Bond rebooted

Bond rebooted

Bond rebooted

Trigger Mortis
Anthony Horowitz
Orion Books
2015, pp 310, Rs 399

James Bond is a successful film franchise; and well, a middling literary franchise as well. Authors as diverse as Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver and William Boyd have tried their hands at keeping the Bond saga alive since the death of Ian Fleming in 1964. And now comes Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz who seems to have done a fairly satisfying job of reinventing the James Bond persona without messing with the existing template.

Horowitz has spun the plot around a story that Fleming himself wrote for a TV serial that never happened. The story was called Murder on Wheels and the title has been retained to headline a chapter in the book. Bond’s task here is to save the British champion driver Lancy Smith on the racing tracks of Nurburgring in Germany whom the Russians are trying to assassinate to prove the superiority of the racing car developed by them.

But, this really is the side show. The real game being played by SMERSH, the Russian counter-intelligence unit, is about the space race that has intensified between the US and the USSR with immense potential to tilt the balance between the two superpowers. Horowitz makes the plot racier by introducing another layer of intrigue involving the villain of Korean descent, Sin Jai Seong, better known as Jason Sin, who is indulging in a bit of his own rocket science.

As Bond villains go, Jason Sin can more than match the vilest of them. Bond villains are famous for their extreme depravity and their flair for devising the most excruciating modes of torture, and Jason Sin, with his gamble of death, does not disappoint on this score. The bonus here is the elaborate back story that chronicles his metamorphosis into a human monster. It is based on the Korean War of 1950 involving the infamous incident at No Gun Ri when American soldiers are believed to have killed hundreds of innocent Koreans trying to flee.

There are many action set pieces, starting with the pulsating car race and moving on to escapades from the villain’s den and peaking with the climactic chase on the tracks of Manhattan with trains hurtling at dizzying speed through city centers and dark tunnels. Horowitz writes the action scenes so well you get the same adrenalin rush that you would expect to get in a Bond film. He makes things credible by going into the details of a particular make of a car, a firearm or an explosive device with key technical specifications listed and explained. Also detailed are the specific means by which Bond outwits his opponents without stretching the rules of the real world. Horowitz does well in replicating the lean, muscular prose of Fleming with a good dose of poetry that echoes Bond’s urbane masculinity.

And yes, the women. No Bond novel can be complete without them, and here we get to meet some pretty interesting specimens. First among them is Pussy Galore, the lesbian-turned-straight from ‘Goldfinger’ (having never met a “real man” before). The passionate rekindling of their relationship takes up a few pages in the early section of the book, but the meatier part is given to the American agent Jeopardy Lane whom Bond doesn’t get to bed until after the end of the action climax. As Jeopardy and Bond lay in bed after making love, Jeopardy mentions her fiancée and says she will get married to him and perhaps have two kids and grow old together. “But you will be never like that, will you?” she asks. Of course, we know the answer to that one.

We get to read Bond’s mind when he soliloquises after killing the Russian racing driver making an attempt on his life in the final pages of the book, “There would be a time, a moment in a mission, when his luck would run out. It was a mathematical certainty. No agent had ever survived long in the Double O section and one day someone, somewhere would have the edge and it would be he lying there dead, flat out in the rain.”

The Bond that Horowitz has written in here has a more humane moral compass than in Ian Fleming originals. Why, he has even compunctions about killing one of Jason’s Sin’s young henchmen involved in burying him alive because he had a young wife and son! He articulates his moral code thus: “A great evil had been done to him but it had not turned him evil.” That was the difference between him and Jason Sin. Yes, he with his double zero assignation had the licence to kill, but that didn’t mean he had to kill or that he would enjoy killing.

This is a politically correct Bond and Horowitz pulls him off without losing an iota of the franchise’s action thriller fizz.