William Boyd - Solo (3 stars)

William Boyd - Solo

Boyd's candid depiction of espionage comes very much at 007’s expense

(Jonathan Cape)

The beauty of Ian Fleming’s 007 series was the class of his writing, a certain polish that came from a life not far removed from Bond’s. However, after Fleming's premature death in 1964, and following the success of the Bond film franchise beginning with Sean Connery in Dr No, there have been attempts to recapture the author's mastery of the written word.

William Boyd, author of award winning spy novel Restless, was an obvious choice to continue the mantle of capturing Bond on the page – and whilst the last novel, Devil May Care, was written by Sebastian Faulks 'as Ian Fleming', Boyd’s take, Solo, is entirely his own.

Boyd's Bond is depicted as battle-weary, nearing the end of a career as the secret service’s greatest spy. He finds himself thrust back into the fray, embroiled in a volatile conflict in Africa. A smattering of beautiful women, an appropriate psychopath and a few expertly chosen drinks orders completes the idea that this is a Bond novel, but there are too many areas where Solo fails to justify the continued use of Fleming’s legacy.

There are instances where Bond worries about his cigarette habit, swears nonchalantly (something that Fleming would never have printed explicitly) and lacks much of the suave invulnerability that Fleming’s character possessed in the originals. There is no clear antagonist – the only real manifestation of Bond’s foes is a ruthless mercenary with a penchant for hanging people on meat hooks by their lower jaw. There are flashes of Bond, but he is off the boil for most of Solo.

It’s a clear attempt to bring Bond to the present – a cold war throwback finding himself in a different type of conflict in a changing world – but Bond’s modern approaches are simply boring. Much of the story ambles along as he clandestinely observes his enemies, interspersed with brief open conflict. Boyd’s novel is well written, with his experience of living in Africa giving a vibrant color to his depictions of the nation, but his more candid depiction of espionage is very much at 007’s expense.

William Boyd: Solo

The writer discusses his new Bond novel and what it's like being the latest of Ian Fleming's many successors.

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