My first Bond continuation novel was, like many, John Gardner's License Renewed
. At the time I was hungry for any Bond I could get (and I had never heard of Colonel Sun
, nor seen the Christopher Wood novelizations), so it was something of a godsend to find more Bond
. But over the years, the novelty of "new Bond" wore off and I stopped reading Gardner (though I continued buying the books when I found them cheap, for some reason).
Well, when I began digging around for all my Bond stuff recently, I found that not only did I have several Gardners I hadn't read, I also had a few by this "Raymond Benson" person. Might as well read one, I thought. How bad could it be? But where to start? I ended up with an interesting means for answering this question. I took the one that stood out the most: the only one I had in hardcover, The Facts of Death
I must admit that I found it difficult to get into at first. I suppose this was partially because I had been away from the "Literary Bond" for too long. I ended up putting the book down after only a couple of chapters. Instead, I picked up some Fleming. I read Casino Royale
and The Man with the Golden Gun
. I skimmed You Only Live Twice
and read selections from For Your Eyes Only
Then I saw that The Facts of Death
was up for the Blades Library Book Club and I was determined to finish.
Now more fully immersed in Bond (I was watching all the films in order at the same time), I found the book easier to take second time 'round. In fact, it began to seriously impress me.
I liked the underlying plot. It was a good Bond-ified version of the international virus story that I've seen before. The dual angles kept things lively, so I couldn't be sure who was responsible for what until near the end.
Bond feels...correct. Not Fleming's Bond, certainly, but I don't really expect that from other authors. It suffices that Benson's Bond doesn't stand out as going against Fleming's.
I liked seeing Felix Leiter again. He's my favorite supporting character (big surprise) and it was good to see him in action. It made me realize how unfortunate it was that the film producers felt that Leiter was off limits after his mutilation, despite the fact that Fleming himself brought him back.
The "Bond girls" were also well realized. They mostly fell into conventional molds, but just because something is familiar and not terribly original doesn't mean it's neccesarily bad. Benson may be calling upon archetypes, but he knows what to do with them.
The major villain has the air of Fleming about him. An original but easily understood character that fits naturally into the plot. His various personality quirks make sense and don't seem tacked on just to make him a "Bond villain".
If I have a complaint about The Facts of Death
it is Benson's tendency to let his fan history seep in. Fleming's Bond often reflected upon his past, but not in such rapid succession as I noted towards the end of this novel. It's a minor quibble, but it did stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent read.