More than 40 years after the last adventure, a new James Bond book has arrived with its writer warning that the spy is not a slick superhero armed with hi-tech gadgetry, but a, "solitary, unarmed guy in a smart suit and soft shoes".
Few details have been revealed about Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, which is published today. But although much of the plot has remained a closely-guarded secret, it is known that the book is set in 1967 against the backdrop of the Cold War and features a love interest named Poppy.
Faulks says his Bond, just like Ian Fleming's original creation, is a down-to-earth guy. "I had his (Fleming's) man in mind. His Bond was quite different from the film guys. He is not an invulnerable superhero surrounded by whizzo gadgetry," he said.
"He is a very solitary, unarmed guy in a smart suit and soft shoes with one really, ridiculously under-powered weapon. That's what makes the books so exciting; you feel he is in desperate trouble all the time."
The novel, which has been published to coincide with the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth, is the 15th instalment in the Bond series and begins in 1967, a year after Fleming's final Bond novel, Octopussy and The Living Daylights was published. Although Faulks had more fun writing this book than any other, he said would not want to write another Bond adventure: "Once is fun, twice silly and three times a smack."
Faulks, a literary writer who usually focuses on his characters' inner lives rather than an adventure story, admitted Devil May Care had been challenging to write, saying: "It's like asking someone who writes complex, symphonic music to write a pop song. It's not as simple as it looks."
He added: "People say these are straightforward thrillers but it's not the kind of book I normally write. I write novels about inner lives and emotions, often set in a historical context. Here I'm writing about a man who, as far as we know, has almost no internal life. The story is driven by incidents and excitement."
To prepare, Faulks read Fleming's books in quick succession and imitated the writing style. "I copied Ian Fleming's style which was easy to do. I trained as a reporter, as did Fleming, at Reuters. The basic journalistic style with lots of short sentences, no semi-colons and nothing fancy was quite easy. What was harder was to capture the slightly snobbish tone, but I hope I have done that as well," he said.
He said he had sought to give the story some contemporary resonance. "The question was to do a modern story or a period story. In my view, the only way I could do this thing was to show some respect to Fleming and do it in period. I imagined what he, if he had lived for another two years, might have written. It's set in 1967 and starts in Paris, then Rome, then London.
"He travels to the Middle East and if you look at a map of the world, you will see the Middle East touches the Far East and it also touches the Caspian Sea and that leads north into the Soviet Union and so on – remember this is Cold War time. There is a lot going on in countries which were very interesting then, but still have a resonance and are frightening to us today."
The first copies of Devil May Care were delivered under military escort from the printers to Waterstone's store in Piccadilly, London. Seven of the books were brought up the Thames by Royal Navy speedboat, escorted by two helicopters.
Faulks said EON Productions, which makes the Bond films, had liked the book but was unsure if a film version would be made.
Faulks vs Fleming: opening chapters compared
Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks
May, the Scottish "treasure" who looked after Bond's flat in Chelsea, was trying to complete her house-warming preparations when she heard the cab drop him outside the front door in the quiet street. "Could you no' have given me a wee bit more warning, Mr Bond?" she said, as he let himself in and dropped his suitcases in the hall. "The bed's not aired, we've none of your favourite marmalade and the laddie come to do the cupboards in the spare room has left the most fearful mess."
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Casino Royale, Ian Fleming
The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough and he always acted on the knowledge. This helped him to avoid staleness and the sensual bluntness that breeds mistakes.
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