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Sebastian Faulks under cover as James Bond

04-Jun-2008 • Literary

Page 192 of Sebastian Faulks's James Bond novel finds his evil genius, Dr Julius Gorner, musing on the nature of villainy. Although Gorner has opted for heroin and high explosives as his chosen instruments for achieving global domination, he reveals that he once considered buying up newspapers instead - reports The Telegraph.

'Suppose I had bought the most distinguished paper of your Establishment hypocrites, The Times. Then I could have put it in the hands of some malleable editor who shared my hatred of Britain and attacked the country from its own mouthpiece. I could have bought television channels, other papers…'

Here, unless I'm very much mistaken, is a none-too-veiled portrait of Rupert Murdoch. The fact that The Times serialised extracts from Devil May Care - after buying it unseen, or so it's rumoured - must have caused a wry smile to passed over Sebastian Faulks's face.

And over James Bond's face too. As Bond knows only too well, the secret to toppling any Mr Big lies in inveigling one's way into his headquarters and then throwing gleeful spanners into the works.

But at the start of Devil May Care Bond is feeling anything but gleeful. He's been on the wagon for three months, he's lost his edge and even his libido is on the slide. His mood takes another plunge when M tells him to take up yoga.

It's 1967, or thereabouts, and the streets of London are crammed with horizontal hippies, thus causing Bond to wrinkle his lip in disdain as he zooms by in his 'selfish, showy car' - a customised Bentley Continental.

What's immediately apparent is that Faulks has managed to keep his tongue discreetly lodged in his cheek without toppling into parody.

The atmosphere is rich, the narrative taut yet elegant. He's also got Fleming's style just right - particularly his habit of inserting arcane bits of information into his descriptions. 'He was dressed in a beige tropical suit,' Faulks writes of one man, and then adds almost in passing, 'probably from Airey and Wheeler.'

Female interest comes in the shape of Scarlett Papava: Roedean-educated, naturally, but possessing 'an unrepentant wildness in her eyes'.

If the sex is somewhat perfunctory - 'You can take that skirt off now, if you like,' Bond tells her at one point - Faulks is properly conscious of his obligations when it comes to gratuitous sado-voyeurism. I don't think I'm giving too much away to say that Miss Papava's breasts end up 'smeared with blood' after she and Bond are caught trying to break into Gorner's lair.

Things come a bit unstuck as events hurtle to a climax; there's a lot of hurtling, but not that much actual climax. Yet the result is infinitely better than any of the previous attempts to resurrect Bond. Apart from anything else, Faulks plainly sees Bond's contradictions. Yes, Bond may be a champion shagger and a prodigious boozer, but he also has his priggish side. There's a scene where he goes to a nightclub in Teheran and is offered an opium pipe. For the sake of propriety, Bond takes a puff. He does not, however, inhale.

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