Devil May Care Book Review:
Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care was released to a media frenzy the likes of which has never been seen for a James Bond novel. Expectations were sky high, both from Bond fans and from the world press, and Faulks delivers on nearly every level.
The novel starts with James Bond burned out, unsure of his place and on a sabbatical imposed by M. While the reader knows that 007 will shortly be pulled out of this funk by the call of duty, Faulks does a great job of showing a man in the middle of a mid-career crisis, with Bond finding that even his old staples of high stakes gambling and loose women no longer get him going. This is a very raw and weak time for Bond and the reader is treated to a rare look into the psyche of a normally invincible man.
Faulks also uses this opportunity to introduce both Bond and the reader to characters that will become integral parts of the story (Scarlett Papava and Julius Gorner) as well as other plot devices, such as how Bond recently learned to play tennis. However, as is often the case, Bond’s vacation is soon interrupted by a communication from Universal Exports, and Bond is back in action.
The plot of Devil May Care is just what you would want from a James Bond novel: 007 is on the trails of a maniacal madman with hopes of starting World War III. This time, the story is set in the Cold War and in the Middle East, giving it a bit of modern day intrigue, though the Middle East is used only as a backdrop for Gorner’s operations and for Bond to experience some new culture.
Writing as Ian Fleming:
Devil May Care, much like Samantha Weinberg’s The Moneypenny Diaries, is littered with references to previous movies and novels.
Some of these are blatant, such as Bond sprinkling talcum powder on a combination lock and a putting a strand of his hair over a door crack to find out if his hotel room was violated, ala Dr. No. However, some others were a bit more subtle, such as using a Slazenger tennis ball (like the golf balls of the same brand in Goldfinger) and traveling under the name David Somerset (his alias in From Russia With Love).
The "Bentley Edition" of Devil May Care
One of the most well known facts about Devil May Care is that Faulks was writing as Ian Fleming. This meant he emulated Fleming’s style, work ethic and panache for describing the life of the upper class in beautiful detail. During one segment, Scarlett is driving Bond through busy Paris streets at full speed, much like 007 drives his cars. While there may not have been a full blown Bondian car chase, this scene was wonderfully painted and pure Fleming.
Another wonderful scene was Bond and Darius' visit to the Paradise Club: an opium den in the heart of Tehran. The club was filled with eye candy, a pool filled with “virgins” and temptations left and right. While the scene did nothing to actually advance the plot, it provided a nice break in the story and allowed Faulks to paint a picture of life for the Tehran elite. Even better, it showed Bond’s strong will as he avoided smoking opium (he didn’t want his capacities impaired by drugs) and getting too distracted by the virgins.
The final classic Fleming’esque scene I will discuss is the tennis match between Bond and Gorner, which had a classic Goldfinger golf game feel to it. Even before the game started, multiple pages were spent with Bond calculating the entire match in his head. Then, when things didn’t go exactly as planned, Bond was able to react on the fly and scientifically adjust his strategy as he went.
Pros and Cons:
Unfortunately, as is often the case in Bond novels and movies, Bond doesn’t need too much intuition or "spy skills" to figure out the villain's plans: four pages are spent with Gorner spelling everything out for 007.
Also. Bond’s discovery of a keypad code to escape from Gorner’s lair is a bit too convenient. After hearing someone punch it in, Bond commits the tune to memory and later hums it for Scarlett, who is apparently, amongst her other skills, a music expert, and who is able to quickly figure out the corresponding keypad numbers.
Is Devil May Care the perfect Bond novel? By no means. Gorner’s main physical defect is a monkey’s paw, many of the plot twists are obvious and there’s even a scene where Gorner is sitting in a swivel chair that reeks of Austin Powers. However, it’s still a fantastic addition to the series and a truly succeeds at its main goal: to have one final novel written by “Ian Fleming.”
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Review written by Greg Goodman, August 4, 2008.