Author: Raymond Benson
Bond Book Reviews: Raymond Benson
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton / Coronet
1) Zero Minus Ten ( 1997 )
Finally read Raymond Benson's first attempt at a Bond novel after taking over from John Gardner. The title comes from the 10 day countdown to Hong Kong passing into China's hands in 1997. After a little training s-exercise in his new home in Jamaica, 007 is sent by M to Hong Kong with a detour by Bond to China & Australia. Bond tackles the Triad gangs, a Chinese general and the head of a Hong Kong firm called EurAsia Enterprises Ltd. The glamour and side-kick comes in the shape of a beautiful night club hostess called Sunni Pei.
When reading a new Bond novel, do you think is it Brosnan, Connery or Dalton as Bond ? I kept hearing Dalton .. strange ? Slow to start but picks up with a watery climax.
Never Fleming but still OK ... to the next one Mr. Benson !
2) Tomorrow Never Dies ( 1997 )
Read when waiting for the video release, worth popping around to your book store or library to get a copy of Tomorrow Never Dies. Based on the screenplay by Bruce Feirstein, author Benson pads out the narrative out with more background detail and adds a few extra scenes. The ending is slightly different to the movie without Bond's heroic saving of Wai Lin.
This will keep you amused on the train to work or over a leisurely week-end.
3) The Facts Of Death ( 1998 )
Benson's 3rd outing as a Bond author and his 2nd original novel ( following Zero Minus Ten ).
This one centres around the island of Cyprus & Greece with stop-offs in Texas and of course Bond's base, London. An organisation called the Decada are targeting different locations to further their ambition for power & revenge - sounds familiar for a Bond story.
We are introduced to another 'new' car for Bond, this time a Jaguar XK8 with normal 007 accessories - this one changes colour ! Q has to send the vehicle to Greece for James to road test it. Does it come back in one piece you ask ?
During the story Bond meets up with his old pal, Felix Leiter who has an interesting wheel-chair and a new love, Manuela who works for Leiter's former employer, the CIA. Featured like in the current movies is a female M given the name of Barbara Mawdsley who adds to the plot by having an awkward romantic involvement with an Ambassador. Also a reunion with his former M, Sir Miles Messervy who contributes to 007's do or die efforts.
The love interest is provided by Greek intelligence agent Niki Mirakos who gets 'acquainted' with Bond early in the story. Mirakos proves handy support, especially with her chopper ( that's a helicopter ), for our hero who manages to satisfy his libido with two other conquests ( you'll have to read the book to find out who they are ).
Benson gives nice references to earlier Fleming work ( e.g. Live & Let Die & From Russia, With Love ) and introduces modern day technology like the Internet ( e.g. JPGs & IRC ), perhaps due to the author's background with computer software products. No one will ever replace author Fleming ( like actor Connery ) but this book holds the interest and is a worthy addition to the Bond literary library with it's action, adventure and humour. Congrats Mr. Benson !
4) High Time To Kill ( 1999 )
The author has placed 007 in Sly's Cliffhanger territory ( see the cover ) with a trek up the Kangchenjunga mountain in the Himalayas.
The main plot has M sending Bond to rescue a stolen formula of "a hot plasma bonding process" called Skin 17which helps planes fly at Mach 7. With another appearance of his Jaguar XK8 ( see his last book ), poor James needs Q's gadgets as he is pursued by superbikes on the way to Brussels.
In this adventure Bond's main adversary is an old Eton rival Roland Marquis ( similar in character to GoldenEye's Trevelyan ). He also has a new lover called Helena Marksbury who is his latest secretary described as "different from Mary Goodnight. A thoroughly modern woman of thirty three ... none of Ms Goodnight's charming, yet scatter-brained personality". Along the way he is aided by Kiwi doctor Hope Kendall whose "magnificent breasts" he encounters at 7900 meters thanks to Q's bivouac sack ! ( ... puzzled just read the book ).
This 294 page thriller keeps you interested to the end with a few surprises and leaves the door open for another outing for The Union, a new deadly organisation who leaves their victims with slit throats ... nice people. When you read this novel you may picture Connery as Bond due to the Bahamas and golfing scenes but in the second half Dalton seems more like our British spy. Good one Mr. Benson !
5) The World Is Not Enough ( 1999 )
This 200 page book based on the screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade follows Bond's latest big screen adventure. Benson adds interesting background narrative padding out necessary scenes but alas not over developing the familiar characters. By adding the missing, opening & important scene he explains why M sends 007 to Bilbao to collect King's money. Strangely it is not until towards the end (?) when he looks into the Renard & Elektra kidnap relationship and explains why the terrorist is so devoted to her. Actor Robert Carlyle who played Renard stated in an interview that he made the character's nationality Bosnian but here he is Russian. MeanwhileZukovsky's assistant The Bull due to his gold teeth has become a Jaws baddie with his height increased to 7 feet ! The book also explains that Q Branch sent James his old DB5 as back-up to the disposable Z8 for his travels around the Caspian Sea and this helps locate him ( with satellite tracking ) for the final love scene in Istanbul which isn't made too clear in the movie.
A light & enjoyable read which recreates the movie's success and is worth a visit to the library or book shop. Slightly puzzled by the 7 blank pages between chapters to help reach the magical 200.
6) Doubleshot ( 2000 )
Poor James is having terrible headaches & black-outs collected from his last mission to the Himalayas. During these dark periods Bond is being framed by the evil Union - featured in Benson's last outing High Time To Kill - for a series of tragic events. He pursues the trail to London's Soho via Morocco & Spain then on to the big climax in Gibraltar ( opening location for Living Daylights ) . Along the way he gets help from different personnel as he tries to prove his innocence. They include some lovely 'double' help from the CIA plus an early & brief appearance from his old pal Felix.
Benson gives us a nice villainess called Margareta Piel who has elements of GoldenEye's Xenia / View's May Day and reveals more about The Union ( an updated SMERSH ) led by Le Gérant who comes across as a new Blofeld who will return to pursue 007 again. At the climax the British Prime Minister arrives to be described as "a short man with a bright face and charming smile. He virtually lit up the room." Now who could that be based on ? Meanwhile I pictured Benson's Bond as probably Dalton with a touch of Brosnan's humour.
This adventure took awhile for me to get into but any Bond author will have difficulty coming up with new & original plots for our hero to conquer. The author likes to do his research on a subject, particularly bull-fighting which features prominently in his book. The narrative is broken down into 3 Acts ( 1- Tercio de Varas 2 - .. Banderillas & 3 - .. la Muerte alas without the bracket translation ... my Spanish is a little rusty ! ) after an opening prologue called Paseo. The book fills out the 274 pages with a few blank page breaks and light text but asked whether I would purchase it for the printed £16.99 ? The answer would probably be a "No" despite being a must read for Bond fans. I would suggest a copy from your local library as this good & entertaining adventure is not quite worth the price tag especially compared to today's videos & DVDs.
As this is the second in a trilogy of books to feature The Union we await the climax. Meanwhile Benson's latest writing will keep 007 alive & kicking for this new Millennium.
7) Never Dream Of Dying ( 2001 )
Bond is back again pursuing The Union led by the evil Le Gérant ( aka Oliver Cesari ) in this third part of a trilogy of stories. 007's old pal, René Mathis also goes after him after an explosion at a French film studio. The path leads him to a hide-out in Corsica and some deadly consequences.
Later a Union member is held at "Her Majesty's pleasure" in a London prison. James gets the chance to interrogate him in order to try to find out about Gérant's location. Of course someone gets to the prisoner and slits his throat -The Union's trade-mark. A Dr Worrall ( perhaps a relation of the Bond collector ) reveals that both the victim & murderer had a symbol/tattoo ( as on the cover ) on their retinas.
With this information and a possible lead to a doctor in France, 007 drives off in his DB5 with "an eye on the new Aston Martin DB7 Vantage" to Paris. He joins up with Station P's Bertrand Collette and both follow Mathis' trail. On the way James posing as a reporter meets up with former Hollywood producer Léon Essinger. To be followed by a meeting with his beautiful and conveniently, separated actress/wife, Tylyn Mignonne whom James goes 'ga-ga' over. Is it true love again ?
With Corsican connections a face from Bond's past appears, a lot greyer unlike our ageless hero. Also given a mention at a film festival are Bond girls Sophie Marceau & Carole Bouquet. A strange choice of Royals by the American writer - we Brits would probably pay The Union for their services ! Brief appearances by M, Q & Moneypenny and a new 'male' office assistant for James, a resourceful Nigel Smith. A new underwater gadget is also introduced a sort of Little Nellie for the sea.
So what are The Union's plans this time and why must a secret agent get involved in the mad, publicity world of the movies - something he comes to realise at the book's conclusion. With an action packed finale discover who leaves who ? ( clue: think Carly Simon Bond song ) and why the author was researching in Cannes, South of France.
Yes another enjoyable yet not riveting adventure for Benson's Bond who this time is a more cinematic & less literate 007. Worth a borrow from your local library ( thanks mum ) as a good one-off read but not a £17.99 purchase - sorry Mr. Benson I must "never dream of lying".
8) The Man with the Red Tattoo ( 2002 )
A clean shaven author returns with his 6th 'new Bond adventure' and takes 007 back to Japan to follow in the footsteps of Fleming's You Only Live Twice - one of the master's best. The narrative opens with a Japanese girl being deadly ill on a flight to London while back in Tokyo her British father, Japanese mother & family are also targeted for a painful death.
After a brief visit to Q Branch, M sends Bond packing to Japan on bodyguard duty for an emergency G8 summit meeting at the request of the Prime Minister, while there to look into the McMahon family deaths. Despite reservations he will be re-united with old friend, 'Tiger' Tanaka who like our hero hasn't aged much but don't speak too soon ill health beckons.
After a shoot-out at a mortuary in Uxbridge, James is jetting off to The Land of the Rising Sun to eventually meet up with baddie Goro Yoshida - the title of the book. He is supported by work/friend Yasutake Tsukamoto and plans to spread a deadly virus around the world ( shades of OHMSS ? ) - I'm still not sure why. Another of Yoshida's helpers is a killer dwarf called Kappa who reminds you of TMWTGG's Nick Nack, especially near the end.
Yet again as in the movie, Tiger teams James up with another beautiful and able assistant, agent Reiko Tamura who guides him around the dangerous streets. Does she become a love interest and suffer similar fate as Aki ? The investigation will lead to the remaining family member, McMahon's daughter Mayumi whom Bond rescues from the world of vice. She tags along to aid and love our hero to the conclusion. There are some brief big bangs during an air raid but no real threat of danger to 007 before a Japanese ritual ending awaits our villain.
It is clear that Benson has researched the country ( see opening credits ) and it's cultures with use of different Japanese words & places - at one time I felt an appendix may have been needed for reference. The 292 page adventure, priced at £18.99 ( far too rich for my liking - thank heavens for my library ) is another addition to the 'worth reading' list but alas after 'soon forgotten'. I wonder whose bright idea it was to put the large JAMES BOND 007 lettering on the back cover ?
Sorry Mr Benson no longer keeps me gripped to his text, his books are as always well-researched but I just wish that there was another writer who could take 007 in a new direction. The main problem for any writer is that it is now becoming increasingly difficult to find original story-lines especially with competition from other media. Has the Book Bond come to the end of the road ?
9) Die Another Day ( 2002 )
Based on another screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, Benson's last efforts as a Bond writer has produced an interesting account of the latest movie. I am not sure that it's based on the final script/cut e.g. I remember during the laser fight Jinx saving James' life by pressing the button with her own version of laser surgery. In this version the baddie, Kil is about to stab him to death and James pushes "a button on the remote" - sounds like he's using a tv. As the movie reflects 40 years of 007, th author tries to blend in past Bond memories and references into his version of the story. Some extra moments are added to help explain the movie's narrative like Graves/Moonrecollecting his hovercraft escape while using the Dream Machine.
As with all Benson's books, he adds background research into subjects covered during the story but I must admit to not being that interested in unused London Underground stations. His discriptive style is sometimes lacking e.g. Berry's homage to Andress is a big moment in the movie but here: "Bond lowered the binoculars and watched her emerge and walk up the beach towards the terrace." Yes that's what happened but not exactly getting the juices flowing is it ? Fleming would have had a field day with sexual overtones.
This is clearly a book of the movie with its poster & photos on the front & rear cover plus the opening page shows a cast/production listing. Slightly puzzled why director Tamahori gets a front cover mention ? Despite being over 250 pages, this hardback version costs £18.99 [ !! ] and the story ends on page 245 ! There is also over 10% of blank pages and is padded out with large text .. smaller text, less pages ... cheaper price ? For the current price I would at least expect some colour movie photos on the centre pages.
Overall a credible and pleasing effort from the author to help remind us of 007's latest adventure while we await the video/dvd release. Thanks as always to my library for saving on the pounds but if you still plan to buy, go for a cheaper paperback version !