By Stuart Nulman
Solo by William Boyd (HarperCollins, $29.99)
James Bond is back in action … and he’s having a midlife crisis.
Best selling British novelist William Boyd is the sixth author to give Secret Agent 007 a literary resurrection (following the likes of Robert Markham, John Gardner and Jeffrey Deaver), and 60 years since the publication of the first Bond novel – “Casino Royale” – Boyd has given the British Secret Service agent with the Double-0 license to kill prefix a fine anniversary tribute with “Solo”.
The book takes place in 1969, as Bond approaches his 45th birthday. A World War II veteran who witnessed the hell of the D-Day invasion, who has had his share of dangerous assignments with MI-6 and suffered the trauma of the tragic death of his wife Teresa, Bond has the right to feel slightly weary. Somehow, he tries to satisfy this midlife crisis with a dalliance with well known Irish-born movie actress Bryce Fitzjohn. However, the call of Queen and Country pulls him back to another perilous mission from M.
This time, 007 is assigned to travel to the volatile western African nation of Zanzarim, which is in the middle of a bloody civil war with neighboring country Dahum (which is loosely based on the actual civil war between Nigeria and Biafra during the late 60s). Using the cover of a British journalist for a French press agency, Bond’s mission is to find his way into Dahum via Zanzarim and end the civil war by assassinating warlord Brigadier General Adeka (or as M puts it: “find a way of making him a less efficient soldier”). The only disadvantage Bond will have for this mission is that he won’t be able to carry his trusty Walther PPK pistol (or any other sophisticated weaponry from Q branch), just some carefully concealed chemicals that are supposed to do the trick.
Of course, while in pursuit of Adeka in the jungles of the two warring African nations, Bond is assisted by Efua Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, MI-6’s alluring head of its Zanzarim station and encounters a classic Bond villain, fanatical Zanzarim army officer Kobus Breed, who not only carries a lust for violence (in which he hangs his dead enemies by their jaws with sharp fishhooks), but also has a horribly disfigured face whose eyes constantly shed tears.
Just when Bond thinks his mission is over, he is met with a near fatal double cross at the Janjaville airport, as he is ready to flee on the last commercial flight out of the country. This compels him to “go solo” and pursue the people who were responsible for his near death, which takes him to Washington, D.C., where through some crafty deceptions, he finds out how the Dahum-Zanzarim civil war was filled with drug smuggling, greed from both countries’ rich oil deposits, and using a charitable African relief agency as a front … not to mention getting a visit from his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter.
Boyd, who was officially approved by the estate of Bond creator Ian Fleming to write this book, certainly does not disappoint with “Solo”. He manages to echo the elements that made the Fleming novels such compelling reads for six decades’ worth of devoted readers. There’s plenty of sex and violence, exotic locations, delectable descriptions of Bond enjoying the local cuisine and imbibing the finest liquors, as well as the lengthy prose that effectively probes into the tortured, yet dedicated psyche of James Bond, and what makes him such an effective, troubled and humanistic spy who is not afraid to utilize his licence to kill … yet sometimes with some reservations.
“Solo” is a welcome addition to the literary Bond canon, and hopefully William Boyd will get further permission from the Ian Fleming estate to occasionally renew James Bond’s license for another dangerous assignment.
Stuart Nulman’s “Book Banter” segment is a twice-a-month feature on “The Stuph File Program” with Peter Anthony Holder, which now has almost 150,000 listeners per week. You can either listen or download it at www.peteranthonyholder.com, Stitcher.com or subscribe to it on iTunes. Plus you can find it at www.CyberStationUSA.com, www.KDXradio.com, True Talk Radio, streaming on www.PCJMedia.com, and over the air at World FM 88.2fm in New Zealand, Media Corp in Singapore and WSTJ, St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.