"In the Australian desert, a nuclear bomb explodes. In England, two police officers are shot dead when they investigate a cargo in Portsmouth dock. And in Hong Kong, an explosion rips through one of the colony’s famous floating restaurants, killing the entire Board of EurAsia Enterprises Ltd, a multi-billion dollar shipping corporation.
These apparently random events are connected – and 007 must find out how and why. Travelling to one of the world’s most exotic locations, James Bond encounters such diverse characters as a mysterious British taipan, a sinister Triad leader, a sadistic Chinese general and an enchanting exotic dancer – and eventually comes face to face with one of the most formidable adversaries of his career.
-From the 1997 Coronet Paperback Edition
"I have no idea," M said...
"The countdown to July the first is already in progress."
"Zero minus ten..." Bond said. "Plenty of time. No pressure at all."
With ten days until the Hong Kong hand over, a series of terrorist acts threaten to ignite a war between China and Britain. In England, two police officers are shot dead when they stop a heroin filled ship from unloading in the Portsmouth dock. In Hong Kong, an explosion on a boat kills the entire board of EurAusia Enterprises Ltd, a multi-billion dollar shipping corporation. Finally, in the Australian desert, a nuclear bomb explodes. At this point, James Bond is called into action.
The novel starts off with a pre-title action sequence worthy of any Bond film. Then, in a chapter entitled Three Events, the mystery is laid out. By the end of the chapter, the reader is baffeled as to the connection between the events. Enter James Bond. Shortly after Bond arrives in London he heads for the SIS office. Benson, inspiring a bit of nostalgia just as he did in Blast From The Past, then takes the reader down memory lane as he has Bond remember the old days when the SIS still hid behind the front of Universal Exports and other pleasant memories. A few changes have been made since the SIS was last in print. For starters, M is now a lady in the books as well. Also, there are now BMW's in "Q Branch". But aside from that, most everything else is the same. That was one of the strongest points in the novel: that little changed. Miss Moneypenny was still there; and still hitting on Bond. There is no Q character in "Q Branch"; just Major Boothroyd. Finally, Bill Tanner is back and is, as Bond says, one of his closest and only friends inside the SIS.
After the trip down SIS lane, Bond is off to Hong Kong. From there on in the action never stops. Zero Minus Ten kept me on the edge of my seat on the subway, at home, and during my lunch break at work. In short, I could not put it down. Much of the book read like a screenplay, but it didn't matter because Benson made it work. There was excellent character development not only with Bond and his girl, Sunni Pei, but with supporting characters such as T.Y. Woo, Guy Thackeray, and even Li Xu Nan, the Cho Kun of the Dragon Wing Society.
The action sequences were well written and definitely action-packed. There were enough of them to make it an exciting book, but not too much as to make it a VanDamme movie. The plot was well developed and the conclusion, though a bit too much like a Hollywood ending, worked very well.
Benson also includes some self-parody in the novel such as the scene where the villain has the gun to Bond's face and says,
"Now what shall I do with you, Mr. Bond? I can't let you live,
that much is certain. I should probably just shoot you here and
now and get it over with. I've always wondered why the bad guys
never do that to the heroes in action movies. Instead, they have to
use some elaborate method of torture or execution. The hero
ultimately uses the delay to his advantage and escapes.
So I should just shoot you now, right?" (Benson, 235)
This passage is an obvious joke at the series Benson is writing about. It also shows that Benson is not afraid to put humor into the story that is not directly related to the plot. He is confident enough with the characters and his role as a writer that he can do this. That confidence will ensure many more novels.
In reading Zero Minus Ten I also came across certain portions that were very "Fleming". Perhaps the most pronounced was the explanation and occurrence of the mahjong game. It reminded me a little of the Bridge game in Moonraker, but more of the Baccarat game in Casino Royale. Not only was it detailed enough for the reader to get a good sense of how to play a very complex game, it also showed Bond's sharp mind in that he noticed his opponent's cheating habits. Although some reviews I read said that they didn't like the scene, I think it was key not only to Bond and Guy Thackeray's development, but to Benson's.
In closing, Zero Minus Ten is a great first effort by Raymond Benson. It is well written and left me craving more. It has been a while since a Bond book has done that. Gardener's last few efforts had left me less that satisfied. After finishing Zero Minus Ten I had this urge to go back and reread Fleming's novels. Most impressive though is that Benson got a great formula on his first try. Keep up the good work.
Guy Thackery is one of the more interesting villains of the entire series, what was your motivation behind his character? And was he based on anyone in particular?
I didn't have a real person in mind for the character, although in my mind's eye I pictured Jeremy Irons playing the part. The motivation for his creation had to do with the history of the Hong Kong handover and how interesting it might be to have a British villain who was opposed to the handover.
What inspired you to use Australia as a location for the novel?
There was a sequence in the James Bond Role-Playing Game adventure I designed and wrote ("You Only Live Twice II--Back of Beyond") that included a "walkabout" section in the Australian outback. I wanted to adapt that and use it in the story.
Who is your favorite Benson-character from novel?
I'm quite pleased with the way all three major supporting characters turned out - Thackeray, TY Woo, and Li Xu Nan. Perhaps Li is my favorite.
Ann Reilly had taken over from Major Boothroyd, as head of Q-Branch in Gardner's Seafire. Boothroyd returns in your very first novel and there is no mention made of Ann Reilly. Were you determined to have Boothroyd heading
I was told by Glidrose Publications that I could "use or ignore" anything that the other continuation authors had done. I never much cared for Ann Reilly so I ignored her. I wanted to bring back Boothroyd in a more prominent role.
Interview with Raymond Benson conducted by
Zero Minus Ten
Published: April 3, 1997
Author: Raymond Benson
Villain: Guy Thackery
Bond Girl: Sunni Pei
Allies: T.Y. Woo
Raymond Benson's Thoughts
Blast From The Past
Zero Minus Ten
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Facts of Death
High Time To Kill
The World Is Not Enough
Never Dream of Dying
The Man With The Red
Die Another Day
Raymond Benson Biography