It is 1969 and James Bond is about to go solo, recklessly motivated by revenge. A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M’s orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice. Bond’s renegade action leads him to Washington, D.C., where he discovers a web of geopolitical intrigue and witnesses fresh horrors. Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his every waking moment.

William Boyd dons the mantle of the late great Ian Fleming, with his latest outing Solo, and despite being a fan of both Boyd and Bond, I had rather a mixed response overall…

Boyd takes us back to the swinging Sixties with our ubiquitous hero celebrating his birthday and in pensive mood, but then quickly being commissioned to thwart a civil war in a small African nation. Boyd does present the spirit of this era perfectly, and as with all good Bond fare, there is the usual attention to cars, gadgets and the natural charm of Bond in his dealings with the ladies, so little deviation from Boyd in his remit. I enjoyed the build up to Bond’s African mission, as Boyd neatly taps into our perception of Bond, accrued from the books and movies, detailing his particular quirks in relation to his personal life balanced with his unerring eagerness to undertake seemingly suicidal missions on behalf of her majesty’s government. I thoroughly enjoyed the  African mission significantly, where using his cover as a journalist, Bond is drawn into a bloody and dangerous intervention in a civil war, and enjoyed the more compassionate side to Bond exposed when interacting with the innocent victims of such conflicts. The introduction of the feisty Blessing provided a good interplay in Bond’s mission (and naturally in his bed as well), along with the maniacal despots that seek to snuff out our favourite secret agent. A rollicking good beginning I thought, but although ostensibly capturing the key elements of the James Bond ouvre, particularly in the London and African set portion of the novel, I did find the conclusion of the novel set within the boundaries of Washington DC, a little less satisfying and disjointed than what had gone before and it all felt a little rushed, after the staunchly controlled writing of the first half of the book. Indeed the first half of the novel read like a conventional Bond book, but the second was definitely more cinematic in style for this reader certainly, and as much as we all like to suspend our disbelief as far as Bond is concerned, I just felt the two halves of the book didn’t marry completely, although not irritating enough to compel me to stop reading.

Without question, Boyd is singularly, in this reviewer’s opinion anyway, one of the finest literary fiction writers Britain has produced and often imitated but rarely bettered, but I wasn’t totally convinced by his rendition of a traditional Bond adventure I’m sorry to say, with its slight unbalance in the narrative and the denouement of the adventure. However, despite my misgivings and taken as a whole I think this book largely fits the Fleming mould, and Boyd does capture the essence of the originals with the quality of his characterisation. Not quite licensed to thrill but in the end not bad enough for me to give it a big (Doctor) No- no…

William Boyd is the author of one work of non-fiction, three collections of short stories and thirteen novels, including the bestselling historical spy thriller Restless – winner of the Costa Novel of the Year – and Any Human Heart, in which the character of Ian Fleming features. Among his other awards are the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Prix Jean Monnet. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2005, he was awarded the CBE.Born in Ghana in 1952, William Boyd spent much of his early life in West Africa. He now divides his time between the south-west of France and Chelsea, where he lives a stone’s throw from James Bond’s London address. Author website: http://www.williamboyd.co.uk

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

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