Like Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s first 007 novel, Forever and a Day has all the essential James Bond ingredients — the audacious plot, the maniacal villain(s), the beautiful woman, the rip-roaring pace — but lacks that secret sauce, the Fleming Factor that has made Bond the sacrosanct icon of the spy genre. But even Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, couldn’t always harness this; for every brilliant Bond novel there was a dud; for every Casino Royale, Moonraker, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger there was a You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Diamonds are Forever. Rest assured: both Trigger Mortis and Forever and a Day are closer to the top tier of Bond novels than they are the bottom, and are top-notch, read-in-one-sitting thrillers.
Set before the events of Casino Royale, James Bond — newly-promoted to the 00 section — is assigned to investigate the murder of his predecessor whose body was found bullet-ridden in the waters of Marseille. Fleming never delved too far into Bond’s backstory; snippets were revealed throughout the course of the series, but it never much mattered how and why Bond acquired his license to kill. Horowitz seems to recognise this too; we don’t spend too much time with an ‘unlicensed’ Bond, and regardless of his ‘inexperience’ in the 00 section of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he’s still a formidable operative; just not yet hardened into the bruised, battered, and eventually broken man readers are confronted with in later novels.
Horowitz has concocted an excellent, truly Fleming-esque villain in Scipio, a tremendously overweight Corsican drug-dealer. Bond’s first encounter with the man is evocative of Fleming’s greatest standoff’s, and the subsequent torture sequence is played brilliantly, and is truly chilling. Sure, he and his cohort’s dastardly sinister scheme is preposterous, but when it comes to Bond, we expect the outlandish. One character Fleming mightn’t have had the capacity to create is Sixtine, who is assuredly a post-#MeToo partner for 007; alluring for sure, but the kind of kick-arse, strong, independent woman Bond’s creator populated his books with alarmingly infrequency. Of course, they eventually sleep together — hardly a spoiler — but not before Sixtine makes it absolutely clear their union is on her terms, not his. Still, it might be time to remove this trope from Bond novels; he’ll be no less a cool character for not bedding someone in future adventures; we’re here for the thrills and spills, not the bluntly-rendered sex. Horowitz has started the process of tacitly cleaning-up the seamier aspects of 007’s character, but there’s still more to be done.
Forever and a Day is, if anything, superior to some of Ian Fleming’s originals. Horowitz’s affection for Bond and for all the tropes that surround him is abundantly clear, and the book works perfectly as an in-continuity pastiche, which I believe was the author’s objective. We’re not modernising Bond, as Raymond Benson, John Gardner and Jeffrey Deaver attempted; Horowitz is merely borrowing Fleming’s character, and propelling him on another thrilling adventure. Which it is. There is ultimately only one test for a book such as this: do you want to keep turning the pages? Answer: heck, yes. And not because it’s James Bond, but because the pace propulsive and there are enough twists and surprises to keep you gripped.
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 18-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom