Solo – A James Bond Novel

I could have sat down and researched all kinds of Bond facts and figures before writing the review. But I’ll just use my frame of reference, constructed using the films and the one non-Fleming book I’ve read.

So when I was looking for something to read whilst in Kenya, I chanced upon a new Bond book. My previous read, Devil May Care, didn’t wow me but I was willing to give another author a chance. The Fleming estate are passing the reigns to a new author each book so maybe this would be more interesting. Pages and pages describing a tennis match didn’t get the juices flowing last time! Reading a synopsis made me more curious as much of the story takes place in Africa. How apt.

Using that perhaps crudely put together (not having  read a Fleming book) reference frame, this book is a success. If you’re expecting an invincible wise cracker with a gadget for every occasion (Q Branch hold back this time around) you’ll be disappointed. But if you want a concise and interesting story then you’re in luck.

Whilst doing the press rounds Boyd explained how whilst he has read Fleming’s books and uses them as reference this is his book and he added his own spin to it. Without this it could have easily become good fan-fiction at best. He also uses his knowledge of Africa to great effect, painting a vivid picture of the world Bond traverses.

It’s 1969 and Bond is celebrating his 45th birthday, alone. Soon he is assigned with taking out the leader of a small nation. Relatively simple, until Bond is shot and left for dead. He puts his recovery time to good use, striking out alone without the backup of his Majesty’s Secret Service as he seeks revenge.

Boyd takes us into Bond’s past as he relives events from WW2, which brings with it restless nights and troublesome thoughts. We also see what could be Bond’s future, as he appears happy to let women take the lead and wonders if he should change his hairstyle. The cinematic Bond is rarely as emotional or open as he is here, with Bond not only surprised at his own savagery, but always open to doubt.

Don’t worry though, as Bond still drinks his weight in alcohol and has a love for fast cars, as well the female form, to balance out this more emotional side.

The level of humanity seen here in a character who most see as a quip spewing killing machine was the biggest surprise, and a welcome one. On the negative side a Bond tale can generally be judged by it’s villain. Here we have a fairly generic bad guy with a disfigurement and a trademark, yet Kobius Breed doesn’t stick in the memory in the same Blofeld or Oddjob do. He ultimately just strikes me as a glorified henchman with an incredible pain threshold.

Solo made for a entertaining read whilst sat by the pool. Maybe I’ll only really know how good a Bond book it is once I’ve read some of Fleming’s work. But this has me interested in giving them a try.

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