I read the Ian Fleming Bond books when I was in high school. They weren’t at all what I expected, actually – I guess because I’d grown up on the movies. The books were more violent, sometimes a lot drier, and often more taut.
The story goes that when Ian Fleming died, they approached Kingsley Amis to take up the reins of the series – but, for whatever reason, he only got one novel out before the kibosh was brought down. That novel is Colonel Sun and it has taken me years to track it down. Its often treated like a bastard child – the John Gardner and Raymond Benson books have all had a few republishings and it wasn’t even mentioned when Devil May Care came out a few years ago.
The thing is, its absolutely the best Bond book since Fleming’s death. It has some of the problems of Fleming’s novels – the pace can sag in the middle – and all of the classic tropes. Wasn’t crazy about the Bond girl or Bond’s reactions to her – though her name was Ariadne, which only furthers my belief that I’m sitting on a ley line or something else is whirling events into strange connections around the last week. The entire setup of the novel seemed strange, actually. It’s remarked upon at the end that Bond really had very little stake in things outside of saving himself and M. He replies that he was just acting on instinct, that (essentially) saving the day is what he does. A fitting resolution to a novel where, at the beginning, he mentions starting to feel soft.
However, I can’t really rate this book as anything above mediocre. I found myself bored more often than I should’ve and as a result I was pushing myself to just get through it. The torture scene near the end is horrifying and goes a long way to redeeming the novel… but Colonel Sun just never really struck me as a competent villain. Too wooden, too simple. The best Bond villains are the ones who truly test Bond – Sun never felt like more than a flunky who (essentially) got lucky because he planned things out so well.
I’m looking forward to the Bond reboot coming in the spring. It’ll be interesting to see a young Bond placed firmly in the present – as opposed to the Bond we knew from way back. It may be disastrous but it certainly can’t be more disappointing that Devil May Care – which, simply by existing, elevates this novel to that near-Fleming eshelon. Still, even Fleming’s Bond novels weren’t always the best and so:
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. The torture scene and the entire opening are what save this book from a worse rating. I liked the ending too – Amis was attempting to bring Bond forward in a world that was already (in the mid-60s) changing from the West v. USSR dichotomy. I would have been intrigued to see where he would have taken 007 – my guess is it would’ve only gotten better.