The Bond Brand Lives On
James Bond has proved to be a lasting brand name, and a moneyspinner for the Fleming Estate. Aside from other spin-offs, the estate contracted Charlie Higson to write about the 'young Bond' at Eton College, and then chose Sebastian Faulks, author of a fine 1993 best-selling war novel titled Birdsong, to produce the latest adventure of the most famous employee of Her Majesty's Secret Service. The result, Devil May Care, was launched with great fanfare by Penguin UK. It has now been released by Penguin India, aimed at the thriller-consuming Indian reading class.
The first thing a reader of the book will realize is that Faulks is no Ian Fleming. But then the same is true of the latest Bond movies, where Daniel Craig's Bond is hardly the same Bond portrayed over a generation ago by the likes of Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Craig's Bond has metamorphosed into a darker character, with less frills and more anger, especially as portrayed in the latest installment, 'Quantum of Solace'. Faulks' Bond is similarly dark, having seemed to have shed almost all his flippancy in favor of a more aggressive and ruthless special agent.
In creating a dark Bond, Faulks foregoes much of the wit and humour that characterized Ian Fleming's books. All that remains are some overly sarcastic exchanges with M which seem, at best, misplaced and exaggerated. A careful reader will definitely be struck by the sheer implausibility of the plot, which winds its way through, of all places, Iran, which seems like a hedonist heaven, complete with drug smuggling from Afghanistan, bath houses, and seductive women. It's an Iran that's almost impossible to imagine in today's world; as laden with the vestiges of the 1960s, however, it's strangely believable. Along the way, Bond bumps into familiar faces - Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis, among others - and meets some new friends, like the head of operations in Tehran, the instantly likable Darius Alizadeh.
Of course, no Bond story is complete without the nefarious villain, and this book features a villain who is diabolical, has a deformity and a resultant inferiority complex, but, most importantly, an ominous henchman. Bond first meets his nemesis while playing a game of tennis, a decidedly un-Bond-like game, which he wins despite the villain's attempts to cheat. From there, he finds out about the villain's undying hate for England, and his desire to not only drown England in narcotics and drugs, but to also incite a nuclear war between England and the Soviet Union. However, throughout the book, the villain's evil is overshadowed by the ferocity of his sidekick, to the point where one begins to completely forget about the villain.
Devil May Care features the latest in a line of beautiful Bond girls. This book's female protagonist, Scarlett Papava, is almost as dark as Bond, and hides a secret that most readers will guess quite early in to the book. To be honest, her involvement frequently defies explanation, and her reasons and motivation seem quite stretched and strange.
As has been said before, the sheer implausibility of the plot is one of this book's most prominent features. However, it is a James Bond novel, and therefore, by definition, is not supposed to be completely realistic. This is a great book for those times when one needs to mainline pure adrenaline into one's bloodstream, and is a fun quick read. To truly enjoy it, one must suspend one's sense of reality, and let the book take one into Bond's world of intrigue, mystery and drama.
Devil May Care was written on the occasion of Ian Fleming's 100th birth anniversary. Had he been alive, Fleming would no doubt have enjoyed the book immensely.