Book review – FOREVER AND A DAY (2018) by Anthony Horowitz

FOREVER AND A DAY (2018) ***½
by Anthony Horowitz 
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 304pp (283pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 2018
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and The Ian Fleming Estate, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-784-70638-8
Blurb: A British agent floats in the waters of the French Riviera, murdered by an unknown hand. Determined to uncover the truth, James Bond enters a world of fast cars, grand casinos and luxury yachts. But beneath the glamour, he soon encounters a dangerous network of organised crime. It’s time for Bond to earn his licence to kill. He must find those responsible and unravel their devastating plan – before he becomes their next victim…
Comment: This latest continuation James Bond novel sees Horowitz return after his modest effort on Trigger Mortis. Here he decides to set his story as a prequel to Fleming’s Casino Royale, establishing Bond’s appointment to the double-o section and his first mission. The mission sees Bond travel to Marseilles to look into the death of his predecessor, who was investigating a local gangster. There is much exposition and time is taken on giving depth to the major characters in the story – notably the enigmatic Madame Sixtine, with whom Bond forms an alliance and an emotional attachment. The villains are the multi-millionaire Irwin Wolfe, who produces film stock and the slimy Jean-Paul Scipio – a Corsican gangster. The pace is a little laboured with the odd interjection of action until the finale aboard Wolfe’s steamer, which gives the novel an exciting finish along with a coda that wraps the story up nicely. Not many surprises but fans of 007 will likely enjoy this addition to the Bond library.

Film Review – SERENITY (2005)

SERENITY (2005, USA) ****
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Barry Mendel Productions; d. Joss Whedon; w. Joss Whedon; pr. Barry Mendel; ph. Jack N. Green (Colour. 35 mm (anamorphic) (Kodak Vision 2383), Digital (Texas Instruments DLP 1280 x 1024, 1.9 : 1 anamorphic). Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format). 2.35:1); m. David Newman; ed. Lisa Lassek; pd. Barry Chusid; ad. Daniel T. Dorrance; rel. 22 August 2005 (UK), 22 September 2005 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 119m.
cast: Nathan Fillion (Mal), Gina Torres (Zoë), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Morena Baccarin (Inara), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), Sean Maher (Simon), Summer Glau (River), Ron Glass (Shepherd Book), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative), David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (Dr. Mathias), Sarah Paulson (Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (Mingo), Rafael Feldman (Fanty), Nectar Rose (Lenore), Tamara Taylor (Teacher), Glenn Howerton (Lilac Young Tough), Hunter Ansley Wryn (Young River).
A group of rebels led by war veteran Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) travels the outskirts of space aboard their ship, Serenity, outside the reach of the Alliance, a sinister regime that controls most of the universe. After the crew takes in Simon (Maher) and his psychic sister, River (Glau), whom he has just rescued from Alliance forces, they find themselves being pursued by the Operative (Ejiofor), an Alliance agent who will stop at nothing to find them. The events of the film take place six months after the last episode of the Firefly (2002) TV series, which was cancelled prematurely by the network despite its loyal fan base. Here, Whedon attempts to tie-up some of the loose threads that resulted from the series being dropped. Whilst the movie may require its audience to be familiar with the series, there is still much to enjoy for newcomers. The action is ramped up and there is the witty character interaction that endeared the TV show to its audience leaving sufficient of the series’ spirit on show to make this a success. All the regulars return and there are shocks and surprises along the way. Whedon’s direction is fast-paced and the cast hit the ground running. It’s a shame the movie did not earn sufficient box office to warrant extending the franchise.

Book Review – COLONEL SUN (1968) by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham)

COLONEL SUN (1968) ***½
by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham)
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 344pp (317pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1966
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1968
Introduction by Kingsley Amis (5pp)
ISBN: 978-1-784-87145-1
Blurb: Lunch at Scott’s, a quiet game of golf, a routine social call on his chief M, convalescing in his Regency house in Berkshire – the life of secret agent James Bond has begun to fall into a pattern that threatens complacency … until the sunny afternoon when M is kidnapped and his house staff savagely murdered. The action ricochets across the globe to a volcanic Greek island where the glacial, malign Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the People’s Liberation Army of China collaborates with an ex-nazi atrocity expert in a world-menacing conspiracy. Stripped of all professional aids, Bond faces unarmed the monstrous devices of Colonel Sun in a test that brings him to the verge of his physical endurance.
Comment: This is the first continuation James Bond novel commissioned by Ian Fleming’s estate. Amis, a respected author in his own right (Lucky Jim, The Green Man, etc.), was a friend of Fleming’s and a fan of the series. He had written two books about the series – The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007 (using the pseudonym of M’s chief-of-staff, Lt-Col William (‘Bill’) Tanner). He was therefore a logical choice to continue the series. The book is very well written and provides a scenario which tests Bond to his physical limits. The torture scene in the book’s final act is more sadistic and unpleasant than anything Fleming conjured up. The Greek setting gives the tale a fresh feel too, but somehow lacks Fleming’s sense of place. The plot is simple in that M is kidnapped by the Chinese psychotic, Colonel Sun Liang-tan, who is supported by a former Nazi in a scheme to unsettle the international community by obliterating a Russian conference and leaving the bodies of M and Bond as framed culprits. Bond works with the Russians, in the form of female agent Ariadne Alexandrou with whom he becomes romantically involved, to track down Sun’s lair and rescue M. The action scenes are well-staged and Amis remains true to Fleming’s format and characterisations. Amis has Bond rely on his resilience and physical strength, rather than gimmicks, to overcome the odds. There is little in the way of back-reference to the events in the Fleming novels, so the story holds up well as a standalone. Ultimately, it makes for a solid thriller that would have sat within the mid-range of Fleming’s series.

Book Review – OCTOPUSSY AND THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1966) by Ian Fleming

OCTOPUSSY AND THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1966) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 126pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1966
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966
Introduction by Sam Leith (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57702-7
Short Stories:
Octopussy (1965, 46pp) ***
The Property of a Lady (1963, 34pp) **½
The Living Daylights (1962, 34pp) ****
007 in New York (1963, 8pp) **
Blurb: ‘This was going to be bad news, dirty work. This was to be murder’. Four classic moments in the life of a spy. From avenging the wartime murder of a friend to sniper duty on the East-West Berlin border, James Bond’s body, mind and spirit are tested to their limits.
Comment: This is the fourteenth and last of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books to be published, and the second posthumously. The book collects four short stories of varying quality. The two weaker stories – “Property of a Lady” and “007 in New York” were commissioned pieces of work. The former by auction house Sotheby’s for their journal The Ivory Hammer and the latter for the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. Neither story has anything of real interest. “007 in New York” is a brief episode describing Bond’s arrival in the city to warn a former British agent that her boyfriend works for the opposition. Its only claim is the written recipe of Scrambled Eggs James Bond. “Property of a Lady” describes Russian underhandedness at an auction of Faberge jewellery. The story has little to offer, other than some insight into auction etiquette. “Octopussy”, originally published posthumously in the Daily Express, is an interesting story of honour with Bond having tracked down Colonel Dexter-Smythe, who, following WWII, murdered a guide in the Swiss mountains as he tracked down some Nazi gold bullion. The guide also happened to be Bond’s former ski instructor from his youth. Bond allows Dexter-Smyth the honourable way out. The story is well written blending the flashback of the discovery of the gold with the present in which Dexter-Smythe is a sad recluse. There is a neat resolution as Dexter-Smythe, awaiting his eventual arrest, is stung by a scorpion fish and devoured by his own pet octopus. Was it accident or suicide? The best of the bunch is “The Living Daylights”, written for The Sunday Times colour supplement. It is set in Berlin where Bond is on a mission to assassinate a sniper out to shoot a defector as he attempts from East to West. When Bond realises the sniper is a woman he spares her life, but destroys her weapon allowing the defector to make his escape. Bond is chastised by his fellow agent for disobeying orders and putting the mission at risk. The story is excitingly written and just the right length. Bond sticks to his principles and we get to better understand how his attitude toward his job. So, a mixed bag, but still much to enjoy.

Book Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) by Ian Fleming

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) **½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 238pp (214pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1965
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1965
Introduction by William Boyd (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57699-0
Blurb: ‘Mister, there’s something quite extra about the smell of death. Care to try it?’ After a year missing in action, Bond is back…brainwashed by the KGB and on a mission to assassinate M. To prove his worth to the Service, he must hunt down and eliminate his fiercest opponent yet: “Pistols” Scaramanga – “The Man With The Golden Gun”.
Comment: Fleming’s final full-length James Bond novel (a collection of short stories followed) was the first published after his death. Hampered by a standard Bond vs. Gangsters plot, reminiscent of Live and Let Die (both share the Jamaica setting) and Diamonds Are Forever (both deal with an organised crime syndicate), this lacks the lavish excesses of Fleming’s later work. The plot is a simple mission for Bond to target and assassinate Francisco Scaramanga, a deadly assassin for hire who uses a golden pistol. There are few surprises along the way, although the finale is reasonably exciting. Disappointing too is the swift way in which the cliffhanger we were left with at the conclusion of You Only Live Twice is resolved here. The manuscript was still in edit when Fleming died meaning further polish and potential expansion, that may have improved the book, was not possible and the result is a rough and ready Bond novel that is perhaps the weakest of the series.

Book Review – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) by Ian Fleming

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 320pp (288pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1964
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1964
Introduction by Tony Parsons (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57698-3
Blurb: You only live twice: Once when you are born And once when you look death in the face’ Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s “Garden of Death” is a magnet for suicides from all over Japan. James Bond – grief-stricken and erratic – must kill him to save his career in the Service. But as Shatterhand’s true identity is revealed, Bond is forced to confront his past, in Ian Fleming’s twelfth 007 adventure.
Comment: Fleming’s twelfth Bond book was the last he fully completed before he died on 12 August 1964 (The Man With the Golden Gun was still being edited at the time of his death). The book is perhaps the darkest of all the Bond novels. Bond is initially a shadow of his former self as he continues to grieve the death of his wife, Tracy, nine months on. M is prepared to give Bond a final chance and sends him on an “almost impossible” emissary mission in order to obtain access to Japanese knowledge of US and Russian activity via their MAGIC 44 device. In return the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, seeks Bond’s help in ridding the country of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a castle of death – its gardens containing poisonous vegetation and a lake filled with piranha – aimed at helping people who wish to commit an honourable suicide. Much of the book is taken in introducing Bond to Japanese customs and comparing them with those of the West. The detail of Fleming’s research is admirable, but these early sections tend to drag, despite building up excellent characterisations of both Tanaka and Bond. The book comes alive once Bond has agreed to Tanaka’s request for help and becomes a Japanese fisherman in order to gain access to the castle from the sea cliffs. The final section in Shatterhand’s lair is both tense and shocking. The grisly deaths of some of Shatterhand’s “followers” are truly harrowing.  The novel finishes in a surprising way that leaves the reader wondering where Fleming would take Bond next. Overall, this is a mixed bag, which some may find a slog initially, but the final chapters are worth it and contain Fleming’s most fantastical setting to date.

Book Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) by Ian Fleming

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) *****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 368pp (339pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1963
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1963
Introduction by Stella Rimington (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57697-6
Blurb: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon. 007’s mission is to gain access to Blofeld’s icy retreat and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety. A new alliance with the troubled daughter of the head of the French mafia offers 007 the chance to bring down his nemesis once and for all – but will Bond be prepared to pay the ultimate price for victory?
Comment: Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel was a landmark for the series. It was the first novel Fleming had published after the release of the first Bond film Dr. No (1962) – indeed the novel has a sly reference when actress Ursula Andress is spotted at Piz Gloria; it made reference to Bond’s childhood and his Scottish/Swiss parentage and gives us much more insight into his character; and it sees Bond find the love of his life in Tracy. It also has the most exciting action sequences in the series with Bond’s escape on skis from Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s alpine base, and the final assault and bob sleigh chase breathlessly conveyed. The opening chapters also have a great deal of introspection on Bond’s part, he even considers resigning from the service, as he becomes knight-errant for the suicidal Tracy. The plot deftly mixes Bond’s relationship with Tracy and her father Marc-Ange Draco, who is head of a crime syndicate, with the tracking down of Blofeld and the uncovering, undercover, of his latest plot involving bacterial terrorism delivered through the hypnosis treatment of ten young female allergy victims. Fleming is at the top of his game as he skilfully weaves the story elements together into a satisfying whole, with its shattering conclusion.

Film Review – NOMADLAND (2020)

NOMADLAND (2020, USA/Germany) ****
Drama
dist. Searchlight Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (USA), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cor Cordium Productions / Hear-Say Productions / Highwayman Films; d. Chloé Zhao; w. Chloé Zhao (based on the book by Jessica Bruder); pr. Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao; ph. Joshua James Richards (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4444 (3.2K) (source format). 2.39:1, 1.90:1 (IMAX version)); m. Ludovico Einaudi; ed. Chloé Zhao; pd. Joshua James Richards; ad. Elizabeth Godar, Tom Obed; rel. 11 September 2020 (USA), 16 October 2020 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 107m.
cast: Frances McDormand (Fern), Gay DeForest (Gay), Patricia Grier (Patty), Linda May (Linda), Angela Reyes (Angela), Carl R. Hughes (Carl), Douglas G. Soul (Doug), Ryan Aquino (Ryan), Teresa Buchanan (Teresa), Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder (Karie), Brandy Wilber (Brandy), Makenzie Etcheverry (Makenzie), Bob Wells (Bob), Annette Webb (Annette), Rachel Bannon (Rachel), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Sherita Deni Coker (Deni), Merle Redwing (Merle), Forrest Bault (Forrest), Suanne Carlson (Suanne), Donnie Miller (Donnie), Roxanne Bay (Roxy), Matt Sfaelos (Noodle), Ronald O. Zimmerman (Ron), Derek Endres (Derek), Paige Dean (Paige), Paul Winer (Paul), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Matthew Stinson (Nurse Matt), Terry Phillip (Terry), Bradford Lee Riza (Brad), Tay Strathairn (James), Cat Clifford (Cat), James R. Taylor Jr. (James), Jeremy Greenman (Jeremy), Ken Greenman (Ken), Melissa Smith (Dolly), Warren Keith (George), Jeff Andrews (Jeff), Paul Cunningham (Paul), Emily Jade Foley (Emily), Mike Sells (Mike), Peter Spears (Peter), Cheryl Davis (Cheri).
In this well-judged drama McDormand plays a woman in her sixties, who after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. The story is a slow-moving mosaic that manages to embody the frustrations of middle-America as recession hits and the victims are left without support or hope. Zhao’s film captures the beauty of the landscape and contrasts it against the harshness of economic decline and corporate mechanics as ghost towns spring up from the rugged landscape. McDormand gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance as the embodiment of the unsustainable ideals of modern America. The result is an ironic reversion to the pioneer mentality that formed the USA in the first place. The slow-pace and introspection will not be for everyone – and certainly may alienate the modern generation – but for those with longer memories and experiences it proves to be a rewarding and chastening experience.
AA: Best Motion Picture of the Year; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Achievement in Directing (Chloé Zhao)
AAN: Best Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Cinematography (Joshua James Richards)

Book Review – THUNDERBALL (1961) by Ian Fleming

THUNDERBALL(1961) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1961
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1961
Introduction by MIchael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (5pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57695-2
Blurb: ‘He was one of those men – one meets perhaps only two or three in a lifetime – who seem almost to suck the eyes out of your head. He was their Supreme Commander – almost their god’ SPECTRE is a merciless new enemy – a group of the world’s toughest criminals, headed by the brilliant Ernst Stavro Blofeld. When two NATO atom bombs go missing, Bond must unravel SPECTRE’s intricate plans and prevent a global catastrophe.
Comment: Fleming’s ninth James Bond novel is unique in that it is based on an original screenplay Fleming had developed with Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo. It became the subject of a long, drawn-out legal battle when Fleming’s novel appeared without any acknowledgement of the contribution of the others involved. The result was a court ruling that gave story credit to the three main writers, which meant all future publications of the novel carried the following credit: “This story is based on a film treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham and Ian Fleming.” McClory would also retain film rights to the subject matter following Fleming’s death in 1964, which resulted in a deal with Eon productions to film the novel for release in 1965 (originally planned as the first Bond movie but held up by the legal wrangle). The legal battle between Eon and McClory re-emerged in the 1970s with McClory claiming copyright ownership of SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, both introduced in Thunderball. This resulted in McClory’s ill-received remake, Never Say Never Again, in 1983 row which Sean Connery was lured back for one last bow as 007.
Fleming’s novel, meanwhile, is an excellent spy adventure coasting on all the elements that made the series popular. Whilst his use of coincidence (the Shrublands meeting with Count Lippe and his bumping into Domino in the Bahamas) as a story advancement technique, may be questionable, it ensures the plot moves quickly. The Bahamas setting is exotic and the characters are strong. Emilio Largo has a conceit that proves to be his undoing, when he brings his mistress – the feisty Domino Vitali – with him on atomic bomb salvage and extortion operation. The introduction of SPECTRE, a criminal super-organisation, and its leader Blofeld creates an added threat and a chief villain with gravitas and charisma who would return in two further novels. The underwater fight climax is thrillingly written and exciting. The story does seem to wrap up remarkably quickly after this and leaves the reader with a feeling of a lack of closure, with Blofeld and SPECTRE remaining at large, but that was understandable given the options this would give Fleming moving forward. In summary, whilst not quite the peak of Bond’s literary adventures, Thunderball is still enjoyable escapism and an important watershed in the series.

Book Review – ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) by D.L. MARSHALL

ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) ****½
by D.L. Marshall
This paperback edition published by Canelo, 2021, 342pp
© D.L. Marshall, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-80032-275-2

Blurb: FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded. FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island. Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Comment: The debut novel of D.L. Marshall mixes the ingredients of an Alistair MacLean adventure with a locked-room mystery,  a James Bond spy caper and the group paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing (to which the author adds an overt nod on page 83 ). All great influences and all blend together to create a highly enjoyable page-turning thriller. Marshall’s story is told from a first-person perspective by the hero, mercenary spy John Tyler, who is transported onto the titular island under the guise of a technician to repair a faulty protective door unit. The group of scientists working on the island are testing for remnant samples of experiments undertaken secretly during WWII. The death of Tyler’s supposed predecessor is followed by others and the group quickly become distrustful of Tyler and each other, whilst the discovery of a new strain of the deadly anthrax attracts international interest. Marshall takes us through many twists and turns in his mazy plot and the tension builds as the paranoia amongst the group increases. Marshall’s prose style is fluid and engaging. Tyler as a character feels real and human and has depth along with a personal motivation which unfolds throughout the story. Writing the novel in the first-person Marshall succeeds in elevating the “whodunnit” elements of the plot allowing the reader to unravel the mystery along with the protagonist. Marshall keeps a trick or two up his sleeve right up to the story’s protracted denouement, which veers off into more traditional action movie tropes in the final chapters. That said, this remains a hugely impressive and thoroughly enjoyable read that promises great things for the intended series.