The Penguin British edition has lovely endpapers if a blasé dustjacket, no chapter page at all, but it’s honestly what’s inside the book that makes or breaks it…
Imagine, reading the opening of Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks’ enviable (and yet, somehow, unenviable) assignment—to write AS Ian Fleming and bring Bond back somewhere between 007’s GOLDEN GUN mission and the events of COLONEL SUN. One could get fast annoyed with Faulks’ overuse of French idioms—Fleming smattered some foreign terms into his books but didn’t deluge the reader (pun intended). Soon, however, Bond enters the picture, and the picture grows brighter fast for us addicts of the genre.
The world is all as it should be—40-plus years before today. M is a crusty salt and Bond can bloody well wait for him to light his pipe, women’s lib hasn’t quite yet been invented and the CIA will do anything, anything at all, to win in Vietnam. Bond and the people of his Faulksian world are highly xenophobic, snobbish, sadistic and sexual.
Faulks’ pastiche is a veritable mélange of decapitations, dislocated shoulders and gruesome deaths—I have a strong stomach but was revulsed by some of his passages—and yet, of course, this edginess on the reader’s part is part and parcel of the Fleming effect.
The action takes place in four widely different countries, Faulks answers all the “what ifs” of bringing Bond back in the 2000’s—to back in the 1960’s—from getting 007 in shape for his mission with a little tennis (Tennish? I thought we were playing at half-pasht nine?) to drinking the right kinds of cocktails in the right cities to handling the inevitable endit romance.
This is more Fleming’s Bond than EON’s, a near humorless athlete challenged to the limits of physical and mental endurance, pitted against intelligent yet villainous slime, God save the Queen. There are also numerous continuity references, more than have ever been placed into a continuation novel. Interesting.
There is more action than I can remember in any of Gardner’s or Benson’s books or even Mr. Fleming’s. The novel feels like a Bond film with a big ending long before even bigger endings are attached. Bond and Co., including some very welcome old friends, also get into so many dust-ups that it’s a wonder any of them survive.
Although Faulks gets more confident in his handling of the material as the book progress, he comes remarkably close in the last half of the book to reading just like Ian Fleming. There were moments, even entire pages, where I could have been reading Fleming’s 007. A remarkable effort.
All in all, a fine read, and although I would have chosen some different paths for our man (Opium smuggling? I was relived when the Dr. Gorner chap finally tried to properly blow up half the world…). I would be quite pleased to see Sebastian Faulks pen a few more Bond novels going forward.
Read the bloody book so we can properly discuss it, already.