Thursday, May 24, 2018

'Forever And A Day' review: 007 is Dead, Long Live Bond

While the cinematic James Bond is doing some silence, the literary James Bond is back. Altough, in this case, we could say he's back... in time! Anthony Horowitz second Bond novel Forever And A Day is a prequel to Ian Fleming's Casino Royale, which introduced the British secret agent to the world, marking the beginning of a timeless legacy.

(Mild spoilers below this point)

Taking place around 1950, one year before the events of the first Ian Fleming novel, Forever And A Day begins with the death of 007. But don't worry, altough this 007 wears Saville Row suits and was a very much regarded agent by M, he's not James Bond. The anonymous 007 has been sent to Marseille to investigate the surprising stop on the narcotic production. The region is a battlefield between the Corsican and Sicillian gangs because of the drug business, so the Secret Services tought someone could be planning something bigger and they sent 007 to survey the French Riviera underworld. There are little leads and no explaination on how the secret agent was unarmed when he was shot at point blank at La Joliette, unarmed, on daylight. There are also no clues on his research, except that he made contact with one Madame 16 or Sixtine, a rogue agent that went freelance selling secrets after being captured and tortured by the Germans during the war. So far, Madame 16 seems the prime suspect of 007's death.

Vintage postcard featuring the Casino de Monte Carlo, where Bond has his first encounter with Madame 16

M resolves to send someone to replace the deceased agent. 008 is recovering in the hospital. 0011 is on a mission in Miami. The head of the British Secret Service turns his eyes to a new recruit, the operative next in line for the 00 section, a man recommended by the Chief of Staff: Bond... James Bond.

Taking the place (and number) of 007, who was a close friend of his, James Bond goes to France and in the following chapters he'll have to face many exhilarating dangers: an infiltration on a film processing plant (used for dark purposes) in the middle of a forest filled of bobby traps, the escape from a sinking luxury yacht rigged with explosives, a downhill escape on jeep and a heroin-based torture. Of course, the perks of his job will also allow him to visit the Casino de Monte Carlo for a Blackjack match against the pretty Madame 16, that will turn out to be a rather memorable woman in Bond's life.

Forever And A Day has -like Trigger Mortis- original Ian Fleming material as the main source, in this case is the TV serial pilot Russian Roulette. The narrative of this book is rather similar to the one of its predecessor, too: very straightforwarding and short in descriptions, but with some subtleties that make it an enjoyable read. In this novel we learn, for example, how Bond started preferring the Morlands cigarettes and why his Martini should be "shaken, not stirred". The second chapter also describes, in full detail, how he eliminated the Norwegian man that spied for the Nazis during World War Two. While the James Bond of Forever And A Day is around 30 years old and a recently promoted 00 agent, he's very smart and definitively not less lethal than Fleming's Bond.

Horowitz deserves a lot of credit for this novel, considering the fact that precedes Casino Royale and every other James Bond novel. The challenge is huge: with the 1953 book defined as the one where Bond went trough emotional and physical hell in the hands of Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre, the one that shaped him up as the one we know, a precuel for Casino Royale had to be carefully written in order to avoid overshadowing the important characters that meant so much for the secret agent. The girl and the villain can't be emotionally more important than Vesper or Le Chiffre or what Fleming had created would seem fake. 

The French Riviera, where agent 007 was shot dead in mysterious circumstances

At the same time, the elements in Forever And A Day shouldn't be completely weak and uninterested. Yet, the author managed to balance the elements in an exemplar way: the villain, Corsican gangster Jean Paul-Scipio, makes the new 007 feel very uncomfortable during his stay putting him in perilous situations. On the other hand, and despite her protagonism goes a little over the top near the climax where she almost opaques Bond, Sixtine proves to be a very well written character as an experienced agent 10 year older than Bond. She's smart, resourceful and with epic characteristics. Of course she wasn't meant to be over Vesper when analiyzing Bond's life, yet one has the impression he will never forget this girl.

A story of death, betrayal and brutality, Forever And A Day also provides good quantities of elegance and romance (the title itself, as read in the book, has a romantic connotation). At the same time, the action feels very "cinematographic" in a way and there are some elements that are reminiscent to the movies, with a plot somewhat similar to Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill, and some very tiny nods to GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The exotic locales are an effective setting for the story, and the fact that the book is set in the 1950s gives it a special touch: the French Riviera, a sunny turistic spot darkened by the occupation of the Corsican and Sicilian gangs, fighting each other for the drug business and using the beautiful locale as a battlefield.

Forever And A Day is a good pre-introduction to the literary James Bond in the same world of intrigue, violence and elegance Ian Fleming created for his hero. Everything in the right balance to avoid overshadowing Casino Royale, but bringing up an exciting product in terms of narrative -and bondian- quality.

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Nicolás Suszczyk

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