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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Book review - Forever and a Day

Anthony Horowitz’s prequel to Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Forever and a Day (2018) starts with M making the observation, ‘So, 007 is dead.’ Of course it isn’t James Bond who is deceased but the unnamed previous incumbent with that Double-O number.  A neat touch, that.

This is Horowitz’s second foray into the James Bond universe, having earlier treated us to Trigger Mortis (2015) – reviewed here

Where the earlier book took place in 1957, shortly after Goldfinger, this one takes us to early 1950s, the beginning of Bond’s career as the new 007; there are only three Double-O men – 008, 0011 and 007, it seems; M deplored using sequential numbers (p4). M’s Chief of Staff reveals that 007 was murdered in the south of France, in Marseille. He’d been investigating the Corsican underworld in the area. ‘It seems that there was a woman involved.’ To which M replies, ‘There always is.’ Dry humour, just the right note. The woman is called Madame 16 or Sixtine, a one-time worker at Bletchley Park and subsequently an agent in SOE. As 008 was still out of action (hospitalised) and 0011 was in Miami, it was deemed necessary to send the new 007 to dig around – James Bond.

Eventually, Bond finds himself in Monte Carlo, playing Vingt-et-un against Sixtine. An amusing aside when a croupier mutters, among other appropriate phrases, Carré, doubtless Horowitz’s nod to John Le Carré. (p59) This scene is also an homage to Fleming’s lengthy discourse in Casino Royale.

We’re made privy to the origin of Bond’s vodka martini being shaken, not stirred (p70); another nice touch. As for his cigarettes, he was introduced to Morlands’ coffin nails in preference to his Du Maurier ‘named after a minor British actor.’ (p122) Finally, we see how Bond acquires his trade-mark gunmetal cigarette case, which also masterfully explains the book title. (p169)

There are two villains, Scipio a grossly overweight Corsican and rich industrialist Irwin Wolfe. Scipio delivers Bond a trenchant speech via a translator: ‘… the arrogance of the British. You are a tiny island with bad weather and bad food also but you still think you rule the world… you are becoming irrelevant…’ (104) Maybe he was an early scriptwriter for the EU negotiators?

Inevitably, Bond is faced with grim ‘torture’, which is only to be expected. However, more than once he seems to escape through no guile of his own; I won’t say more. This didn’t spoil the book for me; I perhaps was hoping for more, which may be my failing.

Horowitz also adopts the Fleming style of chapter headings, often playing with words, among them Killing by Numbers, Russian Roulette, Not So Joliette, Shame Lady, Love in a Warm Climate, Pleasure… or Pain? and Death at Sunset.

Yet again he has captured the flavour and tone of Fleming while adding his own stamp to the proceedings. Initially,

I wasn’t impressed by the title, Forever and a Day, but it makes complete sense now that I’ve read the book. It’s also the title of a 1943 film.

The cover is excellent, the luxury yacht resembling a deadly bullet!

I ended my review of Trigger Mortis with the hope of seeing another Horowitz 007 novel, and despite a few caveats he has not disappointed. I look forward to the next.

Editorial comment

Repetition. On page 33 we’re told ‘Bill Tanner, M’s chief of staff and a man Bond knew well.’
Then on p35 we read: ‘The two men knew each other well.’ The editor should have spotted this, and a few other minor points below…

Clumsy wording: ‘Bond was holding the envelope that he had found in his right hand.’ (p49) At the bottom of p48 we know Bond is holding an envelope which he’d just found. Had he just found it in his right hand?

‘Then he slumped to the ground.’  (p49) This is in an apartment, so it should be ‘floor’ not ‘ground’.

‘… punctuated by a slither of silver moonlight.’ (p144) I’d reckon that should be ‘sliver’.

Consistency. At one point we have eyeglasses (p103), and at another spectacles (p54).

‘His ankles were also secured to the legs of the solid wooden chair…’ And yet further down the same page, ‘Bond hadn’t moved or opened his eyes. (p100) But he knows it’s a solid wooden chair…? Okay, just maybe…

As Bond is ex-Royal Navy, and it’s mostly his point of view, when he’s aboard Wolfe’s luxurious vessel, he wouldn’t note ‘submarine-style hatches’ but simply hatches. (p140). Again, ‘the letter R was printed on the wall one floor down.’ (243) But these are bulkheads and decks, even if in a luxury ship!

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