Devil May Care is a new James Bond novel written by Sebastian Faulks to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth. Where many authors might take the opportunity to apply a modern makeover to 007 this is very much Faulks writing in the style of Ian Fleming. He is ever careful to avoid slipping into parody, and reading the opening chapters confirms that Faulks has done his homework on Bond’s history. He’s also a wise choice for the job, his diverse back catalogue including such stunningly different novels as Birdsong, On Green Dolphin Street and Engleby prove he’s keen to turn his hand to most things. And we can now tick spy fiction off as another of his successes.
Like the Fleming back catalogue, Devil May Care isn’t great literature but it’s a great spy novel. Faulks effortlessly recreates the 1960s to follow where the original series ended. The Cold War comes to life, and the technology of the day charmingly shines through (agents having to make landline calls, and double agents cunningly pulling telephone wires out of their sockets). There’s also all the ingredients of classic Bond – the beautiful girl, crazed Oriental assassin, super villain with a grudge and a deformity. Add to that the wining and dining, a dozen trademark Bond hot showers, and a classic train-bound fight to the death. And throughout Faulks manages to plant the image of Sean Connery in my mind. At least his physique and looks; the action scenes reminded me of the recent authentic version of Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig.
Tired, broken and in need of a drying out period James Bond is enjoying a well earned sabbatical. But as with most Bond novels, holidays are cut short by a call from M. Returning to London Bond notices the young, long-haired and carefree on the streets and smells the tell-tale aroma of cannabis. It’s 1967, and drugs have a firm foothold in Devil May Care. Bond is on the trail of a criminal mastermind who is planning to maim England badly through drugs. The novel takes time, there’s long passages of dialogue and an excellent early stand-off in the form of a tennis match between Bond and his enemy before things pick up. Faulks sets the scene wonderfully. There’s also the international flavour you might expect. As well as London, the action shifts from Paris to Iran and Russia.
Published by Penguin, the end papers of the book add Devil May Care to the Bond canon that includes Fleming’s fourteen original books and, interestingly, Charlie Higson’s four young Bond novels. The Kingsley Amis Bond effort from the late sixties is not included, nor the various novels that appeared in the eighties and nineties. If Sebastian Faulks is the official heir to Fleming then it’s unclear if he’s willing to write any more novels. If he isn’t, then this is a shame. Devil May Care is highly enjoyable, and I fully expect the paperback blurb to include the cliché “enjoyable romp”. Add to that “Bond is back – at his best”.