Zero Minus Ten (1997)

Author: Raymond Benson
Published: 3rd April 1997
MI6 Rating:

Data Stream
Villain: Guy Thackeray
Plot: Nuking of Hong Kong for revenge and to trigger British/Chinese war.
Bond Girls: Sunni Pei
Allies: T.Y. Woo
Locations: Jamaica, England, Hong Kong, China, Australia
Highlights: "Pre-titles" sequence, Triad ceremony, M scene.

Capsule Synopsis
It is ten days before Hong Kong is returned to the Chinese. A succession of murders is bringing Anglo-chinese tensions to a head and Bond is sent to investigate. There he will become embroiled in a story which goes back 160 years.

Right: British 1st edition Hodder & Stoughton hardback (UK). Cover design by David Scutt. The Coronet UK paperback used the same artwork.


Official Blurb (British)
In 10 days, Hong Kong will pass into the hands of the Chinese--and 007 is on his way there to undertake his most dangerous mission yet. In the Australian desert, a nuclear bomb explodes. In England, two police officers are shot dead when they investigate a cargo in Portsmouth dock. And in Hong Kong, an explosion rips through one of the colony's famous floating restaurants, killing the entire Board of EurAsia Enterprises Ltd, a multi-billion dollar shipping corporation. These apparently random events are connected--and 007 must find out how and why. Travelling to one of the world's most exotic locations, James Bond encounters such diverse characters as a mysterious British taipan, a sinister Triad leader, a sadistic Chinese general and an enchanting exotic dancer--and eventually comes face to face with one of the most formidable adversaries of his career.

Official Blurb (American)
The clock is ticking for Hong Kong. On July 1, 1997, the British Crown Colony will be handed over to the People's Republic of China. But hopes for a peaceful transition are shattered when a series of terrorist acts threatens the fragile relationship between Britain and China. A solicitor from London is killed by a car bomb; a British "officer" retaliates by assassinating two officials visiting from Beijing; an explosion eliminates the elite of a major British corporation. With ten days of British sovereignty left, James Bond is dispatched to Hong Kong to investigate these incidents and avert a political crisis that could jeopardize the upcoming historical event. He suspects there are connections with the nefarious Chinese underworld Triad. But the truth is difficult to uncover. Bond must navigate a startling maze of characters - a suspicious British taipan, a sinister Triad leader, a sadistic Chinese general, and an exotic dancer with alluring, seductive skills - before exposing a fiendish plot of revenge, with roots reaching back more than a century and a half.

Chapter Listing

  1. Shamelady
  2. Three Events
  3. Call to Duty
  4. A British Legacy
  5. The Pearl in the Crown
  6. The Prevailing Wind
  7. Jade Dragon
  8. Private Dancer
  9. Interview with a Dragon
  10. Marked for Death
  11. Assassination
  12. One of the Links
  13. Triad Ceremony
  14. Bedtime Story
  15. Day Trip to China
  16. Agony and Anger
  17. Men of Honour
  18. The Golden Mile
  19. Farewell to Hong Kong
  20. Walkabout
  21. Countdown
  22. No Tears for Hong Kong

Above: American 1st edition Putnam hardback

Above Left: American 1st edition Jove paperback.
Above Right: Unused American draft cover.

"Despite these rationalizations, Bond's anger overcame him. (...) After suffering the degrading torture Wong had inflicted upon him, and now having discovered the extent of the general's frenzy, Bond saw red. He knew he should stay objective and keep his emotions out of it. This wasn't a vendetta, he tried to tell himself, but all he wanted to do was wring the mad general's neck."

Guy Thackeray: "China will blame Britain. Britain will blame China. There are sure to be some...misunderstandings." He laughed. "It will be wonderful!"

When it first went on sale in the UK on April 3rd 1997, "Zero Minus Ten" by Raymond Benson sold out within the first week. A second print had to be quickly ordered.

1997 April 3 - 1st edition Hodder & Stoughton hardback (UK)
May 5 - 1st edition Putnam hardback (USA)
1998 March 5 - 1st edition Coronet paperback (UK)
August - 1st edition Jove paperback (USA)

Publisher's Weekly - Disorienting as it is, James Bond will be as youthful and virile as ever on July 1st, when Hong Kong becomes a part of China. Benson (an Edgar nominee for The James Bond Bedside Companion) is the latest of the literary Dr. Frankenstein's enlisted to inject life into old 007. Committing the mistake of pinning Bond down to a specific point in time instead of letting him float in an undefined Cold War limbo, he inadvertently reveals how Ian Fleming and others protected Bond from the real ravages of time. An early description here ("Dark and handsome, he had piercing blue-gray eyes. His short black hair had just a hint of gray at the temples, was parted on the left, and was carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow") makes it clear that this tale is more a self-conscious homage than an organic story to sink into. Benson moves rapidly into pastiche and commercial rip off, skating around on the surface of things until the action begins to seem ludicrous. Bond goes through the motions of discovering who is trying to sabotage the transfer of power in Hong Kong by blowing people up, bedding the usual array of beautiful young bimbos, dodging and fighting the same sinister crowd of ethnic heavies (including a trio of giant albinos called Tic, Tac and Toe) and confronting the same cliched threats to destroy the world. Benson, a games designer, has come up with a kind of computer-game parody that will make readers wonder why they don't just reread Fleming's classics.

Kirkus Reviews - The author of The James Bond Bedside Companion (not reviewed) pits Agent 007 against worthy Pacific Basin opponents in a more than serviceable first thriller that could give Ian Fleming's ultra cool hero yet another new lease on life. Dispatched to Hong Kong to halt a series of violent incidents that threaten the Crown Colony's mid-1997 return to the People's Republic of China, Bond first checks on Guy Thackeray, the fifth- generation head of a family shipping firm called EurAsia Enterprises. Although the SIS troubleshooter gets the goods on the shady businessman, the latter perishes (or appears to) in a car bombing. In next trying to tap underworld intelligence sources, 007 makes a nearly fatal mistake and is obliged to undertake a personal mission for triad chieftain Li Xu Nan. Against the odds, the master spy penetrates the PRC and returns alive, bearing papers that put Li in his debt. With help from the grateful crime boss, Bond heads down under to investigate a mysterious outback blast London has told him is not his affair. In due course, he finds a back-from- the-dead Thackeray at a remote uranium mine; to his horror, he learns that the embittered taipan (who's used EurAsia to make a great fortune in the drug trade) plans to put paid to the celebration of Hong Kong's handover by detonating a crude nuclear device on or near the island at midnight on June 30, 1997. Before 007 can beat the clock and save the showcase outpost of empire with an eleventh-hour dash through a crowded harbour, however, he must escape the clutches of a villainous captor and make it out of western Australia's famously inhospitable bush country. Benson's 007 is a chip off the old block and, if not a gilt- edged Bond, at least a double-A.