Young Bond: Heads You Die By Steve Cole (book review).

May 7, 2016 | By | Reply More

When the ‘Young Bond’ series of books was announced, there was a prickle of fear amongst Bond fans as they cast their minds back to the cash-in cartoon series ‘James Bond Jr.’ from the 90s. Would it be a crass attempt to force Bond into Young Adult literature? Would it make him a Harry Potter but with Eton instead of Hogwarts and spycraft instead of witchcraft? With Charlie Higson at the helm, these fears were allayed. His accounts of Bond’s early years in the 1930s managed to feel true to the spirit of Fleming and the character of Bond, whilst staying firmly within the realm of ‘young adult’. Now Steve Cole, who took over from Higson with the book ‘Shoot To Kill’, returns to have a second stab at the early exploits of the man who would become 007.


With a cold opening of a dramatic robbery and chase, which seems a little bit influenced by the pre-credits sequences in the Bond cinematic universe, ‘Heads You Die’ plunges us straight into a world of mad scientists, mysterious women and evil henchmen. Bond, alongside his friend, Hugo Grande, heads to Cuba to stay with family friend, Dr. Hardiman. When Hardiman is kidnapped, Bond soon finds himself on the trail of the powerful Scolopendra. With Jagua, Soclopendra’s daughter, in tow, he must discover the scientist’s plans and save Dr. Hardiman. With all of Cuba looking for him and his friends, that will be easier said than done.

There is much to enjoy in this adventure which rattles along at a breakneck pace. Cole keeps piling on the set pieces, a desperate fight at a police station or a tense underwater battle for example, that are in keeping with the general Bond oeuvre. Certainly, character here is subordinate to the action. Most of the characters are drawn with broad strokes. Jagua is feisty and Hugo is self-deprecating and the bad guys are all thoroughly evil. The swift pacing forgives some of the thinner moments. Much like Bond’s forays have been described as ‘wildly improbable’, there is rather a lot of narrative coincidence and exposition here but, again, everything moves so fast that it’s hard to find it too distracting.

This being a book inspired by Ian Fleming, Cole manages to get in a few references, including mention of manuscript that bears a title that many followers of the creation of Bond will know well and tonal similarities without slavishly aping Fleming’s style. The journalistic descriptions of the Cuban locale, alongside a brief examination of the local cuisine, have Fleming’s hallmarks all over them. While the young adult nature of the book means that the requisite sex and sadism are absent, there are one or two gruesome moments of which Fleming would undoubtedly be delighted. Bond himself is something of a cipher. Heroic and slightly naïve, he’s yet to acquire the dour nihilism which would be a large part of Fleming’s Bond. Mention must also be made of Scolopendra, whose entire character and plan screams ‘Bond Villain’ right down to having a brutish henchman with a missing appendage….

‘Heads You Die’ is a fun and sometimes silly in the best way story whose chief pleasure is in being an immensely fun adventure. You might not know much more about Bond the person at the end of the book but you’ll certainly know that, when it comes to saving the world, there is still nobody who does it better.

Laurence Boyce

May 2016

(pub: Red Fox/ Penguin Random House Children’s Books. 320 page paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78295-241-1)

check out websites: http://qa.randomhouse.co.uk/about-us/about-us/companies/uk-companies-and-imprints/random-house-childrens-publishers-uk/red-fox and www.youngbond.com


Category: Books

About the Author ()

Laurence Boyce is a film journalist who likes Bond, Batman and Doctor Who (just to prove the things he enjoys things that don't just start with a 'B'). He is also a film programmer for various film festivals in the UK and abroad.

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