After crafting a ‘sequel’ to Ian Fleming’s ‘Goldfinger’ (see more at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/trigger-mortis-by-anthony-horowitz-book-review/), Anthony Horowitz continues to extend the literary Bond universe with a prequel to Bond’s first literary outing ‘Casino Royale’. The pleasures promised by ‘Forever And A Day’ are, aside from the usual heady mix of sex, sadism and sensory overload, in seeing how James Bond first acquired the 007 number that also gave him a license to kill.
The words, ‘So, 007 is dead,’ bring ‘Forever And A Day’ to a jarring start as it reminds us how embedded those three numbers are in the cultural psyche. Of course, it’s not the 007 we have come to know but his predecessor, found floating face down in the waters of Marseilles. Enter latest recommendation for the ‘00’ section, James Bond, who is tasked with heading to France to investigate the death. As he becomes embroiled in the Marseilles underground and meets the mysterious woman ‘Sixtine’, he soon discovers that there is a lot more at stake than he first imagined. Becoming the 007 was hard enough but will he hold on to that title for long?
The character of James Bond has always been resistant to being given an in-depth history. His pleasures lie in his immediacy, the living in the ‘here and now’. He presents a life of hedonism and of danger. There’s no past to catch up with him, no bills to pay or real life to interfere. They might not be any future for him neither but, as long as there are meals to eat, drinks to be drunk, girls to be bedded and enemies to be dispatched, then that is all that matters.
This is partly why his cinematic iteration has kept going for so long. He’s a man out of time, a character who can be re-invented from generation to generation with his core characteristics remaining the same. Of course, the ‘Young Bond’ series has attempted to give a serious examination of his past but, whilst they are often entertaining, they have focus on James Bond not James ‘007’ Bond.
It’s a fact that Horowitz seems cognisant of and ‘Forever And A Day’ avoids giving us an unfamiliar character who will grow into the one we are familiar with. Bond here is very much as we have become used to in the works of Fleming, a fiercely intelligent, ruthless and often snobbish member of the Secret Service who will do anything to protect Great Britain. While Horowitz expands on a few moments of previously alluded to Bond lore, such as the circumstances of his first kills, he avoids this becoming an over-egged exercise in fan service. Even moments such as Bond’s first meetings with the likes of Moneypenny and M are comparatively subtle with small moments that will set the tone of relationships to come.
As much as it a prequel to ‘Casino Royale’, in terms of chronology, ‘Forever And A Day’ is also one in terms of atmosphere. The French Riviera setting echoes that of Royale, the sun drenched idleness of the setting hiding a pool of criminality and corruption.
There’s also the requisite casino moments, with Horowitz taking a large part of TV outline that Fleming did as the basis for the chapter ‘Russian Roulette’. There’s a comforting familiarity with these moments as Horowitz is not trying to re-invent the wheel here but there’s the same comforting familiarity with the chief villain of the piece, whose evil nature is reflected by his physicality in the grand tradition of Bond villains.
The action sequences, including a torture sequence and a particularly grandiose finale are all grippingly done and even the more improbable moments err on the side of just about believable. Bond is also given a fine foil in Sixtine, a Bond girl who can counter the irascible misogyny in 007 that is still present and ready to be given full flight by the time Vesper Lynd enters his life.
‘Forever And A Day’ is not an exercise in breaking new ground and even its intriguing conceit is subservient to its pitch-perfect pastiche of Fleming but it does deliver the thrills and spills of some of the best Bond and shows that he started just as he meant to go on.
(pub: Jonathan Cape. 304 page hardcover. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91121-477-9)
check out website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/publishers/vintage/jonathan-cape/