I’ve never read Anthony Horowitz’s previous James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis – or indeed any 007 novel not written by Ian Fleming – so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. However, I’m pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised. Forever and a Day is set before Casino Royale (the first James Bond novel, if you’re not up to scratch) and it takes as its starting point a treatment called Russian Roulette that Ian Fleming wrote for a proposed American TV series in the 1960s. An American James Bond? Sounds awful – thank goodness it was never made.
Whether it’s because of the Ian Fleming source material or whether he just likes the era I’m not sure, but Horowitz makes the wise choice of setting Forever and a Day in the same period as the original novels; somewhere in the 50s, close enough to the War for it to still hang heavily over the action. James Bond is supposed to be a relatively young spy in this story, but he’s still old enough to have seen active service. Other characters are scarred and emotionally damaged by the War; it lends an additional texture to the characterisation that you simply don’t get with an offhand mention of Afghanistan or some such in contemporary Bond.
In keeping with a lot of the original Bond novels, the plot seems initially small-scale but with potentially huge political consequences. James Bond is promoted to the position of 007 after the previous incumbent in that role is found dead. He is sent to the South of France to investigate a massive drug operation that is believed to be being operated by ageing millionaire Irwin Wolfe and obese gangster Jean-Paul Scipio. Along the way, he encounters the mysterious femme fatale Madam Sixtine and American secret agent Reade Griffith, a sort of prototype Felix Leiter.
It’s a relatively tight cast of characters, which is a good thing. At its most self-indulgent moments, the Bond movie franchise has a tendency to splurge on unnecessarily large numbers, who exist mainly to get killed off in various exotic ways. Forever and a Day mercifully eschews that tendency and sticks to an intimate group of heroes and villains, keeping everything so much more personal and meaningful. Bond is the Bond of Ian Fleming’s books; businesslike, cold and methodical. No punning quips pass his lips, though Horowitz cheekily has Sixtine deliver one, suggesting that it could be where Bond gets the idea from.
The plot is simple and moves at a moderate pace, picking up momentum for its cinematic ending upon a sinking luxury liner. This is a good thing, because the frenetic pace of modern Bond movies does not translate well to the written word. The reader of this story feels like they are following the procedural process of Bond’s investigation with him; there are few, if any, scenes that take place outside his personal experience. The sense of period is palpable; you can see the bright blue oceans and glittering casinos in your mind’s eye as they would have looked shot on 1960s Eastmancolour film stock.
Horowitz perfectly evokes Fleming’s notable obsessions. Forever and a Day shares Fleming’s works’ almost fetishistic descriptions of anything mechanical, from guns to automobiles, and clothes and furniture are described with an urbane attention to detail that rarely raises its well-coiffed head in modern fiction. This doesn’t feel like a book written in 2018, it feels like a book of the 1950s – and since that was the author’s intention, it succeeds admirably in its task. James Bond has now passed into the pantheon of timeless heroes, like Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan, whose adventures can be pitched in any time, in any decade, without losing their essential flavour.
As I said at the start of this review, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about non-Fleming James Bond. I’m aware that there have been many books by many authors, but I’ve never felt inclined to read any of them before. Forever and a Day has changed my attitude to them. It’s certainly made me want to seek out the previous Anthony Horowitz novel Trigger Mortis, but it’s also made me think twice about seeking out some of the others. In all, a very enjoyable read, not weighed down by continuity or the need to include certain characters or situations and well worth a look if you have, like myself, meandered away from all things bond.
Oh, and the Hancock reference is priceless!
‘Forever and a Day’ by Anthony Horowitz is published in hardback by Jonathan Cape / Penguin (2018)