Solo, William Boyd’s turn at penning a James Bond continuation novel, tries to thread a needle: giving fans of the literary 007 what they want while putting his own spin on the proceedings.
Boyd succeeds, at least most of the time. The author’s tale, set in 1969, uses a thinly disguised version of the Nigerian civil war as a setting and manages to provide readers a sampling of his world view without seeming too preachy.
Meanwhile, Bond drinks a lot of alcohol and a lot of different kinds; he periodically smiles grimly to himself; and he’s still fussy about what he eats (including having his own salad dressing). What’s not to like?
Well, in his drive to make Bond a real person who makes mistakes, Boyd occasionally has 007 commit Homer Simpson moments.
Bond goes rogue, makes his own fake passport but — D’OH! — forgets to come up with a fake U.S. driver’s license until he’s already arrived at Washington’s Dulles airport. Later, Bond curses how he doesn’t have coins to throw to create a diversion until — D’OH! — he suddenly remembers he’s carrying (and has been for some time) a sock with $10 worth of nickels and dimes to use as a weapon.
Also, at one point, Boyd actually writes this piece of Bond reflecting: “Revenge is a dish best served cold, he reminded himself.” Evidently, Boyd’s Bond is a great secret agent but not an original thinker.
To be fair, that’s quibbling. Overall, the story holds the reader’s interest. Boyd keeps the reader turning the pages. The author demonstrates knowledge of Fleming’s Bond. He drops in references to Ian Fleming novels in such a way that long-time readers will pick them up but doesn’t bog down the narrative.
Boyd doesn’t attempt to provide a Dr. No/Auric Goldfinger/Ernst Stavro Blofeld mastermind villain. There isn’t even a Kronsteen/Rosa Klebb opponent. Given the geopolitical theme Boyd inserts, that’s probably for the best. Boyd’s interest is the geopolitics. There is a villain, Kobus Breed, but he’s at best in the Red Grant class.
No, Boyd want to make a broader point about How the World Really Works and how Bond, Breed, Felix Leither, M and other characters are all having their strings pulled.
Fleming’s originals, published from 1953 into the 1960s, were a then-new take on St. George and the Dragon. For Boyd, St. George and the Dragon are pawns on the chessboard of life. It’s just a part of how Boyd sought to make 007 his own. GRADE: B.
August 2013: THE AFRICAN WAR THAT MAY HAVE INFLUENCED BOYD’S SOLO