The Man x 2

Two books about “the man”.

think i knowThe Man I Think I Know is a novel by one of my most reliable, favourite authors. Mike Gayle always guarantees me a good, page turning read.
His books aren’t suspenseful thrillers, they are set in real life, everyday situations with strong relatable characters. This must be around his sixteenth book, and I’ve enjoyed them all.

Danny has no desire to work, but after losing his unemployment benefits he takes a job as a carer in a “residential care home”.

James was a successful, wealthy business man, just starting out on a political career when “the incident” undermined everything and left him completely dependent on his parents.

The two men meet when James enters the care home to give his parents a short break. Despite Danny’s denial, James is sure he knows him from their school years.

A growing friendship between the two leads each of them to come to terms with the tragic events that shaped the direction of their lives.

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golden touchThe Man With the Golden Touch by Sinclair McKay is a critical study of the James Bond films. McKay compares them to the Ian Fleming books upon which they were loosely based, as well as looking at the cultural context within which the films were created.

He not only writes about every Bond film released up to the time of publication, he compares/contrasts them with other spy fiction and films, some of which were a clear exploitative response to the success of Bond.

As someone who had read all of the Bond books by the time I reached my teens, I enjoyed reading someone else’s views on the character.

McKay’s initial Bond experiences were mostly through the films, where mine were through the books. By the time I’d read all of Fleming’s books and another, Colonel Sun, that Kingsley Amis wrote under the pseudonym Robert Markham, I’d only seen three of the films.

Dr No and From Russia With Love were the first, screened as a double feature at  a local cinema when I was 10 or 11 years old.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the other, seen a year or two later. I didn’t see any others until Live and Let Die on its first cinema release when I was in my mid teens. Those first three named are perhaps the closest adaptations of Fleming’s stories and they are the films I always liked best from the series.

Most of the other films merely used the book titles and had no resemblance to the original stories. McKay looks at the reasons for that, explaining the wisdom of it. The success of the films not only depended on those changes, but also ensured the ongoing viability of keeping the Fleming books in print.

As someone who grew up with Bond, this book had a significant nostalgic appeal, but also I enjoyed its wider journey into the spy fiction and films  that inspired and was inspired by the success of Bond.

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

Trigger MortisI read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books in my early teens and later tried some of those written by other authors after Fleming’s death. To me those post-Fleming books lacked authenticity, particularly the “novelisations” spun off from 1980s films. I especially never warmed to John Gardner’s ventures into the Bond world.

Last year I returned to Bond through Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche, and again, like the earlier attempts to follow in Fleming’s footsteps, I found it didn’t quite hit the mark, but things are different with Anthony Horowitz and Trigger Mortis.

Horowitz returns to the settings of the original Bond books, keeping Bond in the Fleming time period, and placing his story immediately after the events of Fleming’s Goldfinger.

The first part of Trigger Mortis adapts a previously unpublished Fleming short story in which Bond enters the extreme world of 1950s car racing (the equivalent of formula one with minimal safety restrictions). Suspicions raised during that introduction lead Bond into the heart of a Russian plot to destabilise the infant US space program.

I found the book’s tone and characterisation were more consistent with Fleming’s Bond than any of those by other writers who attempted Bond.

As with Horowitz’s TV series Foyle’s War, the writer adapts and weaves real historical events into the background of his story. Apart from aspects of America’s fledgling space programme, Horowitz also referenced events from the Korean War, where southern Korean refugees trying to flee to safety ahead of the advancing North Korean army, were massacred by US forces, fearful of North Koreans infiltrating their territory hidden among the escaping masses. While Horowitz offers little explanation for the atrocity, I found more detail in another book I’ve been reading recently: The Korean War by Cameron Forbes.

Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver

carte blancheWhen I first read an Ian Fleming Bond book I was a young teen. Bond was someone I could aspire to be, with an adventurous life, unlimited travel and of course, there were always the girls.

For a time James Bond became an obsession. Instead of labelling my school stationery with my own name, their owner was identified as being “J Bond”.

For creative writing assignments, I’d write about Bond-like characters. In the only story I remember, my hero was rescued from an accident and found himself as the “guest” of various Bond villains who had mistaken him for the OO agent. They put him through variations of scenes from the Fleming books, but each time with a different outcome to the one experienced by Bond.

I read some of the Fleming books again a few years later, with slightly less naiveté, but with no less attraction to the adventure. If anything they made me more aware of how mundane and predictable my own work life was, but by then I had more of an idea of the gap between reality and the escapism of Bond and I had a growing awareness that in the real world a promiscuous and violent “Bond lifestyle” comes with consequences.

It’s now been decades since I read a Bond book so my memories of them are quite vague, but when I read Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver I noticed what seemed to be clear differences. The most obvious is that I’m now much older than Bond; in fact I find I’m around the age of his late parents and THAT was a disturbing thing to realise.

Another is his move into the higher tech world of computers, mobile phones and the omnipresence of CCTV; and how they all impact the world of investigation and surveillance.

There’s also a technique used by Deaver that I don’t recall from the original books. It’s something I call the false cliff-hanger. It brings to mind old movie serials (that were before my time) where the hero is shown dropping off a cliff, locked inside an out of control car, unable to open a jammed door. Then the following week, in the cliff-hanger reprise, it’s shown that he actually rolled free of the car just before it reached the cliff edge; even though it had previously been obvious there was no opportunity for such an escape.

With Carte Blanche there are several inescapable situations where Bond clearly has no way out – but then we are told of earlier preparations made for such a possible outcome, where his forethought pays off and he survives.

While that approach might provide a heightened moment of suspense, I couldn’t help feeling cheated. It’s like a who-dun-it where the identity of the guilty party is totally unexpected, but unlike the best of that genre, there are no cleverly hidden clues beforehand that, with hindsight, make the outcome seem obvious.

One thing that isn’t too different is the eccentricity associated with Bond villains. Their extreme actions and ambitions are mirrored by their extreme psychological aberrations and their imaginative methods of carrying out their crimes.

And there are several increasingly deviant and clever crimes in play, some of which are worthy of a place in a Bond story. However I found the “best” ones all seem to be incidental to the main event – a crime that may have been big in scope but was unimaginative and anti-climactic compared to what had come before.