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'Forever And A Death': The Bond Connection

13th March 2017

Everything you need to know about Donald Westlake, his novel 'Forever and a Death' and it's Bond 18 connection

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In June 2017 Hard Case Crime will publish Forever and a Death, a novel by mystery and crime fiction author Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008). The novel, originally titled Fall of the City, was written in 1998 and is loosely based on Westlake’s outlines for the eighteenth James Bond film. Westlake’s work was rejected in favour of the story produced as 'Tomorrow Never Dies'.

In 2015 I traveled to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University to examine the story outlines and relevant correspondence. In the course of that research, I stumbled upon a manuscript of Fall of the City a.k.a. Forever and a Death. My article, published in issue #32 of MI6 Confidential in October 2015, is the first to acknowledge the existence of Westlake’s novel and its relationship to the Bond series.

Since Hard Case Crime’s announcement last August, I have been asked about the history of the story outlines and Forever and a Death. Below is an FAQ.

What did Westlake contribute to the Bond 18 project?

Westlake wrote two story treatments for EON Productions during the summer and fall of 1995, prior to the release of GoldenEye. The first treatment is 35 pages and the second 9 pages. None of Westlake’s material was used in any of the Bond films.

Did Westlake have a previous connection to the Bond series?

In a letter to Jeff Kleeman, then Vice President of Production at MGM/UA, Westlake revealed that he was an extra for the New York City filming of Live and Let Die, specifically during a stunt-driving chase. Westlake’s son Paul told me that his father also visited the Pinewood Studios set of The Spy Who Loved Me when the family lived for a brief time in London. Incidentally, Bond series writer Richard Maibaum worked on an adaptation of Westlake’s The Fugitive Pigeon for Columbia Pictures in 1965.

Did Westlake write spy fiction? 

Very rarely. His novel The Spy in the Ointment (1966), in which the FBI recruits a pacifist to infiltrate a terrorist organization, is a send-up of the Bond films and the ‘60s spy craze.

Does James Bond appear in Forever and a Death? Were any of the characters carried over to the novel? 

No (to both questions). Instead of Bond, Westlake created the character of George Manville, an engineer hired by Richard Curtis, the novel’s antagonist, to oversee the construction of luxury resorts. Manville gradually learns of his employer’s plans to destroy Hong Kong.

How does Forever and a Death resemble the Bond 18 stories?

In both the treatments and novel, an American business tycoon plans to loot Hong Kong’s banks and collapse the city’s infrastructure using a soliton, or oscillating wave, triggered by explosives in a maze of underground tunnels. The hero, with the help of a female companion, has to go underground and defuse the explosives. In the treatments the villain aims to carry this out on the eve of the July 1, 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. The events of Westlake’s novel, however, take place about a year after the handover. 

There is also one key scene in Forever and a Death that originally appeared in the first Westlake treatment. In the novel Curtis and Manville prepare to level an island off the coast of Australia using a soliton for the purpose of building hotels. Environmental activist Kim Baldur, believing the explosions will damage the island’s coral reef, swims right into the detonation area. Environmental activist Kim Baldur, believing Curtis's soliton will damage the island's coral reef, swims right into the detonation area just as the explosives go off. The basic outline of this scene was created for Bond 18 as an introduction to Muffy Bhang, a Chinese government agent who pretends to be an activist as a professional cover.

I’ve heard that some of the Bond stories were developed using a mix of material by different writers. Was that the case with Westlake’s work?

Yes. Richard Burges Smith’s 1993 story outline inspired some of the content in Treatment #1. Treatment #2 is more of a collaboration between Westlake and writer/producer Michael G. Wilson, and it recycles an action set piece from Michael France’s draft of 'GoldenEye' (later to be included in 'The World Is Not Enough'). One of Westlake’s unique contributions to Treatment #2 is the opening, which is set in a cemetery mausoleum in Transylvania and has Bond sitting up in a coffin and adjusting his tie.

Was Raymond Benson’s Bond novel Zero Minus Ten based on material from the Westlake treatments?

No, although the Benson novel also concerns a businessman’s plot to destroy Hong Kong just prior to the handover, and it also has scenes set in Hong Kong and Australia. 

Where can I read more about Bond 18 and learn about the differences between Westlake’s stories and Forever and a Death?

There are many interesting characters and scenes devised by Westlake for Bond 18 that are not in Forever and a Death. You can read an in-depth analysis of the treatments in MI6 Confidential #32. To order a copy, visit mi6confidential.com.

Donald E. Westlake's Bond 18 treatments in MI6 Confidential magazine
Philip Poggiali FIRST reporTed on the unseen Bond 18 treatments in Issue #32

About The Author
Philip Nathaniel Poggiali is an academic librarian who lives and works just north of New York City. He loves movies and vintage crime fiction. You can read Phil's film and book reviews at Paperback Film Projector and Temple of Schlock.

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