Written by Anthony Horowitz – Having interviewed Anthony Horowitz elsewhere and learned of his passion for the works of Ian Fleming – as well as glimpsing his collection of first editions – he seemed to me the perfect candidate to write an official James Bond continuation novel. In recent years Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks have all had a go – with mixed results. When Trigger Mortis was first announced, that memorable, punning title was an encouraging sign that he could confidently enter into Fleming’s fictional world.
Within the first few pages, you realise you’re in safe hands: Horowitz has captured the hard, cynical and slightly weary tone of Bond’s creator, as well as demonstrating his own style and ingenuity as a Cold War thriller writer. Horowitz has gone back to basics in a story set in 1957 – so no inner turmoil, and no erasing the rough edges and outmoded opinions that Fleming gave his secret agent. But Horowitz has incorporated strong female characters, as well as an outspoken gay station agent who Bond respects.
Trigger Mortis is set a few weeks after the events of Goldfinger – Bond’s still suffering a minor injury and he’s even installed Pussy Galore into his Chelsea flat (luckily his stern Scottish housekeeper is away). She’s the leader of an all-lesbian crime gang in Harlem, so Fleming must have been trying particularly hard to prove Bond’s masculinity in Goldfinger. Horowitz relishes speculating on what might have occurred between this unlikely couple, which makes for an arresting opening to the book. Pussy Galore’s even slightly mocking of Bond’s OCD-style approach to his daily routines.
Horowitz is successful because he inhabits this iconic character without simply parroting Fleming’s description. He creates a picture of this familiar fictional spy through his attitudes and moral certainties formed in the war, as well as his taste in everything from tailoring and shaving cream to coffee, cigarettes and, of course, cars. Bond drives a beast of a Bentley and the book’s plot is perfectly suited to this petrolhead. Soviet organization SMERSH is suspected of entering a racing driver into a European Grand Prix at Nürburgring to prove the superiority of their technology. The propaganda victory will involve the deliberate sabotage of the British racing driver – and Bond must enter the race and prevent this murder on the race track. As one colleague points out: “Girls and fast cars. Perhaps you’re in the wrong job.”
This chapter of the book, Murder on Wheels, is actually taken from a recently discovered outline for a proposed TV series for Bond from the 50s (once the films took off, the series was forgotten). It incorporates a small amount of Fleming’s own work, which was clearly an inspiration for Horowitz as he fleshed out this concept. He writes brilliantly about the loneliness and sheer terror of negotiating fast corners and descents, humped kinks and blind spots, on the 14-mile German circuit at speeds of 160 miles per hour with rival drivers just inches away.
While posing as a playboy who’s bought his way into the race, Bond is tasked with taking out the Russian threat. But he comes across a bigger plot when he notices a SMERSH general consorting with a Korean businessman, who throws lavish parties after the big races. Known as Jason Sin (a crude western styling of Sin Jai-Seong), he turns out to be a dead-eyed Bond villain with a chilling method of punishing his enemies.
As the book’s prologue suggests, it’s a mission that involves the early days of the space race, the dubious characters recruited to that cause from Nazi Germany and the intense technological rivalry between the Soviets and Americans. Horowitz makes adroit use of his research as well as ratcheting up the tension with a well-constructed plot and a couple of cunning instances of withholding small but telling details (it’s a reminder that Bond is nearly always one step ahead of us).
Perhaps the final 50 pages doesn’t quite match the explosive start, but there is so much to admire and enjoy in Trigger Mortis that it would be churlish not to applaud the author who’s given us this masterclass in James Bond. Crucially, his story is so good it makes you want to go back and read the original novels all over again.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars