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trigger mortis

Written By: Anthony Horowitz
Published By: Harper

Bond is back, way back in 1957. Immediately following the events in Goldfinger Bond is home in London catching up on his paperwork and getting used to a new houseguest. Pussy Galore has accepted his offer of refuge from the American authorities and has been living in his flat long enough to give him second thoughts about his generosity. Luckily M has an assignment.

It’s common wisdom that the NAZI’s only real rival for greatest film or literary villain are cold war commies and Horowitz is taking full advantage of Trigger Mortis’s time period by casting SMERSH, the dirty tricks department of the KGB, as Bond’s rival for this mission. SMERSH’s goal; to ensure the success of the Soviet Union’s entry for the German Grand Prix at the fabled Nürburgring. The plan; to knock Lancy Smith, the British champion loosely based on Sterling Moss, out of the race. And at the Nürburgring, which Jackie Stewart nicknamed the “Green Hell”, being knocked out of the race likely means getting killed. So MI6 is fitting Bond out with a Maserati 250 and sending him to the Eifel Mountains after a few days of intensive training to compete in the German Grand Prix and prevent any “accidents” from befalling Lancy Smith.

Horowitz knows that Bond’s not a fantastic detective. Bond’s a thug in a tailored suit, a bulldog. He finds a loose thread and he shakes the hell out of it. Somehow surviving long enough to find the next thread and the next and the next until the evil masterminds plan completely unravels, usually with gunfire and explosions. And that’s exactly what Bond does in Trigger Mortis. After noticing a businessman reading the riot act to a SMERSH General who any sane person would have been terrified of Bond follows the thread to a German Castle and then to the Wallops Island Rocket Launch Facility in Virginia then to the subways under New York City.

Horowitz also knows the key to a great Bond story is a great villain and Jason Sin is one of the most menacing in the Bond oeuvre. A soulless psychopath with a dreadful enough backstory that you understand his pathology but vile enough that you never sympathize. A self made millionaire, which is handy when you have to finance secret bases and private armies, Sin is a willing lieutenant for SMERSH just because he knows people will die and chaos will be spread. As a wise man in another franchise once said “some men just want to watch the world burn”.

Horowitz is not the first to pen a Bond novel since Fleming laid down his pen for the last time. That was Kingsley Amis in 1968 and Bond novels have followed rather regularly since from a small number of authors. I’ve read one of the John Gardner novels and several of the original Fleming novels. Frankly I didn’t care much for Fleming’s Bond. He was just a bit too boorish. I rather liked the Gardner novel even though he put Bond is a Saab of all things. Horowitz is definitely trying to channel Fleming and the he’s succeeded. For me at least, better than succeeded because I enjoyed Trigger Mortis much more than any of Fleming’s books that I’ve read. Horowitz somehow manages to dial Bond back just enough to retain the rawness of Fleming’s bond but without the grating aspects of the originals.

Horowitz did have one advantage over the previous successors to Fleming’s legacy. The Fleming estate came across some unpublished Bond material that Fleming wrote for a Bond TV series that never came around. Horowitz was actually able to use around four or five hundred words in the book. The amazing thing is you can’t really tell where. Horowitz gives you some hints in the Afterward.

If you’ve never read any Bond novels this is a great place to start and if you’re already a fan I believe you will be pleased with Horowitz’s treatment of the iconic character, though some purists may not be pleased with the dialing back of Bond’s character that I enjoyed so much. In short Trigger Mortis is a fun, well above average novel and a fantastic Bond story.