My review for the Mini Book Expo
Devil May Care
Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Flemming
* Hardcover: 304 pages
* Publisher: Doubleday (May 28, 2008)
* ISBN-10: 0385524285
* ISBN-13: 978-0385524285
Shipping sponsored by RandomHouse.ca
I’m not a big fan of authors taking over a franchise after the death of the original author and have regarded books like this as “authorized fan fiction”, not unlike the pornographic fanfic you discover on the web. I usually find these types of novels are soulless copies of the originals. The essence of the series the author cultivated throughout his career was always somehow missing when handed over to a young buck, much like several Issac Asimov 3 Laws of Robotics books. The ideas are there, but there’s no “life”. However, after reading DMC, I find that Faulks has created a story that is very much like an Andy Warhol print: not the original but important and to be revered just as much.
The Ian Flemming Foundation decided to release a new novel on the 100th birthday of Flemming and choose Faulks, a popular British writer to do it. Set in 1967, just after Flemming’s last (posthumous) book Octopussy, DMC has every element a great Bond story should have: a curvaceous, mysterious woman, Bond jetting off to exotic locales, car chases, a colourful screw-loose villain with a sadistic, quirky henchman and (out-turned pinky to bottom lip here, people) a world domination plot. In lieu of an arsenal of gadgets (which Bond claims to not like using), Faulks pulls one giant ‘gadget’ out of the history books which I won’t spoil, but yet made me geekily excited when I realized what it was. Faulks’ story is set mostly in the Middle East, late 60s where he manages to draw parallels to current issues with an air of foreboding which surprisingly made it extremely readable.
The book isn’t without it’s quirks: Faulks seems to pepper in too many “gourmet dining” scenes for my liking to establish that Bond runs with the rich and cultured. Several instances in the book has our hero eating while spying: Bond meets Scarlett Papava and has a late supper in Paris with her; Bond eats a lot of room service eggs while waiting for appointments; Bond dines in a Tehran cafe with his Middle Eastern contact; Bond eats cheese in Moscow. Every chapter has a few pages devoted to what the characters are eating or drinking which becomes distracting after a while. If this was a metaphor or a theme, it was lost on me – refueling? The music of life? Food seen as information stimuli? Faulks does detail the clothing and outfits of the late 60’s, but without designer label name dropping, which I thought would have placed more emphasis on the character’s rich lifestyles.
What Faulks lacks in setting, he makes up in action. His scenes of conflict are extremely well orchestrated and visual. He writes with such specialized detail that I had no doubt in believing what he was offering in way of guns, machinery or fighting technique. Faulks sets Bond’s initial contact with the villainous Dr Gorner in a tennis match so wrought with skill and minutiae that I may never look at another game the same way. His fight scenes are so clearly controlled, it’s cinematic (hint hint, Hollywood!).
Which brings me to the villain, Dr Julius Gorner, a rich pharmaceutical genius, hellbent on destroying all things English. Like every Bond villain, Gorner has one physical flaw: a deformed “monkeys paw” of a hand, which he embarrassingly covers with a white glove. It’s obvious that Faulks made Gorner a nod to Dr No: the original Dr No was named Dr Julius No; Dr No lost his hands in an attempt to send a message to other criminal rivals, where Dr Gorner cuts the tongues out of his insubordinates as a message to other informants; Gorner tortures Bond in a “cigar tube” escape attempt, much like Dr No does with Bond in air shafts. The similarities were a bit too close to Dr No, so much so that I found myself reading Gorner’s conversations in my head with the same clipped way Joseph Wiseman delivered his lines in the movie. Yet Gorner stands out on his own as satisfying as any Flemming creation when his hubris is served up to him at the hands of Bond.
If you’re like myself, a mild Bond fan (read 2 books, seen most of the movies, some twice) then you’ll enjoy DMC. If you’re anything less, you may not get the culture. But I am sure you’ll enjoy the ride! I would recommend Devil May Care to anyone looking for a little action in their summer reading.