Books Adrian McKinty re­views the new James Bond

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Adrian McKinty Adrian McKinty’s most re­cent novel is Gun Street Girl.

In the mid­dle of last year, An­thony Horowitz was ap­proached by the Ian Flem­ing es­tate to write the new James Bond novel. As the English writer ex­plains in his after­word to Trig­ger Mor­tis, he leapt at the op­por­tu­nity be­cause he was a life­long Bond fan, and be­cause the es­tate showed him some un­pub­lished Ian Flem­ing ma­te­rial that he would be al­lowed, if he so wished, to in­cor­po­rate into his book.

Horowitz is known as a tele­vi­sion writer ( Mid­somer Mur­ders, Foyle’s War), and as a writer of young adult nov­els (the Alex Rider se­ries) plus the odd Sher­lock Holmes pas­tiche. He is able to dab­ble in many gen­res and I found his at­tempt to du­pli­cate Flem­ing’s themes, sub­ject mat­ter and style com­pletely con­vinc­ing. Set just a few weeks af­ter the events of Goldfin­ger in the late 1950s Trig­ger Mor­tis be­gins with a ter­rific lit­tle noirish pro­logue star­ring Thomas Keller, a dis­af­fected Ger­man rocket sci­en­tist work­ing for the Amer­i­cans who ac­cepts a bribe from SMERSH to sabotage the latest Amer­i­can rocket. He ner­vously takes the pay­off and drives tri­umphantly home to his young wife, who promptly bumps him off and burns their house down to cover up the ev­i­dence.

Mean­while Bond is en­sconced with Pussy Ga­lore in his op­u­lent Chelsea flat. But there is trou­ble loom­ing in par­adise as Pussy out­drinks Bond at break­fast and flirts with just as many women. Work at the Se­cret Ser­vice is a welcome dis­trac­tion. M tells Bond about a SMERSH plot to kill a Bri­tish rac­ing driver at the no­to­ri­ous Nur­bur­gring and or­ders Bond to get in train­ing to en­ter the race.

Bond meets the beau­ti­ful Lo­gan Fair­fax, who shows him how to be a Grand Prix driver in a sur­pris­ingly short amount of time. Back in Chelsea, venge­ful al­lies of Au­ric Goldfin­ger kid­nap Pussy Ga­lore and pre­pare to mur­der her with gold paint (some­thing Myth­Busters proved was im­pos­si­ble) but Bond and Lo­gan save her in dra­matic fash­ion.

Af­ter all the ex­cite­ment Bond doesn’t get the girl but, a few scenes later, Pussy Ga­lore does, neatly dis­pos­ing of Bond’s two love in­ter­ests and leav­ing him free to meet the real ro­man­tic lead of the book, Jeop­ardy Lane, a US Trea­sury agent pos­ing as a jour­nal­ist at the Grand Prix.

Bond heads to the big race in Ger­many. Mer­ci­fully there is lit­tle Jeremy Clark­son-style pon­tif­i­cat­ing about cylin­ders and en­gines, and Flem­ing’s orig­i­nal ma­te­rial (about 500 words) on the Nur­bur­gring is in­cor­po­rated with ease.

At a post-race party at Korean mil­lion­aire Sin Jai-seong’s me­dieval castle, Bond en­coun­ters Jeop­ardy rum­mag­ing through Sin’s pri­vate pa­pers. She finds sev­eral pho­to­graphs of se­cret Amer­i­can rocket launch­ing sites be­fore the alarm trips and Bond and Jeop­ardy have to flee for their lives. Sin, it turns out, is a psy­chopath who hates Amer­ica be­cause of the Korean War. He has al­lied with SMERSH to hatch a typ­i­cally nutty plan to set back the Amer­i­can space pro­gram by sab­o­tag­ing a US rocket in mid­flight and mak­ing it look as if the de­bris fell on New York by blow­ing up fake rocket re­mains un­der the Em­pire State Build­ing.

With these el­e­ments in place, the sec­ond half of the novel deals with Bond try­ing to thwart Sin’s scheme in a se­ries of ex­cit­ing es­capes, fights and chases. Horowitz does well to mimic the struc­ture of a Flem­ing novel and I smiled at his clever use of ‘‘Easter eggs’’ to pay homage to other books and char­ac­ters in Flem­ing’s world. Some of Flem­ing’s ticks have been left in: lux­ury brand wor­ship and name-drop­ping; oth­ers have been sen­si­bly cut: Bond doesn’t drone on about ‘‘pan­sies’’ ru­in­ing the em­pire, as he some­times does in the Flem­ing books.

I do won­der, though, at Horowitz choos­ing a

sadis­tic Korean to be the cen­tre­piece vil­lain, given the strange anti-Korean rhetoric run­ning through­out Goldfin­ger, which in­fa­mously in­cludes this un­pleas­ant lit­tle para­graph: “Bond in­tended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms in­cluded putting Odd-Job or any other Korean firmly in his place [who] in Bond’s view were lower than apes in the mam­malian hi­er­ar­chy.’’

Later in the same novel Bond calls Odd-Job an ape-man, we learn that Kore­ans love rap­ing white women and Goldfin­ger gives his de­lighted Korean hench­man a cat to eat for din­ner. A vil­lain from another coun­try would per­haps have been a shrewder choice for Trig­ger Mor­tis.

A Bond novel is only as good as the girl, the car and the bad­die, and although Jeop­ardy is a great foil and the car is a Maserati 250F, Sin is too much of a chilly, one-di­men­sional sadist to be in­ter­est­ing.

Bond too isn’t as charis­matic as he could be. Horowitz has cho­sen to model his lead closely on the Bond of the nov­els, not the Bond of the films, and the for­mer can be a dull old stick at times. Sean Con­nery in par­tic­u­lar added the charm and hu­mour to the role that most peo­ple now as­so­ciate with the char­ac­ter.

Horowitz’s prose style is work­man­like and steady, which is fine if all you want is to turn the pages, and do so quickly. Trig­ger Mor­tis is the least chal­leng­ing of the four James Bond nov­els the es­tate has pub­lished since 2008. Se­bas­tian Faulks brought an in­tel­lec­tual panache and a more in­tro­spec­tive ap­proach to Devil May Care, Jef­fery Deaver de­liv­ered a cer­tain mus­cu­lar­ity to Carte Blanche and Wil­liam Boyd’s Solo had po­lit­i­cal nous and a sharp satir­i­cal edge. There is nonethe­less a lot to like in Trig­ger Mor­tis and it is a ser­vice­able ad­di­tion to the re­vamped Bond canon. Fer­vent fans and com­pletists will likely not be dis­ap­pointed, but I found my­self want­ing more.

Horowitz is an in­tel­li­gent and thought­ful man, and if he had taken a longer time to think about his sub­ject mat­ter and stretched the bound­aries of his com­mis­sion, he could have turned in some­thing a bit more in­ter­est­ing and ad­ven­tur­ous.

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