By Brad Frank, Guest Writer
Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis proves to be one of the better James Bond continuation novels, though not because of what has been emphasized in the novel’s publicity.
The book has been heavily hyped as featuring the return of Pussy Galore. It’s set in 1957, immediately following the novel Goldfinger, with Pussy having moved in with Bond in London.
She is not, however, the primary heroine of the book, and actually has nothing to do with the main story line. Two of Goldfinger’s Korean thugs make an attempt on her life out of revenge, but Bond comes to the rescue. Soon afterwards, she leaves Bond to resume her lesbian lifestyle (as in the original book), having appeared in less than one fourth of the novel.
Ian Fleming’s unpublished story outline “Murder on Wheels” is the basis for the first third of the new novel (CLICK HERE for the back story). It concerns a SMERSH plot to assassinate a famous driver during a Grand Prix race. (The motivation behind this is unclear.)
Bond is assigned to protect him, under cover as a wealthy amateur racing enthusiast, who has bought his way into the race.
Prior to the race, Bond brushes up on his driving skills with the help of Logan Fairfax, the daughter of another famous driver who was killed at Le Mans in 1955, in a real life tragedy that claimed the lives of 83 people, mostly spectators. (One wonders why they wouldn’t simply recruit a professional racer instead … but then, Bond wouldn’t have a mission.)
The would-be assassin is a Russian driver. Needless to say, Bond thwarts the plot. Horowitz describes the race with great skill, evoking similar imagery to Fleming’s descriptions of car chases.
Following the race, all of the drivers and VIPs are invited to a party at the residence of a wealthy patron, Sin Jai-Seong, aka Jason Sin, a Korean SMERSH agent who was not only behind the assassination attempt, but has something much grander in the works.
At the party, Bond meets a journalist named Jeopardy Lane, who turns out to be a U.S. Treasury agent. Together, they discover Sin’s complicated plot to sabotage a U.S. rocket test. This was timely stuff for 1957. The Space Race was about to begin, with the Soviet launch of Sputnik later that year, with America’s Project Mercury soon to follow.
As most of the later Bond authors do, there is a certain amount of name-dropping of Fleming characters, intended to invoke nostalgia, and/or to convince the reader that this is a genuine Bond novel.
Like Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care) and William Boyd (Solo) before him, whose recent Bond novels were set in the ’60s, Horowitz includes numerous contemporary references, intended to solidly fix the story in a specific historical year. He manages to insert both of these elements fairly naturally, and is less in-your-face about it than his predecessors.
In a very Fleming-esque scene, the villain Sin tells Bond his life story, and his motivation for the sabotage. Horowitz winks at the reader, acknowledging the obvious cliché from both books and films, by having Sin tell Bond “I will admit that it gives me some satisfaction in relating it … (and) in a short while, you will be dead.”
Goldfinger (in both the book and the film) used mostly Korean help, and this is mentioned in the current novel. Since Jason Sin is also Korean, I was expecting some connection between them to ultimately be revealed, but nothing like that is suggested or implied. It might have been better had Jason Sin been of a different ethnicity.
On the whole, Trigger Mortis is one of the better continuation novels. I would place it among the top 10 percent of them all. Definitely recommended.
Comments below contain spoilers.
An attempt on Pussy Galore’s life is one of the weaker points of the novel. Two of Goldfinger’s Korean henchmen kidnap her, and paint her gold. It’s obviously meant to be ironic, but comes across as a rather lame attempt to invoke a Fleming-ism.
What really spoils the scene is how it perpetuates the myth of skin suffocation. A few years ago “Mythbusters” proved that, while being covered in paint is unpleasant and over time can lead to heat exhaustion due to blockage of the pores, it would not be fatal or even particularly harmful in the short term. The fact is that skin does not breathe.
And yet in the novel, as they’re covering her with the paint, Pussy almost immediately collapses and begins gasping, implying that she will survive for only a few minutes once her body is completely covered. Of course, Bond interrupts them before it gets that far.
A major plot point hinges on a bomb being set off in the New York subway, with a replica of the test rocket planted there to give the false impression that it went off course and was responsible for the explosion.
There are two problems with this. The launch site is 330 miles from New York, and the rocket is easily tracked while in flight. And the massive amount of C-4 explosive used –- supposedly enough to demolish a building –- would totally obliterate the fake rocket.
Fleming certainly had his share of implausibilities, so despite these criticisms, so despite all that, I highly recommend Trigger Mortis.
© 2015, Brad Frank
Brad Frank is a director of the Ian Fleming Foundation