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Rating: 5.4 / 10
on May 12, 2013
This was the first James Bond novel I've read. I came to this through the movies. I've read some bad thrillers over the years - “Tyrannosaur Canyon” by Douglas Preston, “Treasure of Khan” by Clive Cussler, “The Emperor's Tomb” by Steve Barry – and I figured, let's go for the source. James Bond, the movie version, is everything I look for in a thriller, particularly a spy thriller. He's a quasi-antihero womaniser secret agent with an appropriate ratio of martial ass-kicking and gadgets, that acts independently on world-changing stakes.
Sebastian Faulks writes “as Ian Fleming” in this sequel to “The Man with the Golden Gun”, disregarding all the other incarnations in the 80s and 90s, writing in Fleming's style. The story takes place in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War. The antagonist is Dr. Julius Gorner, a chemist plotting the downfall of Britain as justice for the various crimes Britain's imperialism spread in decades and century's past, with a monkey's paw for a hand, an ego to match his scheme and an Asian sidekick as muscle whose undergone brain surgery to render him a sociopath and also remove his sense of pain and irony. It's classic bond, with as much gun violence, explosions and sex as a PG-13 rating can handle.
The problem with a lot of thrillers out there is that not only are they pure pulp to the greatest degree, but that they also conform to a certain sub-genre I call airport pulp. Airport pulp is almost precisely a set length (probably around 90,000 words), designed to be bought at an airport gift shop, read while waiting to board and flying, while you're half stoned on Xanax, and then finished on the return flight, while you're half hung over. There's no deep themes, there's no exploration of deep characters, there's a set length so you're sure to finish it, and it's simple enough in it's story so that you can forget half of it and still know roughly what's going on.
“Devil May Care” is no exception to airport pulp. And it's utterly forgettable. However, it doesn't fail in all the same ways as Douglas Preston, Clive Cussler  of Steve Barry fail – and that actually makes it more forgettable.
There's a problem with classic James Bond films. In the days of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, this is the peak of the Cold War, and you're dealing with a British secret agent. There could be all kinds of commentary on communism, capitalism, American hegemony, Stalinist totalitarianism and so forth, but instead whom do we have for an antagonist – an apolitical consortium of self-identified evil-doers bent on world domination for no specified reason. It might has well be James Bond versus Pinky and the Brain. This is one of the reasons I'm loving the Daniel Craig Bond films.
In “Devil May Care”, Julius Gorner is not merely Pinky and the Brain. He does have a genuine motive and it does bring up issues of British imperialism. His plan is to destroy the West by decaying Western society through growing drug addiction, both pharmaceutically and criminally – which is both plausible and arguably happening. There's no sharks with laser beams here. However, that's about the extent of it. Gorner's plan is never really elaborated on, and it comes out by pure dictation, him merely elucidating every aspect of it to Bond as a gloat. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic in comparison to what we're used to in the films, but does include a nice exodus from the Soviet Union without too much wordiness.
The prose is nothing spectacular, but it's not bad either. The structure is nicely done with fairly even chapters, each titled decently without the need to throw in any filler names. The Bond girl seems somewhat stereotypical in the beginning, but I'd say she's nicely done in the end.
Faulks has said he won't be doing any more Bond novels, and I'm not sure if I'm going to check out the Jeffrey Deaver novel. This is a good book for airport pulp; whether that's praise or not I'll leave up to you.
 Clive Cussler doesn't actually qualify as airport pulp, because what he writes is far too long to qualify, but he's otherwise indistinguishable.