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The first part of Trigger Mortis adapts a previously unpublished Fleming short story in which Bond enters the extreme world of 1950s car racing (the equivalent of formula one with minimal safety restrictions).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.