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Review: Devil May Care, but readers will not

30-Jun-2008 • Literary

"Devil May Care" review by Contra Costa Times.

It's easy to understand Sebastian Faulks' dilemma. Tasked with writing the recently released James Bond novel "Devil May Care," Faulks faced a mine field of issues that needed delicate tiptoeing through. Aside from developing new (interesting?) characters to fit the classic 007 conflict, Faulks had to deftly sidestep Austin Powers' satire. It's just not easy doing a Bond novel set in the late 1960s. There's a completely different set of problems faced by those churning out the films; they can fall back on special effects and the novelty of a new, darker actor, whose intensity and rippling muscles alone are enough to reinvigorate the franchise.

But the novels are different, and "Devil May Care" exposes all the potential hazards. There are two main audiences for a Bond book in 2008: those loyal to the Cold War-era 007, and those who, while paying proper homage to Bond, are devotees of more modern thrill writers in the Robert Ludlum-Jack Higgins style, such as Vince Flynn and David Baldacci. Thanks to 9/11, with so much of real life seemingly now invested in modern spy novels, some writers aren't satisfied unless they've explained the technical details of every missile fired. Sadly, there's more of a reality requirement now, even if we're still coveting the same lone-wolf government agent repeatedly saving the world, whether it's Jason Bourne, Mitch Rapp or James Bond.

In "Devil May Care," it boils down to this, even for the most enthusiastic fan: How believable are Bond's miracles in 2008, and does Faulks make us care?

Not so much. In fact, Bond's achievements just sort of happen, without the buildup or explosiveness one would expect.

Perhaps it's a problem with growing up on the films instead of the novels, but I had no clue as to which Bond I was supposed to be picturing, because none of Bond's personality traits — whether whimsical or deadly — really surfaced. Sean Connery's Bond would be logical for the period, but I could never imagine Connery's 007 being so tame as to listlessly ponder himself so much.

As usual, 007 is tasked with taking on a lone madman whose intent is destroying a large part of the world; first with mass drug imports and, if that doesn't work, nuclear weapons. (Again with the nukes. Just once couldn't a madman threaten the world with spoiled food or fiendish rodents or something?) The challenge of a vicious adversary sucks Bond back into fighting for Queen and country, which, of course, includes the recruitment of a female partner with her own motives. The plot takes time to get moving and, when the surprises are finally revealed, it's clear there were no surprises to begin with.

Bond hardly ever becomes the man all women want and all men want to be in "Devil May Care." He has his moments, but two days after finishing the book, it was difficult to remember anything noteworthy. It wasn't bad enough to put down; nor was it spectacular enough to delay sleep, the expectation of any great thriller. And we just have to expect more from James Bond.

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