U.N.C.L.E. breaks the fourth wall

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

In the early days, The Man From U.N.C.L.E’s production team had a notion of its characters breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience.

It began with the pilot. A black and white version with the original title of Solo includes a short segment after the end titles. It wasn’t intended for broadcast. It was aimed at network executives and would-be advertisers.

“My name is Robert Vaughn,” the series star begins, looking into the camera, “but when that camera rolls, well, Napoleon Solo is the name and espionage is the game.”

Vaughn mentions cast members, including Will Kuluva as “my boss, Mr. Allison,” and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. Illya, Vaughn says, “is an interesting young man — you’ll see him often.” That would certainly turn out to be the case.

The actor says U.N.C.L.E. is located in “the East Fifties” of New York City rather than the East Forties. He also says the organization has nothing to do with the United Nations. “It’s merely a code. We call it UNCLE.”

Meanwhile, Vaughn says  “the viewers of television” will be part of the series, just like Patricia Crowley’s “innocent” character in the pilot. “So what do you have to lose, except your boredom?” Vaughn says, smiling. “Or your lives?”

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in the early moments of Act I of The Iowa-Scuba Affair

The Iowa-Scuba Affair: This was was the first episode to be produced after the pilot. An opening was scripted, but apparently not shot, of Robert Vaughn as Solo talking to the audience.

It’s very much in the same spirit as the segment attached to the end of the pilot.

INT. THE CAVE – FULL SHOT – NIGHT

SOLO is kneeling on the ground between the Pressure Suit and the Scuba Suit. He is examining the suits. A pretty girl is wearing each suit, striking a modeling pose. Solo ignores the girls throughout. He glances around, looks directly INTO THE CAMERA. He swings around, sitting amiably between the two suits.

SOLO
Good evening. My name is Napoleon Solo…or have we met? Here we are, tonight, in Iowa…
(indicates cave)
…land of corn and hogs…
(points downward)
underwater scuba suits…
(points upwards)
high altitude pressure suits for up in the stratosphere…
(does a small take at the suits)
Oh, aren’t these on your list of clothing to take along on a trip to Iowa? You’ll need them tonight.
(rises, brushing himself clean as he talks)
In a minute you’ll meet what seems to be a nice, bright young American soldier. Don’t get to know him too well…he won’t be staying around long. There’ll be a wealthy oilman with suspicions about me. A young lady’s maidenly aunt who views me with suspicion for…uh…other reasons. There’s a lovely lady from the continent to the south. A little old scrubwoman…with some unique ideas how to scrub me out.
(indicates suits)
There’ll be the men who wear these suits…and the bizarre reasons they have for wearing them. I hope you’re in good shape. We’ll have to run for our lives, hunted through the woods by strange men with strange weapons.
(sudden thought)
Oh…and since this is farming country we’re in, we’ll need a young, fairly attractive farm girl. One that smells of country soap…
(looking over the audience)
…one of you will be fine. Do hear any volunteers?

As he smiles:

WHIP PAN TO:

Hit with TITLES

Captain Shark (Robert Culp) during a dramatic moment with Solo in The Shark Affair

The Shark Affair: The episode concerns an antagonist (Captain Shark, played by Robert Culp) who is convinced the world will soon go down in flames from nuclear war. He’s abducting people of special skills from ships so mankind can go on after the war comes.

The unused scripted introduction has Solo on a raft with a parakeet in a cage. He again introduces himself and mentions elements of the upcoming story.

“A mystery ship, naturally. A rather odd-ball Captain aboard the mystery ship? Of course — Some strange characters in the crew? You bet — And — let’s see — what else have I forgotten.”

Just then, a woman in a bikini comes out of the water and boards the raft.

SOLO
Ah yes —
(indicates parakeet)
Sam, here — a parakeet from the Bronx.

Fugitive Nazi scientist Volp is about to drain Napoleon Solo of his blood in The Deadly Games Affair.

The Deadly Games Affair: Originally titled The Stamp Affair, U.N.C.L.E. is seeking Volp, a fugitive Nazi scientist. Volp had a collection of very rare, very valuable stamps. Those stamps are showing up at auction. Apparently, Volp is selling them off to finance…what? The villainous organization Thrush also is on Volp’s trail.

The unused introduction has Solo inside a coffin with a plexiglass top. A woman opens the coffin and Solo steps out.

“This one seems to fit,” he tells the woman. “I’ll take it. Have ‘Napoleon Solo’ inscribed upon it.”

The woman moves off “to take some notations in an order book.” Solo finds the camera and begins addressing the audience.

“I thought I’d make my selection now since I might an abrupt need for one. My work, you know.”

Solo notes he’s an agent for U.N.C.L.E.

“My organization is involved with all sorts of evil all over the world. Sometimes we encounter an outfit named Thrush…they rate number one on our ‘evil outfits’ list. I’m going to meet one of their more attractive members tonight. Along with some free-lance evil types. Some history is involved in this escapade. So I think I’ll take along a couple of college students. Are you ready?”

Instead of these scripted openings, the production crew filmed a sequence that would be used to introduce the second through seventh episodes. Solo and Illya enter U.N.C.L.E. headquarters through the security entrance at Del Floria’s. They reach Waverly’s office. Each talks to the audience.

Staring with the eighth episode, The Double Affair, the series shifted to an “action introduction” based on the pilot. We see the shawdow of a mysterious intruder (in real life, George M. Lehr, who had the title assistant to producer) at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters. He fires at Solo standing behind the bullet-resistant screen.

Solo about to address the audience at the start of The Deadly Decoy Affair.

This would be used for the rest of the first season. However, there was one episode with one key change.

The Deadly Decoy Affair was the first episode aired in a new time slot, 8 p.m. eastern time on Monday. The “action introduction” proceeds as normal until Solo comes out from behind the screen with the “spider web” pattern after being struck by bullets.

“Good evening,” Solo says into the camera. “Tonight, we of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement have an affair involving Thrush. Now of course you remember Thrush…that nasty international band of renegades. Well, let’s see how nasty they’re going to be tonight, hmm?”

U.N.C.L.E.: Sam Rolfe’s Solo is ready for filming Part III

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

The Solo pilot was filmed in late 1963. The only significant delay was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. What started out as a light day (star Robert Vaughn’s 31st birthday) turned solemn and the production shut down for a few days.

Despite the conclusion of filming, writer Sam Rolfe wasn’t done. In early 1964, producer Norman Felton commissioned the scribe to write addditional scenes. Solo would be expanded into a feature film.

Initially, it would be distributed in international markets. But when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. became popular, the film version, To Trap a Spy, would get a U.S. release.

Rolfe turned it a number of pages dated Feb. 26, 1964, with some dated later.

The first scene involved U.N.C.L.E. agent Lancer. In the original pilot, U.N.C.L.E. official Allison tells Solo that Lancer had gotten a job at the company headed by Thrush official Andrew Vulcan. Lancer had tried to communicate information to Allison but was cut off.

In the new scene we’re introduced to Lancer “about forty-five years old, dressed in laborer’s clothing.” He’s driving a car that hits a post box with the address of 112 Old Post Road in Alexandria Virginia.

Lancer is wounded. “One hand is clutched against his side, blood staining through his fingers,” according to the stage directions. Another car is coming up from behind. “Lancer, frantic, scurries ahead.”

Lancer reaches a nearby house and calls out to Angela. She doesn’t answer. He reaches a fireplace where a small fire burns. He rips out the label from his jacket and puts in the fireplace. Lancer picks up a telephone.

LANCER (into phone, quickly)
Operator, get me Plaza 3-6098 in New York City.
(pause)
Yes, I’m calling from Arlington, Virginia
(pause)
Lancer here. Channel D inoperative. Direct report. When the premier of Western Natumba visits the plant, they’re going to assassinate…

He breaks off as there is a sharp silence that indicates the line has been cut. Lancer CLICKS the phone frantically.

Before Lancer can do anything else, Angela makes her appearance.

ANGELA is an attractive girl, with short, cropped hair. She is wearing a negligee and carrying a hairbrush. The feeling is that she has just come from a bath and was brushing out her hair when she encountered Lancer. Her eyes reflect surprise. As Lancer spins around she sees the blood on his shirt and she gasps.

Lancer tells Angela he didn’t want to involve her. Angela says they need to get Lancer to a doctor. However, Angela is really working for Thrush and lures Lancer to a window. “She shows no emotion as she watches Lancer,” according to the stage directions. Lancer opens the window and bright lights shine on him. That enables a gunman outside  to kill the operative.

Two men, including one identified as “the Leader” come into the room. He asks Angela if the dead agent had made contact before she could break the connection.

“Too bad,” the Leader replies. “We’ll have to make some immediate arrangements there.” This sequence now sets up the raid on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters that began the original Solo pilot.

Much later, after Solo has been assigned to investigate Andrew Vulcan, he’s driving his car when he smells perfume. “For a moment, he hesitates, ‘tasting’ the scent. He likes it, but not enough to stop being alert. His casualness is studied.”

Solo pulls the car over to the side of the road. He holds both a gun and a pack of cigarettes. Angela is in the back seat. Also, Solo is about to get his first name restored after it was stripped out of the Solo script.

SOLO
My name’s Napoleon Solo. I hope you don’t mind filters.

Angela tells Solo that Lancer is still alive but wounded. She claims that Lancer’s communicator can receive but not send.

“Her voice has been extremely sincere,” according to the state directions. “I’ll have to find out…won’t I?” Solo responds.

The couple go to Angela’s house. Solo is on guard, moving defensively.

ANGELA
You move beautifully. If this were a trap, you’d undoubtedly be able to kill me before you went down.

SOLO (smiles in return)
No question about it.

This cat and mouse game goes on for several pages. The banter includes claiming to have a nervous grandmother “back home in Topeka, Kansas. I’m afraid I inherited her genes.”

“Oh…are you from Kansas?” Angela asks.

“Of course,” Solo replies. “In’t everyone?”

This being a sequence intended for a movie, Solo and Angela make love. The banter continues afterward, but Solo hasn’t forgotten about Lancer. He finds the label to Lancer’s jacket in the fireplace. The conversation takes on a serious tone.

ANGELA (voice cooling in turn)
You weren’t rude just a short while ago. You gave much pleasure.

SOLO
And I enjoyed you in return. That makes us even. We don’t owe each other anything.

Just then, Lancer supposedly arrives outside. It’s actually his corpse popped up in position. Behind him is “SHOTGUN-MAN,” his weapon ready to fire.

Meanwhile, Solo (wisely) hesitates calling out to Lancer. The agent finally opens the window but swiftly moves to the side. The lights that helped get Lancer killed are activated. But with no one standing in front of the window, there isn’t any fire yet.

“Angela abruptly attempts to shove Solo back in front of the window…He spins away from her shove, as Angela now off-balance lands right in the line of fire…the Machine-Gun spray slams Angela’s body across the room,” according to the stage directions. ”

Solo fights his way out of the house and gets away. He chased by two thugs. But as Solo drives off, one of the thugs says he tampered with Solo’s car just in case. This sets up the scene in the Solo pilot where the agent’s car is booby trapped.

Luciana Paluzzi would be cast as Angela. To Trap a Spy would be, in effect, a dry run for her performance in 1965’s Thunderball as femme fatale Fiona Volpe.

Recasting a Major Part

There was one more writing task. Solo was picked up as a series by NBC. It would be renamed The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

David McCallum, Leo G. Carroll and Robert Vaughn in a scene written in August 1964, a little more than a month before it’d be included in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. first broadcast.

Rolfe became the day-to-day producer for the show’s first season. Between the pilot and the start of series production, the production staff opted to fire actor Will Kuluva who played U.N.C.L.E. chief Allison. In his place was veteran actor Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly.

This meant refilming scenes in the pilot, scheduled for broadcast on Sept. 22, 1964.

Thus, on pages dated August 18, 1964, came Waverly’s introduction. Immediately after Solo has killed the Leader of the Thrush attack on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, Waverly appears.

Waverly has come out of his office and is standing besides one of the posts in the room. He holds the folder with Vulcan’s picture on the cover.

WAVERLY
Quite right, Mr. Solo. Their idea was to prevent me from acting on some new information we’ve received.
(holds out folder)
Here…you may have the information, and Thrush can try to kill you for a while.

Waverly proceeds to tell both Solo and Illya about Andrew Vulcan and his place in Thrush. The name of Vulcan’s company has been changed to the United Global Chemical Corporation.

The mission is so urgent Waverly conducts the briefing in the same room with the body of the Leader of the Thrush raid on the floor. Meanwhile, the new pages don’t reference how the other members of the Thrush raiding party died after being poised by their own organization.

There is one more change. There is a brief scene where Illya gives Solo the college yearbook and says it was Waverly’s idea. Illya tells Solo about Andrew Vulcan having a girlfriend in college. That of course will be Elaine, the episode’s innocent.

It’s still a small role for Illya but he ends up taking a slightly bigger role helping Solo on the assignment. Illya would soon have a bigger presence.

U.N.C.L.E. was now on its way.

THE END

U.N.C.L.E.: Sam Rolfe’s Solo is ready for filming Part II

Title card for the Solo series pilot

When Sam Rolfe wrote up a series proposal titled Ian Fleming’s Solo, the concepts of the villainous organization Thrush and the “innocents” who would interact with U.N.C.L.E. agents were teased. In his 103-page script, Rolfe would flesh out both.

Thrush is so vast that the prominent Vulcan Chemicals company, headed by Andrew Vulcan, is part of Thrush. Solo remarks that Vulcan’s company is “the third largest plastics company in the country.” Allison, his superior, says it’s “the eastern seaboard cover of Thrush.”

Clearly, the stakes are enormous.

There is a silent reaction from Solo. Allison pushes the file across his desk. Solo takes it and looks at the photo stapled to the outer cover.

INSERT – THE FILE – PHOTO OF VULCAN

The photo shows a man in his mid thirties…

ALLISON’S VOICE
A few months ago we discovered that the president of the firm, Mr. Andrew Vulcan himself, is an officer of Thrush.

Lancer, another U.N.C.L.E. agent had gone undercover as an employee for Vulcan’s company. He tried to communicate with Allison but was cut cut off and is presumed dead.

That precipitated the raid on U.N.C.L.E. headquarters in New York at the beginning of the script. All U.N.C.L.E. knows is there will be some kind of assassination attempt planned for the three leaders of a newly independent African nation who are guests of Vulcan.

Solo gets a second, more detailed, briefing from a “young attractive woman (MARGARET OBERON)” who has been designated as Channel D and assigned to Solo on a “twenty-four hour until mission complete basis.” In the series, Channel D would simply be a communications channel, rather than an individual.

Oberon provides more details about Andrew Vulcan and his company as well as the contingent from Western Guiana (renamed Western Natumba when filmed). The three men led the guerilla war that led to their nation’s independence. They are led by Ashumen, the premier of the country.

The innocent of the script comes up because Andrew Vulcan once had a girlfriend in college.

Illya visits Solo at his apartment with a yearbook from Ruttenberg College. As typed in the script, it’s from 1942. The copy of the script the blog has shows that’s crossed out and 1949 substituted instead.

The agents also have a clipping from the college newspaper which has a picture of a young Vulcan with “his arm around a pretty young girl (ELAINE MAY BENDER).”

Solo says since college that Vulcan “has wrapped himself in a protective cocoon. No friends, no women that mean anything to him.” As a result, he opts to see if Elaine, now a married housewife, can be enlisted to help — to try to get through Vulcan’s cocoon.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Solo meets the now Elaine May Donaldson at her home. Her reverend has arranged an introduction but he’s nervous. He did it under duress from his bishop. Nevertheless, after initially refusing, Elaine agrees to help.

Thus, Rolfe establishes one of the aspects that would make U.N.C.L.E. different than other 1960s spy shows. In this case, there’s a firm reason why Solo seeks her help. In the series, over 105 episodes, there wouldn’t always be such strong connections. More often, innocents would stumble into the middle of the action. Still, Solo (and later Illya) would need to watch out for the welfare of the innocents as well as trying to accomplish their assignments.

What follows is a bit of spy vs. spy. Vulcan and the other Thrush operatives know who Solo is. At one point, Solo radios into Channel D.

SOLO
Thrush has me spotted. Also…it’s possible…correction probable that a member of the Western Guiana delegation is with Thrush.

The agent averts one attempt on his life when one of Vulcan’s engineers booby traps Solo’s car.

Meanwhile, Elaine does get through Vulcan’s protective cocoon — sometimes more successfully than she imagined. U.N.C.L.E. has established a cover story for Elaine (she’s supposed to be the widow of a Oklahoma oilman). For a time, Elaine has doubts whether Vulcan is really part of Thrush.

Despite that, Solo convinces Elaine to ask Vulcan to show her the industrialist’s plastics plant. The delegation from the African nation is scheduled to visit the facility the next day.

Solo investigates the plant while Elaine and Vulcan are walking the grounds. He’s eventually discovered. Solo is in peril and appears about to be captured when Elaine makes her choice and helps him get away momentarily.

The pair sees a car and intend to use it to leave the grounds. However, Ashumen, the African premier, is in the car. He turns out to be the member of the delegation who’s part of Thrush. Solo and Elaine are captured at the end of Act III.

Things aren’t looking good at the beginning of Act IV. “Solo’s wrists are encase in manacles linked together by a foot long chain,” according to the stage directions. Vulcan is more than displeased with Elaine.

He has dropped all pretenses. He starts a backhanded slap at Elaine. Solo quickly steps in the way, taking the blow across his own shoulder. Solo clasps his wrists and swings back, the loose swinging chain lashing across Vulcan’s face.

As filmed, Solo would simply punch Vulcan before he could strike Elaine.

A dire moment for Elaine (Patricia Crowley) and Solo (Robert Vaughn).

Vulcan and Ashumen plan to stage an “accident” during a demonstration of a reactor at the plant used to make new plastics. The other two leaders of the African nation will die and become martyrs. Ashumen will “rule in their names” — and provide Thrush with diplomatic immunity and other benefits of nationhood. Solo and Elaine will be killed by steam and their bodies will be found after the explosion.

Solo and Elaine have other ideas. The U.N.C.L.E. agent figures a way out of the fix they’re in.

He foils the assassination attempt while Vulcan and Ashumen die in the explosion instead. The script is a bit more elaborate than what was filmed. For example, the script has Solo donning an asbestos suit before going to the reactor. In the final version, he didn’t bother and is still in his tuxedo.

The script also has Nobuk, one of the surviving African leaders, telling his colleague, Conuellen, “You and I…we must continue in his name. His dreams were the dreams of our people. For him, we must go on. We must build.” This wouldn’t be part of the final product. Conuellen would renamed Soumarin in the final version.

The next evening, Solo and Elaine fly back to her home. She’s ready to disembark while Solo will fly on to New York.

She leans forward and kisses him on the cheek. Then she hurries down the aisle towards the exit. For a moment Solo stands rubbing his cheek perhaps ruefully, a lonely figure.

Not necessarily for long. A flight attendant, seeing Solo sitting by himself, asks if there’s anything she can do for him.

“…for we FREEZE FRAME…”

The last line has been delivered in the earnest manner of the young stewardess, trying hard to do her job. Solo turns to the stewardess and beckons for her to lean down towards him.

SOLO
Well…as a matter of fact….

But that is all we hear for we FREEZE FRAME and THE CAMERA MOVES IN TO HOLD ON A CLOSEUP of Solo and the stewardess as we:

FADE OUT.

The script is missing one thing — Solo’s first name. He is only called “Solo” or “Mr. Solo” during the story. In the end titles of the pilot shown to NBC executives, it simply reads, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

However, the Napoleon Solo name devised by Ian Fleming would return. This would occur after Sam Rolfe was enlisted to write additional scenes to make Solo into the film To Trap a Spy.

Also, there was the matter of some revised scenes before the show, now called The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would air on NBC in September 1964. An important part would be recast, necessitating the change.

TO BE CONTINUED

GUEST REVIEW: Solo by William Boyd

solonovel

The author did a review of Skyfall that ran on this blog on May 15 and has contributed to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website and alt.fan.james-bond.

By Peredur Glyn Davies
Much was made in the publicity for the new James Bond continuation novel Solo, by William Boyd, that this would feature 007 doing the unexpected and going rogue, “going solo.”

The very title hints that in this story Bond will not have the usual caravan of allies to help him, but that he will have to rely on his wits alone. The question is: is this an enticing and novel premise?

A brief glimpse into the Bond universe that precedes Solo shows us that Bond, of course, is not averse to going rogue. It’s a major aspect of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights, if we remain within the Fleming canon, and it crops up now and then elsewhere too (even in the Gardner novelisation of Licence to Kill, if you accept that as canon!).

Solo, then, is already potentially on the back foot, since it promises an original concept which itself lacks originality. Nevertheless, the idea of a truly rogue Bond is an appealing one. The idea of a period Bond novel which tries to move away from the formulaic issues that will plague any long-running series is also pleasing.

The plot sees Bond sent by M on an assassination mission to stop civil war in a fictional African country. Bond is aided along the way by a woman called Blessing and abetted by a scarred villain called Jakobus Breed (wherein the initials J.B. can hardly be a coincidence). Suffice to say that once Bond finds himself in Africa—and, later, the USA—he is beset by the usual dangers that we would expect Bond to face on one of his adventures.

Except… not really. There are a number of rather surprising things about Solo

First the titular tease of Bond going solo does not manifest itself until quite late in the novel, which means, among other things, that the book feels rather imbalanced—a work of two halves. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about that (Casino Royale, for example, is structurally very curious, but Fleming manages to make it work). But for a novel that claims to be different one would expect the author to embrace that difference from early on in the tale.

Even when he supposedly goes solo, Bond is hardly alone for most of those chapters. None of his actions really differ from how he would usually behave.

So he is doing these things without the permission of M. So what? A true rogue Bond should be doing things, surely, that fall outside the remit of his 00 status, to go to extremes for the sake of justice. Instead, Boyd sends Bond on a formulaic jaunt to America, the main problems he faces being trying to obtain a driver’s licence and weapons without support from Q Branch.

Second, Bond spends a long time in this book looking at other people doing things. Fleming’s Bond was never really a watcher. He is an impatient man, whose idea of fighting the foe is, more often than not, to barge in and rely on his wits, strength and luck. Boyd’s Bond is more of a detective, spending several chapters of the first half of the novel sitting in a town and letting things happen around him.

Instead of a blunt instrument, Boyd’s Bond is a refined instrument, cold and clinical rather than hot and passionate. There is literally one part of the novel which consists of four chapters of Bond looking at a building from another building.

Fleming’s Bond, I feel, would have got bored quickly and would have sought that white-hot thrill of danger and the threat of death.

Moreover, whilst Bond novels are always about more than just action and death-defying escapes, Solo is light on action scenes. Bond hardly gets into a fight at all.

Sometimes when the plot looks as if we’re building up to an exciting sequence, the author pulls back and the action either doesn’t transpire, or it is dealt with perfunctorily. Not that Solo shies away from violence but this violence is frequently rather static rather than being the kind of thing we expect of a page-turner.

In particular, the final climax is over and done with abruptly and any tension that has been cranked up prior to this point drains away unsatisfyingly.

Third, while the geopolitical aspects of the novel’s story are a refreshing change from anything involving nuclear bombs, the plot verges at times on being dull. This is because the plot revolves around issues such as who is funding the rebellion, and it’s hard to get one’s blood pumping about something that mundane.

Fleming was excellent at character-driven action, whereas Boyd often sticks to plot-driven action. The sheer number of named characters in the book (including a bewildering number of chauffeurs) hints at this. I found it strangely hard to care when certain characters got killed off or certain other characters turned out to be bad ‘uns.

This is a pity, since there are lots of interesting (or potentially interesting) characters here—especially Breed, the “man with two faces”—but I yearned for there to be more actual stuff happening between them and Bond.

Boyd doesn’t always tie his plot strands together very satisfyingly. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the case of a major female character whose numerous interactions with Bond ultimately serve only to fulfil a minor plot requirement.

Surely the overarching plot of any novel of this type should bring all the plot strands together, somehow, and in a pleasing fashion, at the end? Instead, a lot of this (rather long) novel’s story feels superfluous and disconnected.

Let me clarify that I still enjoyed reading Solo, for the most part. Boyd’s great skill as an author is in setting a scene, and some of the most pleasing sections of the novel are where Bond has a particularly fine meal or had a stiff drink. Boyd can cause the reader to salivate via an adroit turn of phrase.

There are also some chilling and moving descriptions of the plight of the fictional African civil war on the civilians, and a disturbing sequence where Bond tries to help some villagers who are on the verge of starving to death. Boyd also strives for realism, and much of the novel gives a detailed procedural account of how an intelligence operative might deal with the situation. I appreciated the research that Boyd has gone into, and the detail adds to the atmosphere.

On the other hand, Boyd’s adherence to realism means that there are almost no fantastical elements to this story. Whilst I did not expect any giant squids or gardens of death, I believe that good Bond stories set themselves apart from the crowd by being able to include fantastical elements without descending into pastiche.

Solo is down to earth, for the main part, and there is almost nothing here that could be termed spectacular. Glimpses of Fleming-like plot details late in the day give promise, but are ultimately overshadowed by the more pedestrian aspects of the story.

Solo could be described as a character study of Bond rather than a Bond adventure. Nevertheless, I don’t suspect most people pick up a Bond book for a character study. To me, the insightful investigation of Bond’s inner workings fall flat when put against the book’s failings. More often than not the plot rambles and the action is flaccid.

I realised, after finishing the book, that I was more able to accept the structural and narrative idiosyncrasies of Solo if I conceived of it as not being an action thriller, but rather a whodunit of sorts. Bond is much more the detective than the physical hero.

If you go into reading this novel without expecting the derring-do we might otherwise expect of James Bond, but instead see it as a slow unravelling of a complex plot, then perhaps it would feel less strange.

That said, the key part of any whodunit is the great reveal, and ‘the reveal’ here, when it comes, didn’t excite me. In a novel where Bond meets one of the villains only once, about a third of the way through, it’s hard to be that gripped by a plot twist.

It seems likely, going by Ian Fleming Publications’ current business model, that William Boyd will not write another Bond novel. That would be a shame, if only that several plot elements are left unresolved here, and as such it feels incomplete without a continuation of the tale. Also, Boyd clearly knows his Bond very well, and his writing style is fresh and highly readable, and perhaps in a different novel the same flaws might not arise again in a sequel.

However, ultimately I see Solo as the third part of a disconnected trilogy of lacklustre Bond continuation novels—following from Devil May Care and Carte Blanche—which have played with the character and with the formula in various ways, but on no occasion truly succeeding.

The more experimental Bond novels of late, specifically the Young Bond and the Moneypenny novels, have, in my view, been far more successful than the ‘adult Bond trilogy’ as sources of entertainment because they have nailed both the character and the spirit of Fleming’s creation in a way that William Boyd hasn’t succeeded.

What’s the future of 007 continuation novels?

007 continuation novel authors William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks and friend.

007 authors William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks and friend.

Another James Bond novel has been published. So where does the series go from here? Ian Fleming Publictions (formerly Glidrose) has been all over the place.

From 1981 until 2002, continuation novels by John Gardner followed by Raymond Benson were published pretty much on a regular basis.

A new regime then took control of the literary 007 and that changed. The literary secret agent went on hiatus while novels featuring a young James Bond and The Moneypenny Diaries were published.

Since 2008, and the return of an adult Bond, Ian Fleming Publications has veered from period piece (Devil May Care) to total reboot (Carte Blanche) back to period piece (Solo).

The only thing the novels have in common is name authors: Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver and William Boyd.

The question is whether that strategy is working. There were reports (such as THIS ONE ON THE MI6 JAMES BOND FAN WEBSITE) that sales have tailed off in the U.K. since Faulks’s Devil May Care, published the same year as the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth.

Novels written by John Gardner and Raymond Benson attempted to maintain a sense of continuity, with stories playing upon one another. The current IFP management seems to prefer one-off adventures that have no connection to each other.

Part of that stems from the choice of employing big-name authors — their James Bond will only live once.

“They find it fun and enjoyable but they’ve got their own books to write.” Corinne Turner, Corinne Turner, managing director of IFP, told The New York Times in a story PUBLISHED THIS MONTH.

Strictly a guess, but don’t expect another adult James Bond continuation novel soon. IFP has announced a new Young Bond series, with Steve Cole taking over from Charlie Higson. So IFP will be busy.

Also, based on The New York Times story, IFP doesn’t sound like it intends to change direction for the literary adult 007. So, if IFP opts to keep going for big-name writers, perhaps it will keep 007 off the market for a while to let demand build back up.

For the moment, there’s no incentive to make a major change. Eon Productions has made clear it has no interest in using continuation novels as the basis of 007 movies.

Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson criticized the Gardner novels in the 1980s and ’90s. Meanwhile, John Logan, one of Skyfall’s screenwriters, was hired to write the next two movies, the first of which won’t be out until two years from now.

So the next time you read about a 007 author saying his story has “been sent to Eon,” the best-case scenario was the novel was placed on a shelf.