Trigger Mortis

Posted: August 10, 2016 in Book reviews, James Bond
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By Anthony Horowitz


It’s 1957, the dawn of the space race and just a few weeks after the events of Goldfinger. James Bond has returned to London with Pussy Galore in tow. He isn’t sure about their burgeoning relationship, and so when M assigns him a new mission Bond is grateful to get some space. He’s to take part in a motor race at the infamous Nürburgring track in Germany. MI6 fear SMERSH have plans to assassinate a famous British racing driver and it’s up to Bond to stop them. First he’ll need some coaching from a lady racing driver in handling the Maserati 250, and in preparing for the Nürburgring track which isn’t forgiving of novices.

Before Bond can get to Germany events with Pussy will reach a head, but even after he takes part in the race this will prove only the start of the adventure. Whilst observing the Russian team he will see a notable SMERSH general in conversation with a Korean businessman named Jai Seung Sin, whose name has been Americanised to Jason Sin. In investigating Jason Sin Bond will be led to America, to a rocket base and eventually to a diabolical scheme that threatens to cause huge destruction in New York. He’ll also meet a young woman named Jeopardy Lane, and he’ll discover just how cold, ruthless and evil Jason Sin is.


And so Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider young adult spy thrillers, as well as the man behind Foyle’s War on ITV, becomes the latest novelist to take on the mantle of Fleming. Horowitz’s novel might be the most Fleming like not to have been authored by Fleming, in part because a few hundred lines of text, and certain story elements came courtesy of an aborted TV show Fleming himself had been working on. Horowitz explains at the end roughly where Fleming’s prose kicks in, suffice to say that it’s nigh on impossible to see the join, which is testament to Horowitz’s aping of Fleming.

This is also a novel that feels more like Fleming due to its setting. This is, apparently, the first Bond novel to sit in the 1950s since Kingsley Amis wrote Colonel Sun. This also allows Horowitz to follow on immediately after a Fleming novel, and to bring back an iconic Bond girl, although to be honest this doesn’t really go anywhere, and one can’t help feeling that the involvement of Pussy was just for publicity’s sake, and perhaps even to add to some padding—but I’ll get on to the plot later.

Firstly as I’ve said Horowitz’s take on Fleming is top drawer. Horowitz writes a story that feels like Fleming, without having to rely on the mimicking of all too familiar tropes, ala Sebastian Faulks’ effort. The period setting negates any of the technical issues that plagued Jeffery Deaver’s present day take on the character (where Bond had an app for everything), and Horowitz’s 007 feels more at home in 1950s’ Germany and America than William Boyd’s did in 1970s’ Africa. In some ways Horowitz’s prose is a little too close to Fleming, in particular in how he writes the female and non-white characters; Horowitz walks a fine line but just about manages to write like Fleming without quite falling foul of mid twentieth century casual racism and sexism.

The plot, once we get there, is interesting, even if it does feel a little by the numbers, and it’s aided by Jason Sin who’s a nasty piece of work. Still the problem is how long it takes to get there. The first section of the book which involves Bond training to be a racing driver, whilst also resolving the Pussy Galore storyline, feels largely extraneous, and Horowitz loses points for replaying an iconic murder technique so blatantly.  Once the race at Nürburgring is out of the way the book picks up pace, and it’s nice to see Bond playing detective as he follows Sin’s trail. Jeopardy Lane is far from just being a damsel in distress, and saves Bond’s bacon several times, yet she still never quite manages to stand out from the Bond girl crowd, and her name seems a little too on the nose, much like the book’s pulpish title, one can’t help thinking Fleming might have come up with something a little better.

It’s a good book though, with a slightly too familiar plot outweighed by Horowitz’s way with prose, his portrayal of Bond as someone not quite as bad as the villains, and for subjecting Bond to something I don’t think we’ve ever seen before which, given it’s a fear of my own, worked a little too well.

Not perfect but for my money the best of the four most recent Bond entries. Given they’ve yet to reuse an author I wonder who we’ll get next?

  1. I really like Foyle’s War. I might well give this one a go. If I can cope with Edgar Wallace, I can cope with Horowitz being a bit 1950s in attitude!

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