Kim Sherwood has avoided this problem in the first of a new series of novels set in the world of Bond and endorsed by the Ian Fleming Foundation: Bond does not appear at all, except in the briefest flashbacks. 007 is an MIA, believed to have been captured by the Rattenfänger, a terrorist group so cruel that it makes Smersh look like the Red Cross.
You might think a novel about Double 0 Section of MI6 without James Bond would be Hamlet without The Prince, but I can’t say I missed him that much while I was throwing Sherwood clues. However, here are other familiar characters, albeit retooled for the 21st century.
Miss – or, these days, “Ms” – Moneypenny graduated from writing to run the 00 division, and drove the “1967 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 4.2 Green for British Race”, newly converted to electric by Q Branch, where the original novels She looked like one of the nature bus users. Q himself underwent a more drastic transition than Desmond Llewellyn’s defenseless transition to Ben Whishaw in the movies, but I wouldn’t give up on the details.
The focus of the novel is not on one but on three double zero factors. 003 is Joanna Harwood, a former physician who took the Hippocratic Oath. 009 is Aazar Siddig Bashir, a chess champion quietly terrified of Bond’s immorality: searching for villains, part of his mind is focused on “trying not to want to kill, because license shouldn’t imply desire.”
Finally there’s 004, Joe Dryden – gay, deaf, working class and black. He’s also clearly not someone who’s been following the news, as Ms Moneypenny has to explain to him that the climate is in a troublesome place – “Modeling shows that if we continue business as usual, we could see a five degree increase by the end of the century. Arctic melting. Rising waters seas.” This is in the context of a briefing on tech billionaire Sir Bertram Paradise, whose geoengineering schemes may represent the planet’s best hope. The problem is that the Rattenfanger gang seems to be trying to honor Sir Bertram and force the world into ransom.
As our three heroes continue to save the day while also baffling who the mole in MI6 is responsible for capturing Bond, Sherwood hunts us around the world – from Syria to the Kazakh desert to Hong Kong – and treats us to a good snowstorm – a set of set pieces done, including a competition Exciting boxing and meeting with a tiger.
Freed from the burden of devotion to Fleming’s character, her writers feel more free and spontaneous than more traditional Bond novels, while still being able to capture something from Fleming’s sparkling spirit—as well as sharing his taste for sadistic violence.
Sherwood—whose only previously published is Testament, a popular literary account about a Holocaust survivor—has a beautiful joking line between her double zeros, and though she sometimes writes (“His chest was stuffed with smoke, which poured down his throat like concrete) eager to fill in the blank”), they are often elegant and concise.
There’s a weird franchise guessing moment – one of the villains puts a “fake hand to his mouth” and exclaims “You said too much” after outlining his evil plan with Double 0. But there’s also one of those alien villains who ends sentences by saying “Yes?” In a sinister way (“The knight is always in shining armor, yeah?”) which doesn’t seem to be intended to be a parody.
The book could do with more of that magical vibe that makes you happy to swallow any silliness in Fleming’s novels, but I suspect this series will only get better.
Double or Nothing is published by HarperCollins at £20. To order your copy for £16.99, call 0844871 1514 or visit Telegraph books