Taking on the challenge of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, written in the modern day, but set in the original 1950s timeline, was never going to be easy for Anthony Horowitz in his new book, Trigger Mortis, and by and large we’d have to say that it falls short of being a success. While there are positives in the delivery of a very strong villain and some thrilling narrative when the action does finally kick in, there’s too much disappointment to be found in the treatment of Bond as a character and the pedestrian nature of his life in the book.
Firstly, Ian Fleming’s writing contains enough racism, racial supremacy, xenophobia and stereotyping to make all but the neo Nazis a little uncomfortable and Horowitz has remained somewhat true to this trait. You can criticise this on the one hand, and that’s definitely where our sentiment lies, but he is being true to the original characterisation of 007. There’s enough of an argument to say that Fleming’s words were a product of their time, coming as they did as the Cold War was beginning to heat up, and that Horowitz is simply being historically accurate. However, that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to read, even though it’s significantly less offensive than some of the original works.
However, where there is no moral literary wrangle to cloud the waters is in the mundane elements of Bond’s life in London, which just stops short of describing his bowel movements and trips to Tesco for more teabags. It takes the edge off him so much that you’re left with a slightly blunted secret agent for a lot of the opening sections of the story, until he finally gets his first licensed kill under his belt. The biggest issue is his protracted and superfluous relationship with Pussy Galore, which adds nothing to the overall story and results in a sort of domesticated Bond railing against the entrapment of his predicament.
If we’re honest, we’d have to say that Anthony Horowitz has put a lot of effort into presenting Fleming warts and all, covering the elements of racism and sexism alongside his inclusion of elements of homosexuality with Pussy’s lesbian past. In so doing, though, he can’t stop getting Bond wrong, forcing the relationship into the mix where it just doesn’t fit, only to be able to rewrite history a little for the one-time member of the lesbian Cement Mixer gang.
Released on hardback, audio book and digital download on the 8th September 2015, Trigger Mortis picks up with Bond just after the events of Goldfinger as he’s cohabiting with Miss Galore in his apartment in London. They eat eggs, go for dinners and chat about their future in a way that’s just not in keeping with the Bond that we know from the old books.
However, there’s trouble in paradise, not least of all because Bond tires of the situation a little pathetically, but more importantly because the international crime scene is on Pussy’s tail. If that isn’t enough, Bond has also got a new assignment to save a British racing car driver from a Soviet Union-backed Smirsh conspiracy to run him off the road at the Nürburgring.
All of this gets even more Bond-like when he discovers that there’s more to the situation than he’d bargained for, with the vengeful presence of new super rich bad guy, Jai Seung Sin. Working with Smirsh on a plan to carry favour in the direction of mother Russia in the East vs. West space race, he’s got a very cold heart that seethes viciously throughout the book.
Jason Sin, as he’s referred to in his much despised anglicised name, makes for a brilliant villain for the book, stacking up well against many of the old greats. His construction is one of the smarter elements of Horowitz’s efforts, linking his psychotic tendencies to his horrific experiences at the hands of US marines in one of the Korean War’s worst atrocities, the No Gun Ri massacre.
We’re not particularly enamoured with the name of the book on a number of levels, but most importantly because it just doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as any of the previous titles. Trigger Mortis pails in comparison to the genius of Moonraker, Goldfinger, Casino Royal, From Russia With Love or The Man With The Golden Gun, even Dr No, Octopussy and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service outperform it. The Face In The Pack or Mr Sin would have been better alternatives and they were plucked from a mild ponder from the comfort of a sofa, so we’re a bit disappointed that more wasn’t made of this.
Trigger Mortis doesn’t quite live up to the legend of James Bond, but it’s not a complete loss. If you’re looking for a light spy thriller of the quick skim variety with a good bad guy then it’s probably worth a read. However, if you’re looking for an intense, slick and sophisticated espionage pulse-charger then you’ll be a bit disappointed with this 007’s movie going, domesticated boredom in the first half and xenophobic simplicity in the second.
Anthony Horowitz, Trigger Mortis review: 2.8/5