Devil May Care

…but the reader won't. DEVIL MAY CARE is billed as a new 007 novel by Sebastian Faulks "writing as Ian Fleming." But he's not. He's writing as Richard Maibaum, the Bond screenwriter, only not as well. This feels like a limp effort to rip-off GOLDFINGER…the movie, not the book…and it fails on just about every level. This isn't a bad book, it's not just a very good one. It's literary cool whip and, as an adventure-thriller, not nearly as satisfying as even the weakest book by Barry Eisler (the RAIN series) or Lee Child (the REACHER series). It feels as if Faulks, the brilliant author of the amazing BIRDSONG, dashed this off in a weekend, making it up as he went along. Here's an example of the prose:

Bond lit a cigarette. It was pointless to argue with M
when he had one of these bees in his bonnet. "Is there anything else I
need to know about Dr. Gorner?"

Bees in his bonnet? Not
only is that a cliche, it's not something I would I would expect Bond
to say…Miss Marple maybe, but 007?

DEVIL MAY CARE is filled with references — direct, indirect, figurative, and pastiche — to previous Bond novels and films, characters and situations. Most of all, he tries to evoke FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and GOLDFINGER, practically lifting scenes and characters from those tales and rewriting them in new locales. It doesn't work and only makes you realize how much better those books — and movies — were than this thin and unimaginative novel.

Faulks' own creations are familiar and, at the same time, preposterous. The mwa-ha-ha bad guy is a pale imitation of DR. NO…with a simian hand. Yeah, you read right, one of his hands is exactly like an ape's. And he has a sidekick that's yet another variation of Oddjob and, dare I say it, Jaws.

The biggest problem with the book — beyond the thin writing and familiar scenario — is the depiction of Bond himself, who comes across slow-witted and strangely chaste…and not the least bit dangerous. He may have "cruel eyes," but that's all that's nasty about him. He knocks out bad guys instead of killing them (when doing so puts his own life in jeopardy) and refuses to bed women who offer themselves to him. Ho-hum. Even worse, he makes one dumb move after another… and the reader will be way, way ahead of Bond when it comes to the "twists" in the book, which are so loudly telegraphed that they might as well be emblazoned across the cover.

All in all, DEVIL MAY CARE is a weak tie-in and a poor continuation of the literary franchise. I expected much, much more from an author of Faulks' talents.

UPDATE: I just read an interview with Faulks where he says he purposely wrote the book in six weeks to mirror Fleming's own work-pace. It reads like he wrote it faster than that. By comparison, I wrote most of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK books in eight week to 12 weeks, often while also writing and producing a TV show or movie, to meet rigid publisher deadlines. My brother Tod wrote his BURN NOTICE tie-in in eight weeks and, though I am obviously biased, it is a hell of a lot better than DEVIL MAY CARE.

9 thoughts on “Devil May Care”

  1. I wish you’d posted this before I ordered the book. It’s sitting in my TBR pile now. I forsee that it might steadily drop toward the bottom.

  2. I can’t get over the “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming” credit on the cover. No, Faulks is not writing as Fleming. He would be if Ian Fleming was the only author credit on the cover. For instance, “The Player on the Other Side” is Theodore Sturgeon writing as Ellery Queen. “Tekwar” is Ron Goulart writing as William Shatner. Faulks is writing as Faulks. I don’t see why this book is different from the other Bond novels written by folks other than Fleming.

  3. The big difference, Mr. Barer, is that it’s not as good as the books by Raymond Benson, John Gardner or Kingsley Amis.

  4. I havne’t read the book yet and probably won’t. I have yet to read a good comment about it. However, in Faulks’s defense of the use of “bees in his bonnet” I will point out that Ian Fleming himself used the phrase in “Risico” which was published in the “For Your Eyes Only” collection. M, apparently, had a “bee in his bonnet” about sending OO7 out on a mission not Service related, as was the case in that story, but the P.M. gave the order and all that, so M had to give the orders and Bond went to Italy to bust a drug smuggling operation.

  5. And in Lee’s defense, Risico was written fifty years ago. The phrase “bees in his bonnet” might have been current then but it is an horrible cliche now. What would you think if Faulks had written Bond thinking that someone was “cool as a cucumber?”

  6. Tom, You’re right. My point was the Faulks used the phrase as part of his imitation of Fleming. And even seeing Fleming use it made me cringe!


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