This review contains SPOILERS.
The last few official James Bond continuation novels have each in their own way been experiments. Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks attempted an out-and-out Ian Fleming imitation. Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver rebooted the literary Bond into the present day. Solo by William Boyd offered a moody meditation on an aging 007. These were all experiments I very much enjoyed (yes, even Devil May Care, haters). So what would be IFP's next experiment?
With Anthony Horowitz's Trigger Mortis, this time the experiment is to attempt no experiment at all. Instead, Horowitz delivers a straightforward, furiously entertaining James Bond adventure set comfortably within the world and rules of Ian Fleming's classic 007 (the novel is set in 1957 right after the events of Goldfinger). In doing this, Horowitz hits the bulls-eye and gives us a James Bond continuation novel that easily stands among the very best (if not the best).
Horowitz's choices are all conceived from and aimed at the gut. Placing James Bond into the world of formula 1 auto racing -- perfect! It's amazing that no other continuation novelist, or screenwriter for that matter, has thought of this idea. Bond and auto racing are a natural fit, especially in the dangerous early days of the sport. (This idea actually came from Ian Fleming as Trigger Mortis incorporates an unpublished Fleming outline, "Murder on Wheels"). The book jacket tells us Bond Girl Jeopardy Lane is "a girl like no other Bond has encountered." No, she isn't. No experiments! She's a classic Bond Girl very much like the others in the best possible way. Likewise, the villain, Jason Sin, is typically foreign and typically fiendish. The book has rockets toppling and American motels exploding. And having Bond endure a buried alive ordeal... Again, why has this idea taken so long to dig up?
Horowitz clearly has an instinct for Bond and he knows exactly which classic notes to play. Like Fleming, he seems to be writing a book to entertain himself -- a book meant to be taken on vacation. The chapters are short and tight and the action never becomes laborious with over description. Tension is maintained perfectly. And by the end of the book, when Bond is racing to stop the destruction of the Empire State Building aboard a speeding R-11 subway train, Horowitz is firing on all thrusters, perfectly capturing the essence of Fleming's Bond with passages such as:
Bond was filthy again. The wind had blasted him with years of accumulated dirt and soot. He could taste it in his mouth. It had penetrated his skin. The very clothes he was wearing had turned black. But he didn't care. He grinned and his white teeth flared in the darkness. This was the moment of reckoning.
Now, if one so chooses, everything I've said here in praise of Trigger Mortis could also be turned into a negative. The book doesn't experiment. It doesn't strive to give us a deeper understanding of James Bond. The plot is familiar and follows the familiar formula. But if this is a problem for anyone, they have only themselves to blame. Because IFP and their Bond authors have now provided a full buffet of James Bond adventures appealing to different tastes and imaginations. Fans can choose their own style, era, and approach. Trigger Mortis now rounds all that out with a main dish of classic Bond.
For me, this is exactly where I want to be and where I want to stay for a while. No more experiments. No more authors. You have me, Mr. Horowitz. Now take me around the world one more time.