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Review: `Devil May Care` will fail to satisfy avid readers - Bloomberg

30-May-2008 • Literary

James Bond Gets Crotchety, M Does Yoga, Tuuli Has Catsuit: Book - "Devil May Care" review by Bloomberg.

Nobody can accuse Sebastian Faulks of lacking courage. For his latest work, the British author who brought us ``Birdsong'' is attempting the literary equivalent of leaping off a giant dam or steering a speed boat through the window of an office tower and into the Thames. It's the kind of stunt that, tried in real life, could prove fatal.

The exploit in question is ``Devil May Care,'' a new James Bond novel produced by ``Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming,'' as the jacket puts it. The stakes are high.

The book is being promoted with the hoopla usually reserved for a blockbuster movie, complete with supermodel Tuuli Shipster stalking the deck of a British warship in a red catsuit. And Faulks is attempting to recreate an author who, at least in terms of his impact on popular culture, could claim to rank among the most influential English writers of the postwar era. Fleming, who died in 1964, was born 100 years ago this week.

Does the book really merit the hullabaloo?

Faulks has certainly assembled the tools necessary for the task at hand. He's got the gin and the vermouth. Unfortunately, he's a couple of olives short of the full martini.

His sentences are sparse and punchy, just like the original books about agent 007. Bond is cruel, acerbic, snobbish and lecherous. The villain is a batty megalomaniac with a strange physical deformity. Miss Moneypenny flirts and M grumps. The plot races along like an Aston Martin DB5.

Golf-Club Bore

Yet Faulks didn't quite get the measure of his task. The big problem is his decision to set the book in 1967, casting Bond as a grumpy middle-aged man moaning about the swinging '60s.

Bond is a character capable of constant reinvention, which is why so many different actors have played him so differently yet -- with the exception of poor old Timothy Dalton -- so successfully. Of all the different guises for Bond, though, golf-club bore seems particularly unfortunate.

``London seemed to have gone slightly off its head in the time he'd been away,'' Bond notes as he drives through London. ``Every zebra crossing on the King's Road was packed with long- haired young people, ambling across, standing and talking or, in one remarkable case, sitting cross-legged in the road.''

When 007 reaches the office, Moneypenny informs him that M has taken up yoga.

``Has the whole world gone raving mad in my absence?'' splutters Bond, who seems to grow wearier and wearier, even when he finds the heroine, Scarlett Papava, in his Paris hotel room.

``Bond had never encountered a British female agent before, but it was just like SIS to think they must `move with the times,''' writes Faulks.

Babe-Licious Agent

But surely we all know what Bond thinks when he finds a babe-licious secret agent in his hotel room: It's something a tad earthier than a rant about political correctness.

Besides, all the grousing about the '60s is out of character. The whole point about Bond was his joyous embrace of modernity. There was nothing fuddy-duddy about him. If his author had lived to see the summer of love, Bond would have applauded. Free love? It sounds right up his street.

Filmmakers have studiously avoided setting the Bond movies in the past. As decades roll by, 007 remains the same gent pulling the same athletic stunts in contemporary times. As soon as you set Bond in the past, he becomes an antique. And that's the one thing he isn't.

This isn't a bad book by any means. It's an enjoyable pastiche. The whole enterprise reeks of professionalism if not a huge amount of passion. It's just hard to see the point.

If you want a Bond book, pick up ``From Russia, With Love.'' If you want to sample Faulks, read ``Birdsong.'' And if you want a modern hardware-and-babes thriller, try Andy McNab or Chris Ryan. Stranded somewhere between these three genres, ``Devil May Care'' will fail to satisfy avid readers of any of them.

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