The thing about the James Bond continuation novels is this. There comes a moment in each of the books when the author makes a misstep that jars.
The result? As a reader I am taken out of the story completely. So, I wondered, how long it would be until the first misstep in Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s latest addition to the series.
It took a few pages in Sebastian Faulks’s Devil May Care (2008). It was there right from the start of Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche (2011) because of the reboot. And Bond didn’t quite seem Bond from the very first paragraph of William Boyd’s Solo (2013) either. Although I enjoyed all three books, they were a long way from what I’d consider a good James Bond novel.
Going back further, Kingsley Amis certainly knew Bond, but Colonel Sun (1968) wasn’t always quite right. John Pearson’s fictional 1973 biography of 007 is entertaining, but also sometimes misses the mark. And John Gardner’s novels didn’t do it for me at all. I can’t comment on Raymond Benson though; his James Bond Bedside Companion (1984) shows he knows Bond, but so far I haven’t read any of his Bond novels.
And so to Trigger Mortis. How long does it take for Anthony Horowitz to lose this reader?
Actually Trigger Mortis turns out to be the best continuation novel to date and while I have some minor quibbles with the book, nothing jolted me out of the story.
It is fast paced and contains some extremely exciting action. It’s a James Bond novel so the reader can be pretty sure James Bond makes it to the end. But how he escapes from the various perilous situations to which Horowitz subjects him got my adrenaline racing. The villain has a good back story too, explained in the almost obligatory monologue as he explains himself to 007.
The novel is the first continuation novel to include material by Ian Fleming, a sub-plot involving SMERSH’s plan to murder a British racing driver. M sends Bond to Germany’s famous Nürburgring circuit to foil the plot.
The story was written by Fleming for an aborted US television show. He later reworked a number of stories for the short story collection For Your Eyes Only (1960). While the motor racing scenes are exciting, I wonder if Fleming didn’t rework the story for a reason. It doesn’t seem conceivable that Bond, with just a few days’ tuition, is able to improve his driving skills to Grand Prix standard, no matter how talented.
Set two weeks after the events of Goldfinger (1958), iconic Bond girl Pussy Galore makes a return at the start of the book. While well publicised, it is unnecessary to the book, which may have benefited from leaving her as nothing but a memory.
Otherwise Horowitz avoids cramming in too many of Bond’s habits, tastes and idiosyncrasies. Ian Fleming drip fed us that information over fourteen books, but some of the other continuation authors lay it on with too heavy a hand.
The other quibbles are down to small details. In Trigger Mortis uses an orange and bergamot shaving cream from Floris. Fleming only mentioned Palmolive and I can’t help feeling that the Floris shaving cream just isn’t Bond.
And in the next paragraph Bond picks a double-ended grey satin tie to wear with a dark suit. In Fleming’s books, with just a couple of exceptions when undercover, Bond always wears a thin black knitted silk tie. What is more, a double-ended satin tie would be a bow tie. Fleming describes a black double-ended satin tie in Casino Royale, worn with evening wear.
I’ve also been told that Bond would not have read a story on the front page of The Times, as described by Horowitz. In 1957, when the book is set the front age was given over to births, marriages and deaths, the personal column and other small announcements.
But this is being picky. Overall Trigger Mortis is a thrilling book and a worthy addition to the James Bond series. And maybe it is time for Ian Fleming Publications to start thinking whether they should invite Anthony Horowitz back to write another James Bond novel.