While the films had only a simple alteration in the chronological continuity in 2006 with the reboot given by Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond, the novels’ continuity after Raymond Benson stopped writing for the Ian Fleming estate has been more irregular. In 2008, to celebrate Ian Fleming’s centenary, we had Sebastian Faulks writing Devil May Care, setting 007 right up where Fleming left him in 1965 and sending him to Persia. Jeffrey Deaver took the golden pen in 2011 and wrote Carte Blanche, where a 33 year old Bond fought terrorism as he handled a Q-Branch issued iPhone as he went from Dubai to South Africa. In 2013, James Bond went back to the past in William Boyd’s Solo, where a revenge mission sent him to Africa and Washington DC.
Reluctant to admit Ian Fleming’s spy would be 92 years old today if born in 1924 as his creator noted, in 2015 IFP hired Anthony Horowitz to write a new Bond novel set in 1957, weeks after the events of the seventh 007 book Goldfinger. The big deal here is that the highlight of the novel does not come from Horowitz, but from Fleming himself: one of the book chapters is directly based on Murder on Wheels, a treatment for a discarded TV series where the spy has to avoid an attack on Stirling Moss at the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.
After investigating Ivan Dimitrov, a ruthless Russian racer with ties to SMERSH, M sends Bond to take a place in the Gran Prix in one of the most dangerous racetracks in the world. It appears that the soviets want to show their engineering supremacy at all cost, even if that means causing a fatal crash: in this case, British playboy racer Lancey Smith.
Sat in the same Maserati 250F driven by Juan Manuel Fangio – the Argentine legend who won the real-life 1957 race in Nürburgring – Bond does the possible and the impossible to bring down Dimitrov and save Smith’s life. This is perhaps one of the most adrenaline charged chapters in the whole novel, so good you’d wish to see it on the big screen at one point. It’s hard to tell how many words in this chapter belong to Fleming and how many belong to Horowitz, but the description of the racetracks, the crowds in attendance and the tension felt in the air really make you feel like if you were right there.
James Bond then comes across with a South Korean businessman, Sin Jai-Seong. Suspiciously close to Colonel Gaspanov, the new head of SMERSH, Sin is respected in the United States as a renowned businessman but hides a complete resentment to the Americans, as a survivor of the No Gun Ri massacre during the Korean War in 1950.
After the lack of personality of the villains in Carte Blanche and Solo, an evil mastermind is more than welcome in a Bond novel. Sin has a commanding presence and is bad to the bone, picking horrible deaths for his enemies through his modified Hanafuda cards with atrocious ways to die written over them. As you read the death he plans for 007 – one of the spookiest deaths imaginably – you’ll wonder how none of the other authors or screenwriters thought of it before and you keep wondering how our hero is going to get out of it.
Unlike the villain, the love interest for Bond in Trigger Mortis is a bit less interesting. Jeopardy Lane, a woman with a tough childhood, may not be your typical 1950s kind of girl: she resists to the charms of 007 for a long time and is capable of doing stunts in her bike, but other than that she lacks the mystique of the Fleming heroines like Tiffany Case, Vesper Lynd or Gala Brand – the kind of girls that are described and act like out-of-this-world women in the words of the original Bond author.
Horowitz does a very good imitation of Fleming’s style in some pages, mainly in the description of the villain: “He was dressed entirely in black: jacket, barathea trousers, roll-neck jersey. With his black hair and olive skin, he appeared almost as a silhouette of himself”. The structure of the book is short and concise, while the villain’s main scheme (dealing with a rocket launch at Whallops Island) and the classic “dinner with the villain” moment undoubtedly takes after Dr No, both the book and the film. Yet, the author is wise enough to give us some twists, particularly on the very last pages of the novel.
One of the most publicized aspects of Trigger Mortis was the return of Pussy Galore. That is a nice touch and her appearance is welcome, yet the character adds up nothing to the main story and her role feels more of a cameo to bring up memories from Goldfinger.
While the book is set in the late 1950s, the characterizations and the layout of the story are a strong proof that Trigger Mortis was written in 2015. So are the values of Bond and his female counterpart in their relationship and in the way each character relates to others.
To summarize, Anthony Horowitz’s novel for the James Bond book series is like a more dynamic and entertaining version of Dr No. It’s nothing out of this world, but it’s filled of thrills, twists lots of action paragraphs delightful for anyone who enjoys the adventures Ian Fleming’s character either in the big screen or the pages of a book.
SOME EXTRA NOTES: Sorry for the big delay, I know it’s been almost a year after the book was published, but Trigger Mortis wasn’t released in Spain and therefore not in Argentina. Thanks to a very good friend, I got this book in my mailbox some time ago and I managed to read a full novel in English and understand most of it (something that has always been difficult for me). On the other hand, two things to thank Anthony Horowitz for: first, I’m thankful you put Bond in exactly the place same place as Fangio and he even pulled the same “trick” with the fuel. Second, you have cited your sources and that includes three informative James Bond books – that is a great nod to the fans and speaks very well of you. Thank you, Mr. Horowitz!