Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz (book review).

Ever since Ian Fleming passed away in 1964, there have been numerous authors who have attempted to carry on his legacy. From Bond aficionado Kingsley Amis (writing under the pseudonym Robert Markham) to John Gardner and Raymond Benson, who created a large body of Bond books in the 80s and 90s, there has been enough literary work to keep the Bond fan happy as well as the Fleming estate. More recently, thanks in part to the renewed interest in the character due to the Daniel Craig films, noteworthy authors such as Sebastian Faulks and William Boyd have taken on the challenge of writing 007.


These authors have approached Bond with varying degrees of success. While some of have kept the character in the modern era, with Jeffrey Deaver’s 2011 book ‘Carte Blanche’ giving Bond a birth date of 1979, others have kept with the timelines of Fleming’s originals. In ‘Trigger Mortis’, we’re taken to a time when Bond has just concluded one of most infamous encounters.

1957. James Bond is back in England after encountering the machinations of Auric Goldfinger. He has brought back with him paperwork, the promise of numerous briefings and a rather comely young lady by the name of Pussy Galore. But Bond soon finds himself itching to get back to excitement after the vague trappings of domesticity threaten his lifestyle. So when news of SMERSH’s plan to disrupt a Grand Prix race comes to light, Bond is soon behind the wheel. It soon transpires that SMERSH wants more than to dabble in sports. 007 quickly finds himself in the USA alongside the mysterious girl Jeopardy Lane as they try and discover the truth behind the Korean millionaire Jason Sin.

Anthony Horowitz has always had a knack for mimicry and emulation. His ‘Diamond Brothers’ series of detective novels were excellent parodies of the likes of Hammett and Spillane while his additions to the Sherlock Holmes canon were a fine evocation of the style of Conan Doyle.

Here he mostly nails Fleming. There’s the journalistic attention to detail. Bond’s daily routine, from the brand of his toiletries to how he prefers his boiled eggs, is described with an almost fetishistic level of attention. There’s the requisite action sequences that move on at such a pace that it just about allows the absurdity of everything that is going on to go unquestioned. There’s the villain of an ethnic origin whose plan is revealed in a way that would be an utter cliché if it were anywhere but in a Bond novel. There’s even the requisite amount of sadism. Two moments stand out, one in which someone is forced to choose their own demise and another in which Bond buried alive.

Some of this authenticity is due to the fact that a smattering of the story is based on some unpublished work of Fleming (outlines of an abandoned Bond TV series) and a meeting between M and Bond features original dialogue from Fleming. But it’s also a testament to Horowitz undoubted skill as a thriller writer. The narrative jumps from moment to moment without ever coming to a tiresome halt. It’s the sheer relentless energy of proceedings that make much of the book such enormous fun.

While Horowitz avoids parody, there is one moment, in which Bond agonises as to whether to off a henchmen, that seems to have been inspired by one of the jokes in the first ‘Austin Powers’ film. While it slightly sticks out, there is something rather mischievous about the entire section and certainly gives a nod to Bond’s cultural cache.

Indeed, a little bit more of the modern world creeps in. In the book’s afterword, Horowitz mentions how he attempted to present the character of Bond as originally presented without ‘…upsetting too many modern sensibilities.’ Certainly the James Bond presented here is a rather grim and nihilistic tool of the British government. He’s rather humourless and a far cry from the wisecracking filmic Bonds or at least up until Daniel Craig. He’s also snobbish, racist and a misogynist. But Horowitz doesn’t change his character and instead has a number of minor players challenge Bond’s views. It’s an effective way in which Horowitz can have his cake and eat it without ever feeling too forced. The other characters are mainly one note. Galore and Lane are feisty yet feted to fall for Bond’s charms, at least until the threat of familiarity will take the bloom off the lustful rose. Sin is cruel and evil but given a back story that goes someway to explain his disgust at the world.

Unsurprisingly, Bond doesn’t give a damn about Sin’s motivations. He looks at the world in a distinctly simple way. It’s good versus evil and this simplicity is what makes ‘Trigger Mortis’ not only a thoroughly enjoyable piece of work but a worthy addition to the literary Bond canon.

Laurence Boyce

September 2015

(pub: Orion Publishing. 320 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-1-40915-913-1)

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