Devil May Care

Was it Denise Richards playing the world’s ditziest nuclear physicist in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough? Or the sight of James Bond surfing down the face of a melting glacier in 2002’s Die Another Day? A few years ago, something convinced the keepers of 007 that their now-cartoonish superagent needed a total rejoin-us-back-on-planet-Earth reboot. First came 2006’s Casino Royale, a prequel praised for the casting of Daniel Craig as a colder but more vulnerable and realistic Bond — a man much closer to Ian Fleming’s original literary creation. Now, on the occasion of Fleming’s 100th birthday, and in an even balder attempt to bring Bond back to his roots, Fleming’s estate has commissioned Devil May Care, a new 007 outing by literary novelist Sebastian Faulks ”writing as Ian Fleming.”

Devil, then, is meant to feel like a book Fleming himself penned right after his last credited Bond novel, 1966’s The Man With the Golden Gun. It doesn’t, of course. It’s probably impossible to write a 007 thriller today without being influenced by 45 years of franchise movies. Devil reads more like a novelization of a super-progressive old-school Bond film than a long-lost original by Fleming, whose books were generally tougher and more literary than Faulks’ more cinematic re-creation. That said, the new book is a near-effortless read, and considerable fun. Set in 1967 (the Rolling Stones have just been busted on their ”Redlands” drug charges), the opening finds Bond in the midst of a three-month sabbatical, eating grilled fish in Barbados, still bruised from his encounter with Scaramanga in Golden Gun, and contemplating retirement. ”You’re tired,” he tells himself, standing naked in front of a mirror. ”You’re played out. Finished.”

That’s about as deep as the psychological verisimilitude gets. Before long, Bond is back in mindless action, romancing the deliciously dirty-named, lily-of-the-valley-scented mystery woman Scarlett Papava while also hunting a maniacal Oxford-educated heroin dealer who sports an honest-to-God monkey’s paw (”deep with simian lines”) for a left hand. Best of all, there’s retro charm when Bond swims into enemy territory wearing only a swimsuit and — nice touch — a commando knife strapped below the knee. Faulks’ writing is fine (Bond’s bloodshot eyes ”retained, despite the spidery red traces, their cold, slightly cruel, sense of purpose”). But, unlike Fleming at his best, he doesn’t quite elevate the boyish material above the bar of dignified nonsense. It’s both a compliment and a complaint that you could see this book turned into a Roger Moore Bond movie, no problem. B

Devil May Care
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