007 is dead. His body was found in the waters of Marseille, three 9mm bullets fired into his chest and stomach at close range. It’s a devastating blow to Her Majesty’s secret service, but it also paves the way for a younger agent to replace him. Thus, it’s time for James Bond to officially earn his license to kill.
Before M is willing to officially elevate Commander Bond to Double-O status and give him a spot on the fifth floor overlooking Regent’s Park, the young recruit is sent to kill Rolf Larsen, a traitor hiding out in Stockholm. While this scene is briefly referenced in Fleming’s Casino Royale, Horowitz takes readers inside the old-fashioned apartment furnished with heavy dark German furniture, rugs, and chandeliers, as Bond does his job. Though it’s his second assassination, this is much different than the first, when he shot someone by the name of Kishida. Larsen is much more up-close-and-personal, a true test of Bond’s nerve and resolve.
With the bloody trial run complete, M promotes Bond, who chooses his 007 designation to send a message to the bad guys (a message that’s too good to spoil here). And with that, James Bond, the newly minted 007, is dispatched to France and tasked with finding out who, exactly, killed the former Double-O agent, and what he might have learned while investigating a new development in the Marseille-based criminal underworld that got him killed in the first place.
A beautiful woman named Sixtine, who spends much of her time in casinos counting cards and taking it to the house, steals the show early on. Readers are also treated to decades-long questions finally being answered, as Horowitz explains things (in addition to where the 007 designation came from) — such as why Bond always gives his real name rather than an alias, why he prefers a certain firearm over others, and, perhaps the most debated question of all, why he likes his martinis shaken and not stirred — throughout the course of the story. It’s all expertly woven in by Horowitz, who appears to emulate Fleming’s prose to an extent, but also offers a slightly more modern and sharper writing style that gets right to the point and splits the difference between contemporary fiction and staying true to the 1950s setting. Doing so allows readers to follow along as if Fleming himself penned the story, but without ever feeling as if the plot is outdated.
The other thing Horowitz nails here is the bad guy. Bond stories are known for the villains, and Horowitz has certainly created a memorable one in Scipio, a Corsican drug dealer whose massive ego matches his massive girth. The morbidly obese antagonist will waddle his way into readers’ hearts, even if his evil plan is a somewhat recycled (though updated) take on crimes we’ve seen before.
Taking on one of fiction’s all-time greatest heroes is no easy task, but Anthony Horowitz has proven to be the man for the job. Seeing this inexperienced side to Bond is refreshing and finally provides the true origin story that was always missing from the polished, hardened agent Fleming introduced in Casino Royale. In the acknowledgment section, placed just after the story’s conclusion, Horowitz explains that some of the material was based on an outline Fleming wrote for an American television series that was never made. Using that, Horowitz has crafted an authentic, action-packed Bond novel that even the Fleming faithful will devour.
The book’s best sequence involves Bond having a vision of himself in the future where he skis, swims, and drives fast cars, doing pretty much all the things fans have witnessed him doing both on the page and on the big screen for decades. It’s a brilliant nod to Bond’s legacy from Horowitz, who notes that the beloved MI6 agent feels as though he’ll never die. And in some ways, he never will. Between the novels and movies, both those already made and new projects to come in the future, 007’s place in pop culture history is set in stone, ensuring that James Bond really will live forever. . . and a day.
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Series: James Bond
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
Release Date: November 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.