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Topic: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

Following on from my well received threads
Bond Novel Reviews
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/33508/bond-novel-reviews/
and Bond Continuation Novel Reviews
http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/34464/bon … l-reviews/
and Bond Continuation Novel Reviews Vol. 2
https://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/36035/bo … ews-vol-2/
I am now continuing my series with Volume 3 of the continuation stories. This will start with Anthony Horowitz's second novel and continue with Steve Cole's Young Bond sequels.
Feel free to check out the links above for my previous reviews.
As before, please don't publish any reviews of your own on this thread as this disturbs the flow. Many members appreciate my reviews and enjoy offering feedback and this is always welcome, but it isn't an open thread.
Sorry. 

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2

Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

FOREVER AND A DAY
5/1/2019

2018

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Anthony Horowitz’s second stab at James Bond lore reads even faster than his first. I managed to wind it up in two evenings. From that you can tell this isn’t a particularly challenging novel.

While Trigger Mortis sat unevenly among the established canon, straddling the events of Goldfinger and Thunderball [bear in mind, For Your Eyes Only is a composite novel; time-frame unspecified] Forever and a Day takes us right back to the very making of Bond himself: his first mission as agent 007. Once again, Horowitz has been at pains to stress he utilised one of Ian Fleming’s unpublished short works – an unscripted television episode – but it’s not really relevant to the story per se and actually drags the telling to a standstill at a time when it ought to be picking up.

Seven chapters in, Bond has completed his second authorised kill for the Secret Service, been promoted to the Double-O Section, been assigned and despatched to the south of France to trace the assassin of his predecessor, an unnamed 007. That Bond takes a dead man’s code number on a whim, and is allowed to by a suddenly indulgent service head, is most dubious. It’s one of several questionable moments in the narrative which the reader has to blindly accept or risk upsetting their enjoyment. Bond does a spot of nifty investigation at the dead man’s dingy digs, meets an errant CIA accomplice whom no-one has mentioned in his curtailed briefing and makes contact with the beautiful French informant Joanne Brochet, or Madame Sixtine, as she prefers to be known. Up to this point things are rolling along swiftly – too swiftly in fact – and the pages were turning very fast. Horowitz then does an extraordinary display of pandering, by including an unlikely and unworthy episode from James Bond’s espionage career as described by Ian Fleming. It’s based around a Russian naval captain, his gambling debts and some wireless frequency codes, all set in the casino at Monaco. Quite why this has been included befuddles me and shows that the author is attempting to recreate rather than germinate an adventure. The fact Fleming never used the story himself, other than as a passage for Thrilling Cities, suggests he reckoned it was fairly inconsequential. It is and I hope if Mr Horowitz continues to write more of Bond’s adventures, he’ll think more about the better work he does in chapter 14, when Madame Sixtine relates and explains her life story.

This was possibly the most affecting moment in a curiously desensitised novel. An older woman, Sixtine plays young James like the proverbial violin; even his moments of initiative make him feel inadequate. She is a far stronger leading woman than any of the heroines created by almost all the continuation authors, a few of Gardner’s early efforts aside. While still falling into the ‘modern’ category of espionage heroine – she has to fight, shoot, kiss, just like a man and be more than mere window dressing – she also harkens back to an era of demure ladies, with strong personal values inspired by the travesties and injustices of war. I was disappointed Horowitz bottles telling us what occurred when she was betrayed in 1944, as it seems vital to her character make up. The gap is startling. We fill it in, but the guess work titillates rather than informs. It is something Fleming would certainly not have shied away from; in fact, the possible horror of her situation would have delighted him and he would have ensured an audience be enthralled by her peril.

An enigmatic woman, Sixtine refers to herself by a number because the personal has ceased to exist for her. She likens herself to the soulless individual she seduces: “They call you 007 because they know it will make it easier for you to kill brutally and without remorse. It matters to them that … they have taken part of your humanity.” She claims to choose her own path in life, but she clings to her past, presenting Bond with a gunmetal cigarette case of some sentimental value. It isn’t a good luck charm yet for the liaison does not end happily. While it lasts, I found the couple’s word-play intriguing. Bond, not yet the consummate spy or an experienced lothario, constantly mis-steps. Sixtine sets him straight with both authority and some impatience. That she turns out to be indulging in a little industrial espionage makes her role in the tale more rounded and purposeful. The two agents, younger and older, utilise each other’s skill, experience and tact several times to good effect. The teaming was bright and athletic.

Where the novel fell down was in the remainder of the players. The nominal villain, of three, is Jean-Paul Scipio, a truly monstrous man of enormous proportions who ought to be an overbearing presence in the novel, but instead is, well, just over-bearing. Known as ‘the fat man’ this Corsican gangster suffers from ruptured lymphatic valves resulting a tremendous and unsightly weight gain. He only speaks in dialect and is accompanied everywhere by an interpreter. This neat twist has massive potential and the author is at pains to demonstrate it during an early confrontation and later during a vicious fist-pounding. That the translator isn’t relevant at all becomes a disappointment. Equally we can tell Horowitz liked Skyfall, because Scipio has homosexual interests; Horowitz implies it then explicitly tells us. Unlike Sixtine, nothing about Scipio is left to the imagination.

Bond and Scipio's first encounter is strong on suspense, low on actualities. Bond’s capture while snooping at a Ferrix Chimiques head offices, is the sort of thing you read in many fifties’ thriller and crime novels, laughable by its ease. His courageous speech of defiance reads very badly. I was almost laughing. I don’t know if Horowitz meant it to be ironically amusing; I couldn’t tell, for the novel is mostly devoid of a sense of humour. There are some withering lines towards the end of the piece, but they felt out of place then, forced through gritted teeth, a la Daniel Craig. If jollity doesn’t come easy, you’re best to stay silent. Scipio’s death scene plays like a bad silent movie: a fat man stuck in a hole, drowning, “gleefully, the water poured into his mouth” – at least the ocean was having fun.

I’d rather lost interest by the climax. I could see where the story was going. The dying American billionaire industrialist, anti-Semite, misogynistic, creep-fiend Irwin Wolfe wants to pollute the US population with free heroin. He’s sunk his fortune into this bizarre scheme. Bond foils it with a box of fireworks. I didn’t care for this story-arc, in fact I thought Sebastian Faulks had already used it in Devil May Care; it was certainly familiar. Wolfe is a poor reinterpretation of Milton Krest, one of Fleming’s best domestic creatures. They share the same palate for opulent bad taste, fine women and obnoxious behaviour. We don’t believe Sixtine’s relationship with him; neither does Bond; whether Wolfe does is never made clear. His demise comes in an epilogue of necessary tidiness.

Overall, I’m not disappointed with Forever and a Day. It has a few sequences of messy excitement and doleful suspense. What it misses is a driving heart, a searching centre which ought to propel the reader. The title reminds me of Mills & Boon throw-aways and to be fair, it doesn’t often get much more comprehensive than that. Sure, we learn about the extravagance of the ceiling at the casino at Monte Carlo, the maximum horse power of the cruise liner Mirabelle, the way to cheat at vingt-et-un, but we don’t learn an awful lot about James Bond, except perhaps one thing:

In the very beginning, we find our hero attending to the assassination of Rolf Larsen. The kill goes well. There’s a fine description of the man’s death throes. But Bond has erred. Seeking an admission of guilt, he talks to his victim. M, his boss, is apoplectic: “Do you think I’d send you to kill the wrong man?... it was my decision to send an executioner. Not a lawyer.” This is an important moment in the story, because all Bond’s actions follow from this statement. He’s constantly seeking to justify what he does, as if the cause is as important as the means. Yet Sixtine teaches him otherwise. By the end of the tale, when he’s performed his next cold-blooded murder, he has become that soulless number she foresaw. Ultimately, “he felt nothing.”

More perceptions of this kind might have raised Forever and a Day to greater heights. As it is, the book is a middling success. It’s more accessible than Horowitz’s last effort, less stylised – although there was a particularly clever conceit involving a deaf child – and inhabits the beautiful climes of the French Riviera allowing some good-natured wallowing among the bougainvillea. The action when it comes passes in a blur with little tension. It lacks ambition though and while it sticks resolutely to Bond’s point of view, I was never sure we got enough insight into our hero. The author seems more concerned about the peripheral characters, most of all Sixtine, a heroine who saves Bond’s life in unexpected and bloody fashion. We’re rather sorry to see her go.

It’ll be no surprise to find James Bond comes back, possibly in the capable, if unrefined, pen of Mr Horowitz. I wait, hopefully not forever.

6½ from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

Was looking forward to this review!
I think you enjoyed FAAD a bit more than I did, but I found your comments insightful especially the lack of humour and development in Bond as a character.

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. "
-Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

Excellent review. It mirrors my own feelings almost exactly, with one exception: I liked the bit of Fleming material. I thought it was a highlight of the novel as it showed Bond as Fleming intended him—a blunt instrument. I will concede, however, that it felt out of place. Much like the Fleming material in Trigger Mortis, it was not a natural fit in the narrative. But at least this time Horowitz didn’t divert the story completely in order to include it.

Your point about the villains is very well taken. If Horowitz returns, he needs to develop a compelling adversary. He has not yet managed this.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

SHOOT TO KILL
19/2/2019

2014

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I was not aware of Steve Cole in the run up to his announcement as Charlie Higson’s Young Bond successor and I was not much more familiar when I picked up a copy of Shoot to Kill in my local Marie Curie charity shop. According to the cover blurb, this novel is ‘packed with blackmail, murder and revenge’ and ‘Cole is a master of action.’ For £1 that’s cheap at the price, thinks I.

Shoot to Kill kicks off in Los Angeles, California, where a down-at-heel cinematographer is filming a murder. This voyeuristic bent is only the prelude to his own death, carried out in gruesome fashion and filmed by a manic individual referred to as ‘The Kid.’ Later we discover this fashion for snuff movies has moved to leafy Devon where James Bond, along with a trio of reluctant companions, watches another killing unfold on a tacitly borrowed cinema newsreel. This is the catalyst for an adventure that sees young James knocked out and beaten up with increasing regularity all the way from Totnes to Hollywood via Cardington and a few days luxury on a Zeppelin airship.

The opening prologue shocked me. I immediately wondered who this novel was supposed to be aimed at. People always got killed in Higson’s Young Bond tales, but I’m not sure he ever opened with quite such a macabre and repulsive scene. It was a hard read even for me. I can’t imagine what young readers made of it. This debut precedent sits uneasily next to the obvious humour and the fairly humdrum adolescent interactions which unfold in the ensuing few chapters. There are no real surprises here. Bond makes a friend, Hugo, a dwarf; he takes a fancy to a girl, Boody, but doesn’t realise it – like many Fleming heroines this is a short name, short for Boudicca [ouch]; he has trouble settling in at his latest new school; he makes an enemy – Beatrice Judge – swiftly dispatched and unnecessary to the overall narrative. Later, this couple of weeks in James’ eventful life have a picaresque nature full of incident and peril and toil. Cole has clearly taken inspiration from Higson’s boiling pot and is more intent on delivering action, rather than realistic characters and reliable plots. The story does meander terribly. That it eventually makes some sort of sense is a relief, because at one point I didn’t think it would.

Basically, a grieving Hollywood studio head, Anton Kostler, is filming real-life murders to use as leverage to increase his business empire. He’s employed Chicago mobsters and his own son to do his dirty work and has a legitimate front in a progressive media-arts school run by the aging, unfortunate, educationalist Dr Tobias Leaver. James’ summer school, Dartington Hall, has been nominated to send four students to the Leaver Academy, accompanied by the fetching American teacher Gillian de Vries, a character who becomes less and less important as the story continues, which is disappointing as she’s probably the most interesting of the adults. Naturally James is accepted on the trip, as are Hugo, Boody and the spoilt brat Dan Sloman, nephew of an up and coming screenwriter. It all goes wrong when Dan ‘borrows’ a film reel from the local cinema and uncovers the afore-mentioned snuff movie. Cue plenty of running, fighting, driving, disguising and blowing stuff up.

Generally, after the opening shock, I was pleasantly surprised. Once settled in, Cole’s Shoot to Kill follows the guidelines laid out by Charlie Higson, such as ending each chapter at a turn-paging moment, never letting James kill anyone, never letting James be more than an obnoxious suitor to women, never letting the pace slip. The author seems to have a feel for the style. I was particularly impressed with a sequence of chapters set in Kostler’s Mulholland Drive mansion, where James gains entry by stealth and impersonates a waiter, avoiding people he knows and bumping into movie stars while he tries to contact an investigative journalist, Tori Wo. This has urgency and tension, and even a little wink-worthy humour. The car chase is suitably robust, “hands slick with sweat… the fear pushing him into action,”and ends in a believable collision.

The days spent bored on the Zeppelin have an inner tension of their own, as James learns the rooms are bugged and believes he’s being haunted by the mysterious ‘Fedora Man.’ He’s very much the youthful spy here and these sections do lend a ‘Flemingesque’ feel to the piece, as we, the reader, is given a potted history of 1930s airships and air travel, aware all the while that all is not quite how it appears. It’ll be no surprise to anyone that by the novel’s end, somebody has had an angelic eye on young James, both in aiding and observing.

This is a much more grown-up Young Bond. Not only is he inhabiting the more adult scenes of transatlantic travel and Hollywood parties, but he’s associating with much more independent school pupils, Dartington being a progressive institution not unlike Leaver’s own academy in L.A. That James still retains childish facets is disappointing. He’s prone to bouts of envy and anger. He doesn’t even attempt to drink alcohol. He would rather fight than talk. He’s fascinated by mechanical things. He has little interest in the world beyond his immediate sphere. And his apparent disinterest in Boody, who sends out the right signals with no success, seems baffling. I’d like to see him being something of a less sophisticated rebel. We know James likes to scrap, but he never seems to be doing the stuff other kids would, the normal things, like sneaking to the pub and copping a feel.

There are a few nods towards his developing persona. Cole gives us some insight into James’ uncertainties when our hero experiences a moment of unreality, “flashed back to the grainy violence playing silently in the dark… as if he’d fallen through the screen and the fear and the clamour was all around him.” Several times he worries that a shadowy life is encompassing him. In a moment of callousness as he considers Martyn Kostler, the mogul’s psychopathic son, and wonders if the loss of a parent affected that disturbed, bullying soul. The thought doesn’t last long, “an ember thrown from the fire, falling as ash while the flames of his anger licked on.” The death scenes at the book’s climax are more stylised than I remember Higson’s. We witness them through James’ eyes in horrendous detail, burning corpses and bullet ridden bodies jerking as if “on wires, blood blowing out in thick gouts.” This is certainly more viciously adult.

There are reservations. I think it’s too long. The concluding action runs to several chapters. Most of the early scenes surrounding Dartington Hall are irrelevant. There’s a very silly confrontation between James and Martyn Kostler during an exceedingly dull grand tour of Doctor Leaver’s peculiar academy, a combination which serves only to set the scene for the finale. The writing’s only fair-to-middling. Occasionally Cole slips into modern vernacular, expressions like “KO’d… taking a time out… OK… paramedic” grate because I’m uncertain they’d be used in the 1930s. I don’t think Corvette cars were made until the fifties. I dislike the use of italics to highlight words, phrases, items of interest, etc. It gives the reader – even a young one – no credit for having a brain. There was also an odd reference to the Hitler Youth, an organisation that wouldn’t be of such common knowledge in 1934. In fact, all references to Germany make little sense here as in 1934, Hitler’s state wasn’t considered the complete pariah we now associate with the period.

I’m probably nit-picking. Shoot to Kill is a fine addition to the Young Bond canon. I enjoyed it far more than most of Higson’s efforts. It lacks some clarity, is still a little laboured in places, but generally it kick-starts Cole’s series well, reintroduces us effectively to Young James Bond and is a solid action adventure. You can’t really quibble with that after all I only paid £1. Yes; cheap at the price and probably worth it.

4½ from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

HEADS YOU DIE
27/2/2019

2016

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Steve Cole’s Heads You Die bypasses any attempt to suggest it is set in a 1930s time-frame by opening with a daring night-time commando raid on a mysterious research centre. Cue lots of shooting, running and punching and a subsequent speedboat chase. It’s all thoroughly enjoyable. The only caveat being the main protagonist is a woman. While this fits neatly into our modern take on the world of spies and spying, I don’t believe it remotely resembles anything like a 1930s espionage world; not because I don’t believe there were female spies, but I don’t believe they would be trained for this kind of heightened violence, or that they would even be volunteered for such a dangerous duty. While the sacrificial demise of Sarila has some ‘cinematic’ value, it fails as a literary one because it is so out-of-step to the novel’s nominal location and period.

Sadly, this uneasy mix of modern expectations and traditional values persists throughout. The heroine, Jagua, is able to perform most of the tricks James Bond – certainly an adult one – would. She can shoot guns, drive cars and motorcycles, deep-sea dive, swear, curse, fight, plot and plan, and is out for a convoluted revenge as single-minded as some of OO7’s missions. To be honest, I rather bored of her abilities, and bored of Young Bond’s aimless traipsing after her. The novel brightens up considerably when he and his sidekick Hugo Grande are left to their own devises, although even here Cole seems to constantly forget Hugo is a dwarf and expects him to achieve the impossible; for example, he’s easily noticed by the bad guys at a stakeout and we’re constantly reminded he has to run to catch up. Hugo does have the benefit of sarcasm and constantly highlights the ridiculousness of the boy’s situation. He acts much like an absurd Greek chorus.

Hugo’s terribly posh infatuation with the tearaway man-girl Jagua is a dreadful read and felt distinctly untidy as well as feeling highly unlikely. Once again, young James is the hopeless suitor: we, the reader, know he should be hitting it off with Jagua virtually from when they meet – she’s the archetypal Honey Rider – but Cole wraps their earliest encounters in dialogue which would be familiar to anyone who’s watched Roger Moore’s interpretation of OO7 c.1977 - 1979. James is the patronising misfit-know-it-all and Jagua responds in kind. Hugo wins the maiden by virtue of speaking Spanish, so James wishes, ruefully, “he needs to get better at languages.” He needs to brush up on his wooing too. A second, waif-like teenager, Maritsa, virtually throws herself at him, and he hardly notices, chiefly because he can’t speak the lingo. Her reward is to become the proverbial sacrificial lamb – the villain’s poison her – but as her motives are actually self-serving our trio of heroes give her short-shift. We later learn she will both live and be forgiven.

So much for the teenagers. The adults are a rotten bunch. The novel starts a mere three weeks after the end of Shoot to Kill. James and Hugo are holidaying in Cuba, under the eye of his uncle Dr Gerald Hardiman, a genius microbiologist and a debt-ridden gambling addict, who sold out his share in a fortune to his one-time Amazon watercarrier. This poor-man-made-good is Jagua’s father, Scolopendra, named after a deadly centipede. He makes decisions using what appears to be a magic coin. It’s never explained if the coin is double-headed, but it always turns up heads and people always die when it does. Scolopendra is rash, brutish and unpleasant. So are his pair of toughs, the ugly Ramon and the granite fisted – literally – El Puño. The latter comes to a fiery end which suggests those kills for the S.I.S were not the first time Bond delivered a coup de grace. There’s a mysterious NKVD agent called La Velada, so called because she wears a veil, although its never explained why. I was rather pleased she escaped any likely demise because she seems too capable a presence not to revisit. All the other adults are noticeably incapable and are bested by James or Jagua at every turn. They meet suitable dooms. It’s a repetitive saga which eventually drags to an unfathomably longwinded ocean-bound finale.

Did I care for the outlandish bacteriological warfare plot? Well, yes, kind of, once we got there. It’s the sort of bizarre but curiously believable affair I’d expect to read in a contemporary Bond novel. It probably has basis in genuine chemical warfare. What I couldn’t fathom was why the Soviets would want to fund such an escapade so far from their homeland. Convenience only for the author, I suggest.

There’s a tremendous amount of action in this story and it wears the reader down. For instance, it’s never enough for anyone to simply drive from one place to another. They are always chased, always meet a road block, lose something, etc; I understand what Cole is doing as a storyteller, especially one for young minds, but life really doesn’t run so spectacularly badly. As an adult, Bond never had it so mindbogglingly rough as he does here; he always had time for a kip and a vodka martini. In Heads You Die, young James barely has time to breathe. The best section ought to be a sortie to Sarila’s sunken boat in an old-fashioned diving suit “vision little more than a rectangle of blackness… every nerve on edge” yet like all the other incidents, it’s sadly truncated and lacks all the panache of Fleming. Cole doesn’t even attempt to describe the undersea world. He’s more interested in the gore. By the time a couple of intruders appear [which is only about three pages into the scene] the moment of opportunity has passed. Like everything in the novel, if James breathes, something bad happens.

Early on, our hero reflects on his young life: “the past with all its pain, stalked the shadows like a hunter, never far behind. [He] chose not to confront it, to keep his gaze fixed ahead. What else were life’s struggles for, if not tomorrow?” This is rather neat, especially as by the end, he’s affirmed a new mantra: “Win or lose, life had to mean something… Even if he could catch every last light in the sky, it would never be enough.” If Young Bond is going to get all philosophical on us perhaps, given his propensity to danger, he ought to listen to Maritsa, the poor delusional stray who touches him for luck: “Life is what we do while we wait to die.”

Ultimately, Heads You Die has a bleak outcome; despite the physical triumphs everyone seems to be leaving the piece a little empty. There is, it appears, no joy in violence, no satisfaction in death and no thrill in the win.

3 from 10

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7

Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

STRIKE LIGHTNING
4/3/2019

2016

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Strike Lightning starts off with the bizarre death of a teenage rascal called Duncan, who appears to have witnessed the murderous onslaught of the mysterious ‘ghost soldiers’ before his untimely demise. This beginning poses the usual questions: who are the shadowy protagonists, what are they doing, what with and why? It takes almost the whole novel to unravel these riddles, lines of enquiry that are repeated again and again throughout the narrative. The prologue isn’t necessary, except as an exercise in terror for child readers, and Steve Cole doesn’t let up in his vivid, bloody descriptions for the remainder of the tale, necessary or not. The violence is so ‘in your face’ I was worried Young James Bond was starting to resemble the Adult Rated version. A little bit more fraternising between James and the delightful heroine Kitty Drift and this book would be a good match up for some of the more spectacular continuation novels.

That it isn’t so adult is more to do with the sci-fi storyline, which blends double-agent industrialists with mad scientists, with Nazi spies, with electrocharged ‘Steel Shadow’ fighting suits, with ghost trains, with eerie rubber proofed mansions. The metal fighting suit in particular annoyed me because it’s so obviously ripped off from the first Iron Man movie – and not in a good way. The description is of a cumbersome machine in which the nominal operator is strapped tight, half-drugged and fed instructions through a radio link. Its military purpose is never made explicitly clear. I simply didn’t believe the practicalities, the science or the likelihood of anyone developing such a contraption in 1934. The fact James and his best mate Perry both compare the crazed Prof Whittaker’s experiment to something from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein did not bode well.

The novel proper begins at Fettes, James’ new school, where he’s practising judo with Marcus Stephenson. There’s some fine conversation between James, Marcus and the returning Perry Mandeville as the three of them philosophise about the Great War, whether it is a good thing to lay down your life for your country; a modern theme for a 21st century readership. That Marcus appears to be murdered for just such a purpose – and the enemy’s purpose to boot – underlines that all is not sweetness and light at Fettes. It’s almost Christmas, James has been behaving splendidly, a model pupil at last, but Marcus’ sudden death sends he and Perry on a madcap enterprise, first to accidentally witness the test of a futuristic armoured fighting suit, and then to be locked on a container ship bound for Rotterdam, where the adventure truly kicks in.

The early scenes at Fettes build the story nicely and even with my sci-fi reservations-hat on, I couldn’t find much to fault here. It’s improbable, sure, but the author holds the reader’s attention with a good series of scenes, not all of which are action-driven. There’s more suspense and intrigue on show. The fact James keeps making ill-judged decisions is a portent for the rest of the novel [and his life?] too. He’s not quite as clear-headed as he thinks himself to be, often being the impulsive thrill-seeker: “A restlessness chewed away at him, a need for adventure. Sometimes it seemed that only with danger biting at his heels did he ever feel at home.” There were hints in Cole’s two previous titles that Young Bond is getting his life philosophy sorted and it manifests itself several times here. For instance, having watched Whittaker being shot dead, he “felt nothing, not even a sense of justice” and earlier when embarking on his ‘mission’ he recognises his life was and is being dictated by others, but the decisions ultimately are his: “you could choose how to live your life, by embracing a cause, the manner of your death.” James is a very driven, focused individual, even if those choices aren’t all going to plan. He also fights much more effectively than before. Cole has recognised his hero is physically bigger, stronger, more determined, full of stamina; he really is forming into the hero we know. I loved best of all a moment when he proves himself observant, mature and somewhat prescient when replying to Perry’s comment ‘filthy night for spying’ with the quip: “Filthy occupation.”

Having made it fortuitously and accidentally to Holland, James and Perry have the freakish luck to run into Kitty Drift, an obsessive train-spotter as well as a remarkably clear-headed individual, talents which come in very handy. There’s a series of chapters midway through the piece which are tremendously well written, the dialogue especially crackles between the three teenagers, and the action fizzes unstoppably. James gate-crashes a social function, witnesses murder, betrayal and treason then breaks into the villain’s mansion to pinch blueprints for the Steel Shadow. There are elements of high drama here, coupled with visual and verbal comedy, and a peculiar tension-packed chase around a leather-padded mansion jammed full of booby-traps. It holds together despite the preposterousness, because the telling is forcefully urgent. The presence of Herta Axmann, a German villainess of some substance and much vindictive anger aids matters. She’s obviously Cole’s attempt to mould a version of Fiona Volpe. It doesn’t quite come off. At eighteen, Axmann seems too young to be so fanatical and capable; she suffers, like Sarila in Heads You Die, from being portrayed in the wrong time frame.

The bad guy is another German nut-job called Konstantin Grünner, a minor despot who prowls his underground SS lair, treating his prisoners as doomed combatants in some weird gladiatorial contest involving these fanciful exo-suits. Grünner is something of a cliché, hence the climax becomes dull, despite everything being blown up. For his sins, Grünner is “roasted black, arms still reaching for the heavens from inside his metal coffin.” The real interest lies with Hepworth Blade, a twisted, deformed industrialist and weapons manufacturer who suffers from an incurable disease known, in layman’s language, as Stone Man Syndrome, the solidifying of his tendons and ligaments, an affliction which will eventually kill him once his muscles refuse to work. Blade knows time is not on his side and is filling each day on his crusade to “take any and all opportunities to create a better future.” This appears to be one under the Nazi swastika, but looks can always be deceptive.

James is learning that maxim the hard way. This is a phenomenally tough exercise for our youthful hero, but outside of the action the author has finally caught onto his central characters’ personality. There’s a fatalism to much of James’ thoughts; all is predestined, death lurks on every corner. It partly explains why he comes across as so ungallant when the winsome Kitty makes her obvious advances. We know James likes her, but a quick kiss is all they share. Frankly, he ought to get a slap.

I enjoyed Strike Lightning. It’s probably the best of Steve Cole’s adventure’s yet. It’s shorter, has plenty of punch at the right times and even if the sci-fi nature of the narrative skews the final few chapters towards the ridiculous, the characters hold up remarkably well. In particular, the insightful Kitty [“I thought perhaps you needed revenge” she says to Young Bond] is cut above the usual fare and its nice to have the stuttering Perry Mandeville back leading the Danger Society into unexpected peril. For a young audience, I think it works really well. Long may this sort of danger last.

5 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

I wonder if there are any James Bond books written which will be easier for people who do not read English good enough to read the Ian Fleming books? I listen to the books on audio books but would like to read also. I tried to read a couple of the Ian Fleming books but could not really understand enough to appreciate them. Perhaps there are books for younger people that I could read instead?

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

RED NEMESIS
26/4/2019

2017

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Red Nemesis won’t hold any surprises if you’ve read any of Steve Cole’s other Young Bond stories. If you’ve read my reviews, you’ll probably not be surprised by my feedback. This is very much a miss-and-hit affair.

The novel starts with two dreadful paragraphs which attempt to compare a thirteen-year old girl’s terror as she occupies the back seat of a speeding car with the ecstatic reaction of an audience to her ballet performance of Giselle. The car is driven by the girl’s father, the conscience-riven architect Kalashnikov, and Anya is unaware he plans to shatter her legs so she can no longer dance. There is a very complicated reason for this horrific act of child maiming, but I wasn’t convinced this scene should be so vividly imagined at the start of a book for young readers. That may sound a mite prissy; maybe I’m out of touch with the modern child, but there has developed throughout the Young Bond series a sense of the adult OO7 breaking through without any restraint. I first noticed it demonstrably way back in Charlie Higson’s Hurricane Gold and Steve Cole’s succeeding thrillers have done little to suggest otherwise.

I accept there were certainly horrific goings on in Fleming’s novels, but they were written for an adult audience. If you are going to write such vicious events for young readers, the prose needs to be toned down, the detail less macabre, there should be more implied violence and less actual visible physicality. It’s an easy excuse to say this is a book for 21st century youngsters, but I must maintain it is, essentially, still one for children or young adults. If I wanted to read this kind of stuff when I was a young teen, I had to read adult novels. I stopped reading ‘child’ or ‘teen’ fiction when I was about twelve, which is exactly the demographic this book is aimed at. Cole’s writing treads a very fine line between adult and young-adult fiction; so fine has that line become here, that I’d suggest the series needs to be wrapped up. In literary terms, there’s nowhere else for young James to go other than into the navy or the intelligence service; he simply won’t get his kicks from childish things anymore.

The problem with the novel isn’t that Cole revels in the action – the story at one point degenerates into an extended fist fight between James and the bearded heavy Karachan, so often do they end up scrapping – or the villain’s plot, which has all the far-reaching consequences you’d expect. No; it’s the route we take to the climax, a series of scavenger hunts referencing an impossible to decipher coded letter from James’ dead father. This feels inherently childish and reads like it most of the time.

Anya becomes James’ partner in chaos after her half-demented father is murdered by Mimic, a strange, fascinating, apparition-like youngster who is blessed with eidetic audial senses, allowing him to verbally impersonate anyone he hears. He also happens to be a psychopath, but that isn’t quite so interesting. Mimic is probably the best character in the book, by virtue of remaining so mysterious.

Anya evokes some sympathy. Her limp reminded me of Domino and the numerous heroines of Fleming or Gardner, all ‘birds with a wing down,’ seeking some solace in Bond’s arm, the hero being drawn to their vulnerability and surprised by their aptitude and courage. Same thing happens here and the young Russian proves very adept, particularly in Moscow, where she guides Bond through the streets as well as the grim statistics of Soviet era Russia. At one point, during a quiet moment on the run, snuggled under a tarpaulin hiding in a builder’s tent, the two youngsters discuss the effect of their parent’s actions. She is quite cynical; James is more sympathetic. This is a neat touch, because you’d expect the reverse: “The love and the hate, they lie inside and fight. Fight so hard they wear out, so that in the end you feel nothing.” Bond wistfully suggests he’d like to meet his dead father, just for a few minutes. This, claims Anya, is stupid and will only bring more pain. “Perhaps pain is what tells us we are alive,” remarks James. “You would make a good Russian,” suggests Anya. I like this exchange, as it allows the author to delve into the adult world of Bond, while still occupying the youthful soul. Later, Anya tells James he’s being “bred for battle.” This too feels very apt, especially in such an adult-feeling affair.

The Red Nemesis of the title is the returning character La Velada, who escaped at the end of Heads You Die. The Woman with the Veil is less effective this time out. I would have preferred a return of Babushka, from Higson’s output. The real bad guy, and I mean truly bad, is the turn-coat Elmhirst, an SIS agent who I thought was one of the angels. He turns especially nasty here and his treatment of James and Anya – keel-hauled off a surfaced submarine or beaten and stuffed in a box-like prison respectfully – has all the cheeriness of Fleming.

Elmhirst’s treachery is telegraphed from early on: James is surprised how calm the Englishman is when confronted with the bizarre tale of explosives buried beneath the Mechta Academy for Performing Arts. It also feels very unlikely, from what we know of him. It’s a convenient conspiracy for Cole. Elmhirst and James spend several days travelling to Moscow and these chapters are sub-par Fleming, evoking his style only by descriptive necessity. It’s a fantasy come true for James, but a pure fantasy for Cole, who has his characters blatantly discussing their mission in public and stuffing rolled up sheaves of banknotes in their socks. The author several times mentions “the roar of traffic” seeming to forget there wasn’t very much traffic on Soviet or even British roads in the 1930s. Little slips, but obvious.

There are though, two interesting asides from Elmhirst which do resonate. While reorganising their hotel rooms, he tells James: “It’s all about who you know, Bond. Who you know, what they can do for you and how you can get them on your side.” This sits very well with the adult persona of James Bond and it seems a pity the advice comes from the mouth of an antagonist. Elmhirst also admits he’s seen something fervent in young James and he offers words of encouragement and caution which, rather like Mimic, seem to impersonate Ian Fleming’s world of spies and the soft life:

“When you find something that stirs your soul the way danger stirs yours, something out of the ordinary that gives you purpose, keep hold… you’ll chase after gold and you’ll chase after love, but when you get them, and keep them, the thrill goes. It rots into comfort. Danger on the other hand, danger won’t let you catch it. You can chase it your whole life, but it’ll never be done with you.”

There’s more than enough action in Red Nemesis to keep the outlandish plot and schoolboy shenanigans ticking over for 300 pages. It’s a swift read, spoilt by its gratuitous violence, and enlivened by some mindful character insight. I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend it, which fairly sums up my attitude to all four of Steve Cole’s novels.

This quadropoly is too violently adult for young readers, while not being explicit enough in detail for older youngsters. For instance, he’s quite prepared to mention the sliced and bloodied throat or a garrotted victim, but he doesn’t even tell us if his heroines have developed breasts. While the novels do share some more nuanced insight, they are shoe-horned by definition into not being adult enough for adults. It’s a line Higson also struggled with, but he seemed able to concoct a tale for teens without lurching too far into nastiness. Steve Cole seems to write for the modern Play Station generation and that opens multiple cans of worms which he never quite seems able or willing to resolve.

4 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

chrisno1 wrote:

For instance, he’s quite prepared to mention the sliced and bloodied throat or a garrotted victim, but he doesn’t even tell us if his heroines have developed breasts.

That’s one of the weirdest and possibly most disturbing sentences I’ve ever read on here. I don’t get where you’re coming from at all with that one.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

Perhaps a contender for a Booby prize ?  ajb007/wink

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

emtiem wrote:
chrisno1 wrote:

For instance, he’s quite prepared to mention the sliced and bloodied throat or a garrotted victim, but he doesn’t even tell us if his heroines have developed breasts.

That’s one of the weirdest and possibly most disturbing sentences I’ve ever read on here. I don’t get where you’re coming from at all with that one.

I'm just suggesting if the author considers it acceptable to be so vicious and vivid in his descriptions of death, essentially given from James' POV, he might consider the young man's eyes will also stray elsewhere.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

Thunderpussy wrote:

Perhaps a contender for a Booby prize ?  ajb007/wink

ajb007/lol  ajb007/lol  ajb007/lol

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

chrisno1 wrote:
emtiem wrote:
chrisno1 wrote:

For instance, he’s quite prepared to mention the sliced and bloodied throat or a garrotted victim, but he doesn’t even tell us if his heroines have developed breasts.

That’s one of the weirdest and possibly most disturbing sentences I’ve ever read on here. I don’t get where you’re coming from at all with that one.

I'm just suggesting if the author considers it acceptable to be so vicious and vivid in his descriptions of death, essentially given from James' POV, he might consider the young man's eyes will also stray elsewhere.

That still sounds a bit creepy to me to be honest! I kind of get what you're saying, but I'm not sure you can complain that you think the writing of the book is inappropriate whilst simultaneously wishing for descriptions of pubescent breast growth! ajb007/smile

Last edited by emtiem (27th Apr 2019 17:44)

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Re: Bond Continuation Novels Vol. 3

emtiem wrote:
chrisno1 wrote:
emtiem wrote:

That’s one of the weirdest and possibly most disturbing sentences I’ve ever read on here. I don’t get where you’re coming from at all with that one.

I'm just suggesting if the author considers it acceptable to be so vicious and vivid in his descriptions of death, essentially given from James' POV, he might consider the young man's eyes will also stray elsewhere.

That still sounds a bit creepy to me to be honest! I kind of get what you're saying, but I'm not sure you can complain that you think the writing of the book is inappropriate whilst simultaneously wishing for descriptions of pubescent breast growth! ajb007/smile

Point taken; maybe I was having a momentary humour failure. If you read my novels, you'll find humour isn't my strong point.