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Book Review: Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming

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To coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth, Ian Fleming’s estate commissioned author Sebastian Faulks to write Devil May Care, which came out in hardcover in May 2008 and in paperback the following May. He is credited on the cover “writing as Ian Fleming,” but it’s not clear what the designation is supposed to mean. Does that make the story official Bond canon, is Faulks separating the book from his other works, or is it just marketing? Some combination of all three may be the answer. because while the book has some good elements for those who enjoy the spy genre, its flaws ultimately cause it to fall flat.

Set during 1967, more than a year and a half after his last assignment, chronicled in Fleming’s final novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, the reader finds James Bond on sabbatical with his future as a double-O agent in doubt. However, M recalls him home two weeks early so the Service can learn more about the exploits of Dr. Julius Gorner, a man involved in the wide-scale manufacturing and trafficking of illegal narcotics. Gorner is easy to recognize because he has an unusual deformity that makes one of his hands resemble a monkey’s paw, which he covers with a glove. Once Bond learns this, he realizes he has already crossed paths with the man.

Bond gains another reason to investigate Gorner: Poppy, the twin sister of Scarlett Papava, is Gorner’s prisoner, and Scarlett implores Bond to help rescue her. She sets up a casual meeting between the two men, and then continues to show up and offer Bond assistance throughout the mission. More familiar faces appear to also provide help, like René Mathis of France’s Deuxième Bureau and Pinkerton Detective Felix Leiter, formerly of the CIA.

While learning of Gorner’s plans, Bond is captured. As most villains are wont to do, he makes clear his intentions to the imprisoned Bond, which if successful will lead to World War III. Of course, with Bond on the case the outcome is no surprise.

Devil May Care is as a serviceable adventure of international intrigue as Bond travels to France, where he plays a game of high stakes tennis against Gorner; Persia, where Gorner’s base of operations is hidden in the desert; and the Soviet Union, as he attempts to make his way home. Gorner’s two-pronged attack on Britain through the import of narcotics and a false flag operation is admittedly interesting and plausible, although his motivation is either unclear or rather sleight.

The main reason the novel falters is because it comes across as Faulks copying Fleming, as if going down a checklist, rather than actually writing as him. There are too many references to other Bond works, possibly to celebrate the centennial. Mentions of previous characters, like Le Chiffre (Casino Royale) and Hugo Dax (Moonraker), don’t always read as natural parts of conversation and sometimes feel forced. There are also too many rehashed ideas. Gorner is similar to Dr. No, both scientists with disfigured hands. Goldfinger is amply sampled with Bond meeting over a game and the villain revealed to be a cheater (Gorner at tennis, Goldfinger at golf); Gorner’s henchman, the Vietnamese Chagrin is reminiscent of the Korean Oddjob, and both have action sequences with planes experiencing depressurization. The homages aren’t restricted to the world of Bond as the kissing bit from Raiders of the Lost Ark is nicked as well.

As a character, Bond comes up short. He is easily captured in what he senses is a trap yet he ignores his instinct for no other reason then to get the character inside the operation. He develops feelings rather quickly for Scarlett, even thinking he’s in love by the end, and is never suspicious about how she constantly appears and reappears at the different locales. Although women are Bond’s weakness, it is rather obvious she isn’t what she portrays, but he doesn’t think twice about it. Bond may have a great deal of rust from the time off, and that idea could have made for a compelling story about Bond in the twilight of his career, but Faulks allows Bond no reflection, so it comes off like a poor job handling the character.

A plot point that isn’t clarified clearly is a CIA operative who works to see Gorner’s plan executed so Britain may be coerced into joining the United States in the Vietnam War. If this is just an agent working on his own or on behalf of a small group of like-minded individuals, the idea works. If this is supposed to be official CIA or U.S. policy, it isn’t believable as is and needed to be fleshed out with a scene or two.

If you are looking for a fun distraction, Devil May Care works on that level, especially since it is more than twice as long as Fleming’s stories; however, Faulks makes too many missteps to recommend, especially to Bond fans.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • doug

    Since this ‘as fleming’, will it be a movie?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Apparently, the Bond producers weighed in and said no, but never say never in Hollywood

  • Strangeface

    That checklist point is absolutely correct. Every single reference to other Bond stories seems forced. Because it’s so long, it becomes boring, and I never found myself caring about the outcome, the villains or Bond. A dull flop.