Review: Solo, By William Boyd - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Jonathan Cape £18.99

Review: Solo, By William Boyd

Boyd’s Bond is driven but torn

The guns, the goons the girls. There can be few people in Britain who are not au fait with the James Bond format. But what about the Aertex shirts, the Old Spice and fry ups? This is the shabby chic milieu of William Boyd’s Bond circa 1969: a decent, clever, World War Two veteran who chain smokes and ponders the progress of his flat’s redecoration. This is, most definitely, not Daniel Craig.

Solo, Boyd’s baton-running addition to the posthumous Bond library, is a serious venture for the author, a self-confessed Ian Fleming obsessive. And when the late author’s estate hands over the licence to kill it’s holstered in a whole lot of expectation, both in terms of sales and pop cultural critique. When Sebastian Faulks took aim, with Devil May Care, he fired off a pastiche of Fleming’s sassy Brit-noir. Boyd appears to be more interested in Bond’s psyche and historically specific and troubling times. The result is a cool thriller that makes 1969 seem like a bumper year for tobacco firms and despots. The novel opens in The Dorchester with Bond celebrating his 45th birthday. He has a bottle of Taittinger Rosé for company, with a few dry martinis in hot pursuit. It sets the mildly melancholy tone nicely.

M quickly sends him off to the fictional West African state of Zanzarim, a country split in two by a civil war fuelled by the high stakes of oil reserves. Bond is to derail the rebels’ cause under cover as a journalist for a French press agency (France, naturally, supports the insurgents). There is a lovely sense of British amateurism in Bond’s preparation for the mission. He takes Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter as briefing notes and Q equips him with lethal toiletries. “He who travels lightest, travels furthest, Bond supposed, and that included weaponry. Into a war zone with a can of talcum powder and some aftershave.”

In Zanzarim, Bond liaises (in a flexible definition of the word) with Blessing Ogilvy-Grant, the Service’s pretty, brown-eyed agent on the scene, before heading to the frontline where a much greater plot is uncovered. 

Boyd’s strengths are at play here: from the names that stick like a tic (Digby Beadalbane the hack; Kobus Breed the killer) to the portrayal of a cracked African state weeded with mercenaries. And in 007 he has stripped the gadgets away to reveal a driven but existentially torn spook dealing with betrayal and a thirst for revenge.

I’m just amazed that he has the strength with all the bacon breakfasts and smokes.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week