High Time To Kill (1999)

Author: Raymond Benson
Published: 6th May 1999
MI6 Rating:

Data Stream
Villains: Roland Marquis; Le Gérant (The Union), Dr. Steven Harding; Basil
Plot: To recover the British invention Skin 17 from a crash site.
Bond Girls: Dr. Hope Kendall; Gina Hollander; Helena Marksbury
Allies: Sgt. Chandra Gurung

The Bahamas; London, Buckinghamshire & Hampshire, UK; Belgium; Delhi, India; Morocco; Nepal; Mt Kangchenjunga

Highlights: Plane hijack; journey to Brussels; final three chapters

Capsule Synopsis
Skin 17 is the latest breakthrough in military technology... and it was invented by the British. But now its creator is savagely murdered and every trace of the research is stolen, snatched by another government. Bond has one chance - follow the thief and retrieve Skin 17, before it's safely in enemy hands.
Above: British 1st edition Hodder & Stoughton hardback (UK). Jacket artwork by David Scutt. The Coronet UK paperback used the same artwork.

Official Blurb (British Hardback)
Raymond Benson's new James Bond story is his most thrilling adventure yet, as he pursues a ruthless criminal conspiracy to a breathtaking showdown eight thousand metres above the world on a peak in the Himalayas.
The Union is a criminal organization with tentacles throughout the world - specializing in military espionage, theft, intimidation and murder. After one of its agents assassinates Bond's friend and host at a glittering dinner in the Bahamas, the Union becomes 007's priority target.
When information vital to Britain's national security is stolen, both M and Bond suspect that the union is behind it. The trail leads Bond from one of England's most exclusive golf clubs to the cosmopolitan city of brussels and finally to an expedition up the icy heights of the legendary mountain Kangchenjunga, the third tallest peak in the world. Led by the abrasive mountaineer Group Captain Roland Marquis, aided by the expedition's sexy and beautiful doctor Hope Kendall and opposed by an unknown traitor working out of SIS itself, Bond must pit his strength and guile against two deadly adversaries - the forces of nature at high altitude and the most resourceful criminal minds he has ever encountered.

Official Blurb (American Hardback)
James Bond fights for his life on the icy slopes of the Himalayas as he faces a terrifying new criminal society in a race to retrieve missing military secrets.
Bond is back and bigger than ever. Raymond Benson's novels have reached new heights both in sales and critical acclaim. Kirkus Reviews called The Facts of Death "a postmodern treat." Benson "imbues his Bond with enough honor, sexual prowess and action-hero skills to please the purist and enthrall the novice," says Publishers Weekly.
It's at a dinner party with his old friend the former Governor of the Bahamas that James Bond first encounters the deadly new criminal organization known simply as "The Union." An international group, they specialize in military espionage, theft, intimidation, and murder. When information vital to Britain's national security is stolen, M and 007 suspect that the Union is behind it. Bond's pursuit of the crucial microdot takes him from one of England's most exclusive golf clubs to the frozen heights of one of the world's tallest mountains. His every step is dogged by Union assassins. Their presence alone confirms Bond's worst fear--there is a traitor in Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Chapter Listing

  1. Holidays Are Hell
  2. Old Rivals
  3. Skin 17
  4. Emergency
  5. The Golden Pacemaker
  6. The Road to Brussels
  7. Bitter Suite
  8. A Taste of Belgium
  9. Covering Tracks
  10. Flight into Oblivion
  11. The Green Light
  12. Not Quite Impossible
  13. Le Gérant
  14. Welcoming Reception
  15. Team Work
  16. The Trek Begins
  17. Eliminating the Competition
  18. Tensions Rise
  19. Kangch at Last
  20. Higher and Higher
  21. The Missing Body
  22. Love and Death at 7900 Metres
  23. Blood, Sweat and Death
  24. A Better Way To Die
  25. Human Machines
  26. The Cold, Stone Heart

Above: American 1st edition Putnam hardback

The others couldn't tear their eyes away from the body and the mess on the table. one woman involuntarily heaved. After a moment, though, they regained their composure and looked at the man in shadow. If there had been any doubt, he was now unquestionably their leader.
"I want Skin 17 before anyone else gets it," he said. "We have learned that there are at least three expeditions being organized to retrieve that specification. One is from England and is, of course, the one that is our most formidable adversary. Another is from Russia, manned by our friends in the Russian Mafia. The Chinese are mounting an expedition as well. There may be more".
Le Gérant pulled another cigarette from his case and lit it. He inhaled, pausing only for calculated dramatic effect. "Plans are now under way for the Union to accompany one of these expeditions to the great mountain. We will be the first to retrieve Skin 17. There will be no failure. is that clear?"
Everyone nodded, but Le Gérant couldn't see them. Several of the turned back to look at the disgusting pool of red liquid dripping off the end of the table. A few felt physically ill.
"IS THAT CLEAR?" he shouted.
They quickly turned back to him and cried, "Yes, Monsieur Le Gérant!"
Le Gérant smiled. "Good. Then let's have lunch. Is everyone hungry?"

Above: American 1st edition Jove paperback.

"'I've been thinking about our earlier conversation concerning limitations. Despite what my government thinks, I'm just a man. You don't realise how mortal you really are until you're fighting for your life at 8000 metres.'"

A location in the book is Stoke Poges Golf Club - the same place that the golf match in "Goldfinger" was shot, as well as the Paris Carver hotel scenes in "Tomorrow Never Dies".

1999 May 6 - 1st edition Hodder & Stoughton hardback (UK)
June 1 - 1st edition Putnam hardback (USA)
July 1 - 1st edition Coronet paperback (UK)
2000 February - 1st edition Thorndike/Chivers Press large print hardback (USA)
June 1 - 1st edition Jove paperback (USA)

While Bond is holidaying in Jamaica with his secretary-turned-bedmate Helena Marksbury, he drops in on his old fried from Quantum of Solace, the former governor. However, shortly after telling Bond he is in trouble with a group called The Union, he is assassinated. Bond chases the killer who shoots himself before his capture. Back in England, Bond and Tanner engage in a golf contest with Bond's old arch-rival from Eton, Squadron-Leader Roland Marquis and RAF Physicist Dr Steven Harding. Bond and Tanner lose £250 to the arrogant Marquis and his quiet partner. But later that evening, Marquis and Harding enter a secret research facility and steal the formula for Skin 17. Harding, a Union member, kills the physicist in charge and flees the country.

At an emergency meeting the next morning, M orders Bond to trace Harding to Belgium and try to recover the microdot he stole. Nobody knows of Marquis's involvement. After using his Jaguar's gadgets to survive a highway attack, (thus Bond realises there is a bug at MI6) Bond learns from a doctor (who is then blown up by The Union) that he was forced to implant the microdot into a pacemaker on a Chinese man. Surviving a fight, Bond loses Harding and the Chinese, but succeeds in bedding Belgian agent Helena Marksbury. Harding flies to North Africa and is killed by the silhouetted Union leader, Le Gérant, because Lee Ming had been kidnapped and crashed with the hijackers into the Himalayan mountains. SIS also learn this, and Bond and Marquis are organised to recover the microdot from Lee's body.

They fly out to Nepal and, after nearly being shot by a rooftop assassin to then got killed, Bond and his close friend, the Gurkha Sgt. Chandra Gurung accompany the expedition to recover the plane, which also included an American Senator and British MP. Rival groups, notably Russians and Chinese are also trying to beat the British team to the top of Mt Kangchenjunga where the plane's wreck is. Bond and Chandra destroy the Chinese team's food by night, and the race is on with the Russians. But Bond is sure The Union have infiltrated the team, especially when he is shot at by a sniper who then kills an American team member who spotted him. Bond suspects a German called up at the last minute, Otto Schrenk.

As they continue up the mountain, Bond's antagonism with Marquis increases when 007 humiliates the team leader in an axe-throwing contest. Further up the mountain Bond is nearly killed when his boots are sabotaged and he plunges down the mountain. Again, he suspects Schrenk whose tent was set alight the previous night for a diversion. At last they reach the plane, but discover Lee's body to be missing. Bond eventually finds it down a crevasse and rescues it. He takes it into his tent and digs out the Pacemaker. But Schrenk comes in from behind and knocks him out, only to have his head blown off by Marquis who, along with communications boss Baack kills most of the rest of the team. Coming round and realising his defeat, Bond sleeps at 7900 metres with beautiful team doctor Hope Kendall for whom he and Marquis had been fighting.

Marquis accepts an offer of diamonds from the Russian Mafia's team, but then kill them. Chandra follows Marquis and manages to kill Baack before he himself slips from the mountain. Marquis, with the diamonds and pacemaker returns to the camp but Bond uncovers him, and they fight before Marquis runs off towards the summit, with Bond chasing. Marquis is the more expert climber but can't handle the lack of oxygen, and Bond captures him and takes the decoder. The humiliated Marquis is left to die at the summit, and Helena drags the exhausted Bond to safety.

Bond's and MI6's pride is restored, but the mole turns out to be Helena Marksbury, who was blackmailed by The Union. Bond goes to her hotel room, too late to save the traitor:

As he took out a cigarette and lit it, Bond wondered what was colder - the cruel realm of espionage that had victimised and ultimately destroyed Helena Marksbury, the icy summit of Kangchenjunga, or his own hardened heart.

Publisher's Weekly - James Bond has always been a figure of fantasy and Benson, in his routine fourth Bond novel (after The Facts of Death) wisely keeps him fantastic. An international mercenary terrorist gang called the Union pilfers the British secret formula for Skin 17, the only aircraft material that can withstand a speed of Mach 7. Besides its technological importance, Skin 17 is a triumph for the lagging British military, so spymaster M needs Bond to get it back, and to find the turncoat who helped the Union steal it. The terrorists hide the formula for Skin 17 on a microdot implanted inside the pacemaker of a Chinese national, who dies a few days later when the airplane he's flying in is hijacked and crashes on Kangchenjunga, third-highest mountain of the Himalayas: hence this novel's title. Bond, of course, is dispatched to retrieve the microdot. En route to a blood-filled, ice-encased climax, Agent 007 indulges his old tastes for dangerous women and beautiful cars. Thanks to Q, the violence features some deliciously nasty weapons, including a gadget-laden Jaguar XK8. Benson's prose, including the dialogue, is wooden, but the action he provides is fast and furious and Bond fans will note the narrative scores "a first for Bond... sex at 7,900 meters" - a high point in a novel that otherwise is middling all the way.