Though I’ve watched and liked all the Bond movies, I hadn’t properly read any of the 007 books until now. Forever And A Day written by Anthony Horowitz is a prequel to Fleming’s debut Bond story – Casino Royale. I’ve heard from other readers that this book comes very close to Fleming’s work in terms of the prose, story, characters, and themes, when compared to the many continuation Bond books written by other authors.
Set in 1950, the settings and atmosphere of post World War Two Europe are shown in grim and colorful ways with many contrasting themes. The social feel of all the characters, all reeling from the aftermaths of the World War, affects the plot of this book.
I did not find this book comically fun in the ways many Bond movies feel. Instead, this book was a serious noir, hard-boiled mystery thriller for most parts, and then a gritty action adventure thriller at the end. There were surely some implausible moments/concepts that have the feel of the 50s era pulp paperback thrillers which the Bond books excel at, but most of the book was serious and explored the damaged characters in their own ways.
Fleming’s 007 books have a reputation for getting tarnished by literary critics, but his books have more than you’d expect. The serious and emotional aspects in the Bond books are not recognized like many long form literary books, but they are shown through subtle signs and clued in different ways. This Bond book has more emotionally serious sides than many literary classics, but it’s shown differently. These books have a different type of prose that feels too unique.
In the beginning of this book, the 007 is dead, murdered in the French Riviera, and M decides to give that post to a new and untested operative, James Bond. To earn his title, Bond kills two people in cold blood. Both targets are traitors from the World War. This experience makes Bond question his job, humanity, and weigh the value of life, which connects to his character arc of the book.
An interesting scene, surprisingly not shown in the movies, is Bond’s life at his house. His routine, principles, and lifestyle added more depth to his character than the superhero seen in the movies. His life at the MI6 SIS office, with his paperwork, research, and analysis, were other scenes that added in humanizing him. The book lets us into his mind in every scene, showing us his complex and legendary personality, which breathed more life into the iconic hero I’ve known from the movies.
Bond’s first mission as the new 007 is to investigate the death of his predecessor and execute justice by terminating the responsible parties. He has full carte blanche with the license to kill, but no cool tech from Q which I was expecting as a fan of the movies.
He goes to the coastal and sunny Nice, where his investigation drags him into an elaborate plot in the criminal underworld of the French Riviera involving a fat and deformed Corsican gangster, a rich and flamboyant Hollywood producer, a seductive assassin who’s older than Bond and a former British covert operative herself, technicolor film tape technology, mass produced heroin, and a large mega yacht that’s too expensive to not destroy.
The whole book is loaded with an interestingly heavy amount of details about the regions, history, architecture, food, clothes, landscapes, vehicles, and people. That’s stunning considering this was written recently by Anthony Horowitz and the story is set in 1950. There were a lot of fun things I learned in this book, like all good technothrillers, though the details are historical in context.
The motivations of the villains are humanized and understandable with how the events of that era affected them, but still have the weight of the enigmatic, unrealistic, and the outlandish Bond villains we all know. Scipio, the fat and deformed Corsican gangster, a vile sadist by his nature, does his damage to Bond through torture sessions and in an attempt to turn Bond into a Heroin addict.
Those moments inside the mythical depths of Bond’s mind, while he’s injected with heroin(after being beaten and both physically and mentally broken), show the true gritty legend of his mind better than any of the fun action sequences in the movies. Bond pays back the villains accordingly, motivated with a similar sadistic pleasure that’s emotionally satisfying considering the events and the characters of this story.
The female lead, a mysterious rogue assassin in the criminal world who is known as Madame 16 after her former callsign, teaches Bond many things that’s made him the 007 he becomes in the main books. (this is set before Casino Royale and is Bond’s first mission as 007) Her character is complex and interesting, but her journey comes to a grim end like a few other Bond girls who’ve also died.
A CIA operative, who’s a suspicious character from the beginning, helps Bond in the investigation, but faces a grim and cold end when the plot ties all the mysteries together. That last scene further established James Bond as the cold and vicious operative, a blunt instrument who’s smart enough to figure things out and make the hard choices, and yet a human with a license to kill who gets the job done by any means necessary. All readers who like the Bond movies like me, but haven’t read the Bond books, will find a good reason to start their journey into the literary Bond with this book.