Finished Solo, the new Bond book by William Boyd.
It starts off pretty dull, with an aimless meander through Bond's 45th birthday. Now, longtime fans of the literary Bond will know that 45 is mandatory retirement age for 00s, so this has something to do with that, right? Wrong. It's never mentioned, it just happens to be his age this birthday, for no readily apparent reason (other, perhaps, than to make him the same age as Daniel Craig).
Boyd seems determined to do a pastiche of the *perception* of Fleming's style, rather than of his actual style, leading to endless recipes - and of dubious choices too. There's even a footnote repeating one recipe from the main text. That'd fit better which a Len Deighton pastiche, since at least Deighton was a cordon-bleu cook.
Oh, another word of warning - if you start a drinking game with this, taking a shot every time somebody lights up a cigarette, you'll be dead of alcohol poisoning about three chapters in. I mean, I know there's a lot less smoking in things now than in the 60s, but this goes well above and beyond the level seen in any actual book or movie from the days when it was seen as cool and/or healthy.
Plot-wise, Bond is sent to stop a war in Africa, shit goes down, and he decides to go rogue and hunt down the villains in Washington. OK... Bond going rogue is, frankly, not the unusual thing that Boyd seems to think (he does it in, like, half the fucking movies, and in at least a couple of the original novels).
Luckily things pick up in the Africa sections - all I know about war-torn Africa I learned from playing Far Cry 2, but this is some really good stuff. Bond doesn't come over as James Bond, but post-colonial Africa in the 60s definitely comes over as that, and there's some really atmospheric stuff. The action is believable and realistic too - though unfortunately Bond is required to be monumentally stupid in places. (drugging the guy and putting him in the boot, telling someone where to find him, instead of just killing the guy? Fuck off.)
Africa's the highlight of the book, and when the trail takes him to Washington, it's... OK. Though his vigilante garb is pure Charles Bronson in Death Wish, and, again, not James Bond. Felix doesn't feel like Felix either.
The twists behind the events are quite believable, though, again, more Deighton than Fleming - one can't help thinking Boyd would have made a better guest-star writer to resurrect Harry Palmer than Bond - but the ending... Well, there's a pretty daft ambiguous ending just when you expect a last minute showdown, and that sucks. Not because it's ambiguous but because it feels like stuff has been cut and hastily replaced at the insistence of the rights holders. I'll say more about that in a minute.
So far, out of the three big-name guest writers for Bond, Faulks's is still the best despite its many falws. Deaver's is a good twisty thriller, but not Bond. This one suffers from a) being more Palmer than Bond, and b) really feeling like there's been a lot of what in a movie we'd call studio interference - the ending that seems set up to lead into a final showdown or sequel hook, but then doesn't; especially the focus on Bond's 45th birthday, but then not addressing the retirement age issue. It really feels like Glidrose/IFP got cold feet and decided to demand some last-minute chickening-out in places.
TBH the issue, I think, is one of them going "what literary golden boy can we get, who'll get us good press in the broadsheets?" rather than "who can we get who can do really good James Bond?" - obviously Deaver's a bit of an anomaly cos he made the mistake of having a story rather than being posh doyenne of the broadsheet literati.