Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care

BY TONY RUSSELL, Contributing Reviewer

In July 2007, Ian Fleming Publications commissioned British novelist Sebastian Faulks to write an all-new James Bond novel. The new volume, Devil May Care, was released May 28, 2008 to commemorate the centennial celebration of Ian Fleming’s birth. (Fleming died in 1964 at the age of 56.) Faulks is the fifth writer after Fleming to write for the series and begins where Fleming left off in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Devil May Care is an enjoyable read, but for fans, it holds few surprises. The plot is the standard Bond formula (reconnaissance, girl, capture, victory) and feels like a cross between Dr. No and Casino Royale. It also reads like an index of previous Bond adventures, which will lose casual readers, but will challenge Bond connoisseurs to match up Faulks’s clues with Fleming’s novels and short stories. For example, Faulks mentions a name like Tracy di Vicenzo or that “whole Japanese night”, which avid fans will recognize as the name of Bond’s tragically-murdered wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a reference to his amnesia in Japan in You Only Live Twice, respectively. Bond’s own body in Devil May Care documents his perilous existence:

“His torso and arms bore a network of scars, small and large, that traced a history of his violent life. There was the slight displacement of his spine to the left where he had fallen from a train in Hungary, the skin graft on the back of the left hand. Every square inch of trunk and limb seemed to contribute to the story.”

The novel’s plot centers around shutting down an opium-processing plant in Iran. (Bond stops a smaller, but quite similar operation in the Fleming short story “Risico” in For Your Eyes Only). The principal villain, Dr. Julius Gorner, suffers from a rare physical deformity, main de singe, or Ape Hand, where the thumb of his left hand is not opposable. But what makes Gorner even more sinister, M explains to Bond, is that his “whole hand is completely that of an ape. With hair up to the wrist and beyond”. Gorner, sensitive about the deformity, hides the hand under a white glove.

Gorner’s deformity is a bit over the top, but no more than Dr. No’s dual prosthetic hooks. Still, there is a disturbing quality at how deformity and psychosis go together so often in the series. In all, Faulks’s verisimilitude overly depends upon Fleming’s previous body of work, despite the fact that the novel’s byline declares that Faulks is “writing as Ian Fleming.” Still, Devil May Care is a quick read that Bond fans will enjoy, even if Faulks’s allusions and Gorner’s long soliloquies sometimes slow down the action. Devil May Care is available in hardback from Doubleday for $24.95, but fans with indiscriminate loads of cash may take a look at the leather, hand-stitched, limited edition offered by Bentley for $1500, although the rest of us may have to hatch our own world-domination blackmail scheme to get our hands on one.