visits this business colleague: "Observing Hydt, the Irishman, and an attractive dark-haired woman…" Yes, I agree we already met Hydt and Dunne, so no description is necessary there, but what's also unnecessary is the word 'attractive'. Is this seriously the only adjective Deaver can think of when he looks at a woman? Is she either attractive or she's a waste of time? I encounter this attitude repeatedly. I recall reading a science blog site written by a well-known and published American author, who described a scientist as pretty or some word to that same effect in one of his blogs. I posted a comment on that particular blog asking if he would have described a male scientist as 'handsome'! I know he wouldn't because he never has. I no longer read that blog, and I no longer comment on it because my comments seemed mysteriously to never get published after that particular one!

Note that I don’t have a problem with a character in a novel being genderist or referring to a woman as attractive for no good reason. Characters can be depicted however you like, but when the author is gratuitously pigeon-holing women as 'attractive' and 'other', that's a different matter, but then Deaver does have some odd writing habits. One example is on p184 where he uses the phrase "ratcheting the shackles". One doesn’t normally think of shackles as something one can ratchet. Handcuffs are a different matter. In another example, the words 'land mine' appear unhyphenated and separated, whereas the words 'mid-fifties' appear as one word: 'midfifties' in Deaver's hands. If midfifties, then why not landmine or land-mine? I just thought that was an interesting foible. Another example is Deaver's habit of having Bond is always waking from nightmares which he can’t remember. It's tedious.

Genderism appears again on p229 when we're told that there are two "attractive young women" working at the door of the function which Bond attends. One of them is 'blonde and voluptuous", but that's quite obviously nowhere near enough, so she's wearing a "tight-fitting" dress"! The other woman could be her twin: she's "equally built and clad." Later Bond and Hydt take champagne refills from "an attractive young Afrikaner woman." They key words here are obviously 'attractive' and 'young'. What else matters? This is in the same novel in which Deaver has Bond bristle at someone's use of the word "coloreds" to describe a certain group of people. Disconnect much, Diva?

As if that alone isn't bad enough, Bond, undercover, has an encounter with Jessica Barnes, an older woman who is kept around by Hydt so he can observe her aging. Yes, he's that warped. Bond drives her home one time and she breaks down over Hydt's treatment of her, and Bond commiserates with her, but as soon as he drops her off, he puts her completely out of his mind - because she's old and irrelevant. In short, he treats her no better than Hydt does!

Deaver has a peculiar view of what’s attractive, too boot. Ophelia Maidenstone is a "passive beauty", but Felicity Willing is an "assertive, forceful beauty". How, exactly, does that work?! Funnily enough, that's where Deaver actually comes closest to emulating Fleming, who also had peculiar ideas about the world - like his view expressed in one novel that the mountain Turks are trustworthy, but the plains Turks are not (or was it the other way around?). I think that was in From Russia With Love.

I skipped chapter 39 completely. It begins with Bond finally discovering what operation 'Steel Cartridge' is. It turns out that it was the targeted assassination of undercover British agents, so why Bond wouldn’t already know all about that is something of a mystery, but rather than do anything with this new knowledge, Bond instead drifts off into a two or three page reminiscence of his childhood and parents! Seriously? Fleming would never have written that, so how is Deaver writing in the style of Fleming?

Bond learns that Dunne (whose work is never finished because he's always Nealy Dunne...) is going to firebomb the home of a man who saw something at Hydt's Green Way recycling business which he shouldn’t have (actually it turns out that the man is loyal to Hydt and saw nothing!), so clearly the best way to solve that problem is to draw attention to it by fire-bombing his entire family. Bond knows of this well in advance, but he does nothing to take out the two men (including Dunne) who carry out this attack. Instead, he sneaks the family out of the shack through the back door (a shanty-town shack has a back door?!), while he lets Dunne get away with tossing two grenades and burning the shack down.

The Official Bed-able Bond Beauty shows up in the form of Felicity Willing who is undoubtedly young and attractive, but unlike all the young attractive wusses we've met so far, she's feisty and self-possessed - plus, she wears no make-up to speak of. She's supposedly a strong advocate of feeding-the-children, but she obviously has no problem dressing herself up like a dog's dinner, and dining high on the hog with Bond. Indeed, she has no problem (this is after the acronym "AIDS" came up in a discussion during the function earlier) with having unprotected sex with a man she just met. So she may be Willing, but she sure as hell ain't able.

Deaver's Bond isn't, it turns out, one who has been brought successfully into the modern age. Instead, he's one who's been castrated and sanitized, domesticated and trained to perform tricks, and taught not to take a dump in the house. It’s not Fleming's Bond, not by a long shot. It just goes to prove that when an author is given leave to do what he wants, we end up not so much with carte blanche as with carte seconde-main. This novel is warty.