Author Ian Fleming passed away in 1964 nearly 50 years ago. During his lifetime, he was responsible for some of the most beloved and well-read novels in contemporary fiction. First off, he penned the children’s classic CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, made into the cherished film starring Dick Van Dyke. However, he is far more famous for creating one of the most well-known and admired characters of all time: MI6 Special Agent James Bond.
The fact that William Boyd has chosen to set this novel in 1969, with a then-45-year-old James Bond, places the book chronologically after YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Ironically, that was the last novel released in Ian Fleming’s lifetime. From a film standpoint, SOLO would be taking place during the Sean Connery/George Lazenby era and well before Roger Moore.
Since James Bond is a nearly immortal film character and has been portrayed by half a dozen actors, writers and directors have had to take liberties with Bond’s age. The movies have bounced around between the actual dates of the novels from which they were adapted and those set in the present. This makes for a conundrum of a timeline that Boyd is able to avoid by setting SOLO right in the midst of Fleming’s work.
"Filled with action, intrigue, mystery, sexual trysts and martinis, SOLO has everything Bond fans have come to expect and love."
Other authors have taken a stab at the Bond series following Fleming’s death --- most notably John Gardner and recently Jeffery Deaver --- but Boyd seeks to write his novel almost as if the words were flowing out of the pen of Fleming himself. Bond is feeling a mid-life crisis, and Boyd stresses that his birthdate is 1924. The action takes place after YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which featured the infamous obituary of Agent Bond.
M assigns Commander Bond one of the most difficult missions of his career, which also is one of the largest in scope and involves a geopolitical resonance and potential fallout that he never could imagine. Bond is tasked with traveling to an obscure nation in West Africa to thwart rebel forces that are threatening the tiny territory known as Zanzarim. Undercover as a member of the French press, he must infiltrate and find out the best way to neutralize the rebel threat.
Of course, Bond quickly finds out that this assignment is not as easy as it seems. He is crossed and double-crossed, and finds himself out of his element in an unfamiliar country. When he is nearly killed by someone he thought was an ally --- who is working with an evil military man named Kobus Breed, who has a nasty way of using meat hooks --- his mission is abruptly halted. Waking up in a hospital bed at a Scottish recovery facility, Bond knows that his personal vendetta against those who crossed him is not finished.
Leaving his recovery facility and allegedly taking 30 days off, Bond actually heads to Washington, D.C. to track down the African charity mission he feels may be behind the political upheaval in Zanzarim. It is here that Bond goes “solo” --- the term given to an agent who goes off the map to follow his own agenda and is strictly forbidden by the Secret Service. It is at this point that the true Bond comes out and shows a vengeful side rarely seen before.
Filled with action, intrigue, mystery, sexual trysts and martinis, SOLO has everything Bond fans have come to expect and love. William Boyd has indeed done Ian Fleming and his legacy proud, and I can only hope he will uncover some other past missions from our favorite Double O agent to thrill us with.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on October 11, 2013