Devil May Care

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. With both the James Bond books and films, audiences accept the fact that, in the end, Bond will survive, the master plans will be foiled and the criminal either dead or on the run. The appeal lies in the action during the chase, the beautiful women, the intelligence and ruthlessness of the villains, and in seeing how much trouble Bond can get in before managing his escape. Since the ending is a given, I will be a bit more liberal in my plot description. Therefore, if you wish to avoid possible spoilers, stop now and just know that Faulks’ first attempt at a Bond novel is well-paced, but not spectacular.

Bond is brought back early from one of his sabbaticals in order to investigate an industrial pharmacologist, Dr. Julius Gorner, who has plans to turn England into a country of drug addicts. Also appealing for Bond’s help is a Paris banker named Scarlett Papava, whose sister, Poppy, is being held captive by Gorner. The adventure leads them to Tehran and then onward to Gorner’s secret factory in the Iranian desert. After being captured, they learn that Gorner’s impatience means that he has designed alternate plans in order to speed up the destruction of England. You know what comes next.

The holders of the Bond franchise are attempting to return the character to its original edginess and to take advantage of today’s interest in nostalgia both in the films with Daniel Craig and by having Faulks try to capture the style of Ian Fleming in the books. The story combines many elements of the early Bond stories including Dr. No (Gorner and No share the same first name and a lack of manual dexterity covered by a glove), Goldfinger (an athletic first meeting between Gorner and Bond and Gorner’s use of an Asian henchman), and Live and Let Die (attacking the West with narcotics). Set during the Vietnam War, there are many references to Bond’s earlier assignments. Some readers will appreciate the effort to integrate this story into the character’s timeline, but I found their overuse to be distracting.

Even worse is the fact that Faulk’s two main characters besides Bond aren’t consistent. Gorner seems to contradict himself. At one point when he has Bond in his clutches, he says, “I’m not one of those idiots who looks for a protracted or picturesque death for their arch-enemy.” Yet, he had kept Bond alive for several days after capturing him and then sent him to die in a massive plane crash. And Scarlett also has nonsensical moments. She creates a fictional sister in peril in order to get Bond to help her find Gorner, but knows Bond’s on assignment to find him anyway and needs no additional incentive beyond completing his mission because she’s actually the new 004, working for M as well. Then, as they’re planning their final escape in the desert, she insists they save her non-existent sister; a request that Bond ignores because he already suspects that Poppy isn’t real. Further, the idea of a woman advancing to the double-0 level in the very conservative British Secret Service by the early 1970s seems a bit too much.

Despite these flaws, this first entry from Faulks is a fine summer read and an acceptable addition to the post-Fleming Bond novels, though I still prefer many of the John Gardner books over this one. If your summer includes time for a trip, then VisitBritain has created a Bond itinerary for fans to follow while in England.

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