American Culture

Double-O-Hum?—Review: Devil May Care, the new James Bond adventure by Sebastian Faulks

James Bond is back in print, and the new novel, Devil May Care, reads just like the old ones.

That’s both good and bad.

British author Sebastian Faulks is the scribe behind this latest literary relaunch of the world’s most famous spy. Other authors who’ve penned Bond adventures, most notably John Gardner and Raymond Benson, have carried Bond into modern times while pretending that he really isn’t aging.

Faulks, “writing as Ian Fleming,” Bond’s creator, takes a different approach. He picks up 007’s adventures right where Fleming left off.At the end of Fleming’s last Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond was on extended leave in Jamaica, contemplating whether or not he would return to the British Secret Service.

Devil May Care answers that question: Bond returns, obviously, or there wouldn’t be much of a novel. But to carry on Fleming’s character thread, Faulks has Bond occasionally second-guessing himself about his fitness for duty.

To pay even that much attention to characterization in a Bond novel is a bit of a surprise. For Fleming, Bond always worked best as a sophisticated tough-guy archetype with a set of stock behaviors: the vodka martini shaken, not stirred; the Walther PPK; the daily shower turned all the way to hot then all the way to cold; the fast car.

The Bond movies perpetuated 007’s use of gadgets, although in the books Bond seldom relies on them, and Devil May Care continues that tradition. Faulks is also very Fleming-like in the way he describes, with pace-killing detail, the particulars of every meal Bond eats and every new set of clothes someone puts on. Fleming lived the high life vicariously through his spy and passed on the details of that life to his readers; Faulks does the same thing. The problem is that such drawn-out descriptions of each meal, for instance, do nothing to advance the plot and do everything to bog down the story.

It also takes an interminable amount of time for Bond to get anywhere in the novel. Even driving across town takes pages. In the first third of the novel, Bond’s travels include Rome, Monte Carlo, London, Paris, and then finally to Tehran, where the action kicks into gear—about a hundred pages into the novel. Prior to that, Bond moves around a lot without much happening. He meets with his boss, M, has an encounter with a mysterious beautiful woman, and has a brush with the novel’s villain—all of which are cliché episodes for any Bond story.

Speaking of clichés, the villain, Julius Gorner, like nearly all Bond villains, is a meglomaniac with lots of money, a secret lair, a sinister henchman, and a plan to bring England to its knees. That sounds like almost any Bond villain, of course—although this one has a deformed hand that looks like a monkey’s paw.

The villain’s master plan involves not only a nuclear terrorist attack designed to turn the Cold War hot but a secondary plan that involves a flood of cheap drugs intended to turn England’s youth into enslaved junkies. Faulks tries to make the threat something Bond would’ve faced in the 1960s while also making it relevant to today’s world—a result that feels a little forced.

Other parts of the novel feel forced as well. There are plot contrivances and coincidences so unbelievable you’d only find them in a Victorian novel like Jane Eyre. But if you can believe in a madman with a monkey’s paw for a hand, you can believe anything.

Despite its flaws, Devil May Care is still a James Bond novel, and it still turns into a page-turner as almost any James Bond story does. Bond himself can carry almost any story he’s in, despite an author’s best attempts to slow him down. Bond fans will find the new adventure satisfying enough, and the back-to-basics approach provides a fresh angle to the book in much the same way the recent relaunch of the movie franchise freshened things for the onscreen Bond.

Devil May Care, written to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth, will provide light summer reading for nearly anyone looking for a good adventure story, while Bond fans can delight in one more fresh tale—just like the good old days.

3 replies »

  1. No, Sam, this would not be the place to start–although if you started here, it would be pretty typical. “Diamonds” is a good choice, as John suggests. I’m partial to “Goldfinger” myself. “Devil May Care” is actually pretty derivative from “Goldfinger.”