Category: Sebastian Faulks

book review – Devil May Care


It is hard not to get wrapped up in the hype before even opening this book. The amount of pre-launch coverage was intense with the main angle being that this James Bond novel had been written by a literary figure. Sebastian Faulks was expected to deliver a book that combined the best of his writing style, developing characters and drawing out emotions, with the best of Ian Fleming’s fast paced action and tightly controlled plots.

The question should not whether or not he manages to deliver that but whether or not you enjoy reading the book. The response to that has to be a qualified positive. The qualification comes from a couple of moments when it became hard to see what was being gained by stringing scenes out.

But before launching into that a quick reaction to the story. Picking up where Fleming left off this is a Bond in the 1960s managing to sidestep the oncoming hippy revolution and the summer of love and stick to fighting shady characters against the cold war background.

The other change though is the focus on drugs that could ironically place the action bang in 2008. Mind you these were early days with drugs and the idea of corrupting an entire nation with narcotics is a novel one. The irony is that even with drugs now firmly established and by all accounts quite widely available the collapse in society hasn’t happened. Or has it? Let’s not start that debate.

Aside from the drugs and the swinging sixties much is the same. This is a Bond reliant on his fists, strength and quick thinking rather than on gadgets galore. This is also a man quite happy to spend some serious time in the company of women as well as evil megalomaniacs.

But his is also a Bond with frailties and the book starts with him weighing up the prospect of retirement. He is never quite away from those thoughts until close to the end when it becomes clear that this is a world he could never leave, except as a result of taking a bullet.

The fight between the mad chemist thwarted by the British establishment and his Vietnamese henchman who goes in for tongue clamping removal as a form of torture is enjoyable but sometimes stretched. It seems to take ages for Bond to complete a game of tennis with the arch villain Dr. Gorner and likewise a passage of events on a plane when Bond is struggling to stay alive seems to take just that bit too long.

The other criticism comes with the womanising. It takes Bond an age to take the lead female to the bedroom and then when he gets there he takes her “roughly” in a moment that makes you think of Mill & Boon. The sex has to be there but is clearly not somewhere Faulks feel comfortable writing about.

But give him credit this is an enjoyable book with several plot strands running in parallel that he manages to all pull together at the end. This is enjoyment and is not meant to be much more. The skill is writing a believable plot with a leading character that is not only known the world over but in most reader’s minds already carries the face of a Connery, Brosnan or a Craig and their behavioural patterns.

From a publishing point of view it has already been a great success for Penguin and in terms of the highlights of this year it will be included in most lists. The real test is if it is remembered for anything than being yet another attempt to resurrect the Bond character and that is of course far too early to judge.

Version read – Penguin hardback

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book review – Devil May Care


It is hard not to get wrapped up in the hype before even opening this book. The amount of pre-launch coverage was intense with the main angle being that this James Bond novel had been written by a literary figure. Sebastian Faulks was expected to deliver a book that combined the best of his writing style, developing characters and drawing out emotions, with the best of Ian Fleming’s fast paced action and tightly controlled plots.

The question should not whether or not he manages to deliver that but whether or not you enjoy reading the book. The response to that has to be a qualified positive. The qualification comes from a couple of moments when it became hard to see what was being gained by stringing scenes out.

But before launching into that a quick reaction to the story. Picking up where Fleming left off this is a Bond in the 1960s managing to sidestep the oncoming hippy revolution and the summer of love and stick to fighting shady characters against the cold war background.

The other change though is the focus on drugs that could ironically place the action bang in 2008. Mind you these were early days with drugs and the idea of corrupting an entire nation with narcotics is a novel one. The irony is that even with drugs now firmly established and by all accounts quite widely available the collapse in society hasn’t happened. Or has it? Let’s not start that debate.

Aside from the drugs and the swinging sixties much is the same. This is a Bond reliant on his fists, strength and quick thinking rather than on gadgets galore. This is also a man quite happy to spend some serious time in the company of women as well as evil megalomaniacs.

But his is also a Bond with frailties and the book starts with him weighing up the prospect of retirement. He is never quite away from those thoughts until close to the end when it becomes clear that this is a world he could never leave, except as a result of taking a bullet.

The fight between the mad chemist thwarted by the British establishment and his Vietnamese henchman who goes in for tongue clamping removal as a form of torture is enjoyable but sometimes stretched. It seems to take ages for Bond to complete a game of tennis with the arch villain Dr. Gorner and likewise a passage of events on a plane when Bond is struggling to stay alive seems to take just that bit too long.

The other criticism comes with the womanising. It takes Bond an age to take the lead female to the bedroom and then when he gets there he takes her “roughly” in a moment that makes you think of Mill & Boon. The sex has to be there but is clearly not somewhere Faulks feel comfortable writing about.

But give him credit this is an enjoyable book with several plot strands running in parallel that he manages to all pull together at the end. This is enjoyment and is not meant to be much more. The skill is writing a believable plot with a leading character that is not only known the world over but in most reader’s minds already carries the face of a Connery, Brosnan or a Craig and their behavioural patterns.

From a publishing point of view it has already been a great success for Penguin and in terms of the highlights of this year it will be included in most lists. The real test is if it is remembered for anything than being yet another attempt to resurrect the Bond character and that is of course far too early to judge.

Version read – Penguin hardback

Devil May Care – Post III

Didn’t get the chance to blog on the ending last night because I went to West Dulwich and picked up the latest copy of Slightly Foxed. Wish I had stayed longer and chatted with the editors and other readers but it was quite a trek home and so had to cut it short.

The ending has more of an echo of Fleming than almost anything else because just as with his other books he leaves it until literally there are just a few pages left to wind it up and put the villain to death.

There are twists galore in this story and it does what it says on the tin. Where you sense the hesitation is with the sex, the sense of confidence and the speed of thought. There are scenes that seem to be played out in slow motion as Bond tries to work out his options that could have been speeded up to inject a bit of pace.

But in the end Bond gets the girl, stops world war three and manages to get rid of his adversary in a way that seems poetic.

A full review will follow soon…

Devil May Care – Post II

This starts to remind you of some of those old Bond novels as the show down between the arch criminal and the secret service agent draws closer. There are no gadgets just fists, knifes and guns and a heavy mixture of violence and cruelty.

Where there was politics of the Empire and the Second World War fallout in some of the original novels this is being played out against the background of Vietnam and a coup-ridden middle east. The action moves from Paris to Tehran and the moment of destiny draws nearer as Bond nears the centre of the Heroin operation that is being used to turn British youth into drugged out losers and turn the country into a third world power of wasters.

This is a Bond that is neither Connery, Moore or Brosnan. He is someone without a face waiting for you to put yourself into him. That is unexpected because you half expect to find nothing new to think with such a well-trodden character.

Ultimately you have to see this for what it is – entertainment. Sure it isn’t Tolstoy but it’s fun and not going to take much of your time to get through. This should be wrapped up in a third sitting tomorrow.

More tomorrow…

Devil May Care – Post I

It is with a real sense of trepidation that you open this book and dive into the Faulksian world of Bond. Having read a few of the series of originals there is the same familiar realistic violence and some clever weaving in of characters that appear in one setting before being tied into the main story.

This is a Bond operating in a world here everything has changed into a drug fuelled sixties and he is questioning his own ability as well as the world around him. M is busy doing yoga and the gangsters are not trying to defeat their enemies with guns and economic force but by corrupting the young with drugs.

Leading that charge is the monkey pawed villain Dr Gorner who plans to destroy Britain by getting its kids hooked on drugs. Bond is sent to meet him and getting a psychological assessment, nothing more because he is still not fit enough for active service.

The pace of the book is a quick as a Fleming with the chapters racing by, until a tennis scene runs on and on and is almost ball-by-ball and slows things down. No harm in running a long scene but tennis is not quite the same as a car chase or high-tension face-off.

Still this is easy on the eye and is heading for the sort of showdown that made Bond such a hero in the first place. The fact it is not written by Fleming doesn’t matter at all in terms of the enjoyment.

More tomorrow…