The first part is uneventful and is unlikely to hook modern-day thriller readers. The tone and style are leisurely, like some of the Bond works, but they held the attention, this barely does that. Apart from a bloody dream/risen memory of D-Day events in France, Bond is not involved in any action. He meets an attractive woman and inadvertently becomes a voyeur. Boyd’s writing a novel, it would seem, not a thriller. I’ve read Boyd’s books and they’re good. This is a disappointment, in contrast.
The next part of Solo quickly sets up Bond to go on a mission to West Africa, to stop a war. Not strictly true, as a civil conflict has been going on for two years, but now it’s dragging on, the military genius in Dahum unexpectedly holding off superior numbers of Zanzarim forces. Bond was to neutralise the military man, Adeka. The background is provided in one of those page-long paragraphs beloved of Fleming.
Bond’s journey into the dark heart of (fictitious) Zanzarim is well told, with plenty of atmosphere and feel for the country (as one would expect from the author of An Ice Cream War). A potential villain materialises about a third of the way into the book – Kobus Breed, the man with two faces; he has an unpleasant method of dealing with dead enemies, but he’s a poor kind of villain for James Bond. There may be other villains, but they’re shadowy figures, barely realised. The women aren’t as striking as Fleming’s, and not as memorable. Some aspects of the Bond character have been captured well, yet others not so: ‘Peering through the (gun)-sight… made him feel like an assassin.’ Odd that, him being a Double-O agent.
There are double crosses, deaths, close shaves and yet the flavour of the originals is not there. Maybe it’s Fleming’s cold sadism, putting his hero through the mill. Yes, Bond gets mauled but it lacks emotional involvement from the reader. ‘Bond felt that weary heart-sink, that heaviness of loss.’ As far as emotion goes, this is tell, not show. Bond was a world-weary traveller and in this book we only travel from the exotic continent of Africa to Washington DC, from one kind of jungle to another. Maybe the world has shrunk so that there are no longer any places he hasn’t been to (even in 1969)?
Usually, Boyd is good at capturing a period. Sadly, I didn’t get such a strong feel for 1969. Two concessions: an aside about man landing on the moon and also Bond went to view the September 1969 film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice; but he left before the end – as if the bed-hopping it concerned palled! This is the year when the UK and Rhodesia severed diplomatic ties (June), a Kenyan minister is assassinated (July), the Prague Spring crushed (August), My Lai massacre arrests (September), Washington protests against Vietnam War (November), all events that would create political and news waves.
The writing was accomplished in parts, and the narrative just kept me turning the pages, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of anti-climax, because I wasn’t emotionally involved. And I felt the ending was rushed and we were left in the air for the next adventure from Boyd. But, sadly on this offering, I hope not.
Editing comments. No book, mine included, is without error. However, considering the known anticipation and expectation this book engendered, I’d have thought the editors would have tried harder.
p.11. He was searching his pockets for his keys when the door opened… [James Bond doesn’t know where he put his keys? Really? He is a man of habit. Even if distracted, he could find his keys blindfold, I’m sure!]
P19. Bond turned left (in his car) before Richmond Bridge. He went into a post office… [Presumably this was a drive-in post office? Lazy visuals.]
P20. He thought to himself. [He does this a lot, thinking to himself. Who else could he think to? He thought is enough – though even that is superfluous if, as we are, we’re in his POV.]
P32. What age would M be, Bond found himself wondering? [Apart from the misplaced question mark, this is odd. Why is he thinking this now, after all the years he’s worked with M? Padding.]
P73. … deciding to wear… with suede desert boots on his feet.’ [Where else would he wear desert boots?]
P85. … her dark nipples perfectly round, like coins.’ [I suspect Bond meant aureoles rather than nipples? A nipple is the button within the aureole.]
P293. Up to here, most of the chapter headings are similar to the style of Fleming. This one goes amiss, however – ‘A spy on vacation’. It’s short (2 pages) and there is no vacation mentioned!
The pages of plot exposition at the end between Felix and Bond is just too much.
The ending was contrived and illogical. He suspects an intruder, someone out to kill him, might have tracked him to the home of a woman. He decides to write the woman out of his life so she won’t be a target. But it seems a bit late to do that, if the intruder was already aware of her relationship?