12 November 2010

"Devil May Care" by Sebastian Faulks

The actual product looks a
lot better than this scan.
Devil May Care
Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
Date of Publication: 28 May 2008
Cover Price: $24.95
278 pages

When I learned of this book in 2007 I was instantly excited.  A new Bond novel!  Then I learned that it was meant to be a continuation of Ian Fleming's original novel series, which I hadn't finished.  I wasn't willing to risk spoiling any of his novels, nor was I willing to break from my self-imposed restriction of reading only one Fleming Bond novel annually, so it wasn't until I finished Octopussy this summer that I was finally able to read Devil May Care without trepidation.

The first thing that catches anyone's attention is the odd writing credit, "writing as Ian Fleming."  Allegedly, Faulks did his best to conform to Fleming's legendary writing schedule: Spend a month writing in the morning, break for lunch, write some more in the afternoon and not revising a thing until the entire manuscript was finished.  So the question becomes: Other than writing on Fleming's schedule, what does "writing as Ian Fleming" actually mean?

I've never read any of Faulks's works so I can't say how representative of his style this novel is, but he clearly made an attempt to capture not just the ideas of an Ian Fleming Bond novel, but Fleming's style as well.  The literary Bond began life as a "blunt instrument" for the machinations of the Cold War.  He's resourceful without being an expert on every conceivable topic.  He's tough without being superhuman.  He's a recognizable person, unlike the cartoon that his cinematic counterpart has often been.  When I read Raymond Benson's Bond novels, published during Pierce Brosnan's tenure as 007, they felt like companion pieces to those four films.  I saw Brosnan in my head when reading them.  To Faulks's credit, when I read Devil May Care pictured the faceless yet recognizable Bond that I found in Fleming's pages.  From time to time, I did imagine Sean Connery or Daniel Craig delivering particular lines.

The premise is that Dr. Julian Gorner operates a global pharmaceutical business.  In true Ian Fleming fashion, Gorner also has a physical malady (his right hand is that of an ape) and his successful business is a front for a far more insidious endeavor.  Gorner's facilities are also hard at work producing heroin, in an effort to subvert social order through addiction.  On top of all that, as Bond learns through his investigation, Gorner has a plan in the offing to precipitate a nuclear war.

Faulks's plot is clearly in the Fleming mold; we immediately recall Dr. No's guano business in Jamaica used as a cover for tampering with U.S. rocket trials or Auric Goldfinger's smelting facilities being used to smuggle gold internationally.  He tries to do a bit too much, though, connecting events from Vietnam to 9/11 (implied, of course; never clearly stated, as the novel takes place in the 1960s).  Some of the connections in the novel make sense and serve the story well, but others are too much and smack of a glorified conspiracy theory.  I suppose that's the danger in writing a retro spy story.

Ultimately, Devil May Care is a well-intentioned, above-average read.  I think it could have used some tweaking, but it never breaks from the conventions established by Fleming.  The final act felt too recycled for my taste, and I could have done with less name-dropping of previous Bond stories and characters.  It might have been a bit much to bring in Felix Leiter, but Fleming himself was fairly shameless about inventing reasons to reunite Bond with his CIA pal so I give Faulks a pass here.  Rene Mathis is back, but not quite recognizable as the Mathis we met in Casino Royale.  This guy is more aloof and selfish; less the charming pseudo-mentor that he was in Fleming's novels.  Perhaps this was meant to tie into the cinematic Mathis of the Daniel Craig era.

Is it a mandatory addition to a Bond fan's library?  Hard to say.  I liked it more than, say, Moonraker but it's still a Bond novel not written by Ian Fleming.  The pace is brisk and at 278 pages it doesn't try to do too much.  Fleming always said his novels were meant to be consumed in a setting or two, likely on a train commute, and Devil May Care fits that kind of reading schedule.

Kudos, incidentally, to Rodrigo Corral and Mark Stutzman for their work on the U.S. hardcover release dust jacket design and illustration, respectively.  You may not be able to tell it from the cover art image I've posted here, but it's a nice looking design.

No comments:

Post a Comment