William Boyd's Solo: 007 back to 'bed-hopping' best
Hard-drinking, hard-smoking agent impresses critics, but adventures in West Africa are 'convoluted'
JAMES BOND is either back to his "ruthless, bed-hopping best" or "bogged down" in a convoluted plot, according to the first reviews of William Boyd’s new 007 novel, Solo.
Boyd is the seventh writer to "try to bring [Ian] Fleming’s spy back to life", notes Geoffrey Wansell in the Daily Mail, but the first to actually succeed. He does so by setting his novel in 1969 at which point the 45-year-old secret agent offers a "rich palette of history and emotions".
Solo, which is available in shops today, follows Bond from London's Dorchester Hotel – where he downs a bottle of Chateau Batailley 1959 – to a war-ravaged West African country. He test drives a Jensen Interceptor and runs into a beautiful woman in a catsuit that reveals "the full swell of her breasts".
Bond’s boss M makes an appearance, writes Mark Brown in The Guardian, and there is a "rather frosty exchange with Moneypenny". There is no shortage of weapons, cars, "snappy clothes and a lot of eating and drinking".
Boyd "cleverly pays tribute to Fleming" by setting the story in an age when "the spying game was full of flamboyance and style, writes Wansell. It is a world extinguished by John Le Carre and his fictional British spy Smiley, who "made the world of espionage so comparatively grey and murky."
The Daily Telegraph’s Jon Stock is less enthusiastic. While the early chapters of Solo are "huge fun to read", it gets "bogged down in an increasingly convoluted plot" when the action transfers to West Africa, he writes. Bond mutates into a "pseudo-mercenary" and Stock wonders what the Fleming estate will make of "the endless battle scenes".
"There is much to enjoy in Solo - particularly if you like scrambled eggs, which Bond consumes in vast quantities – but it’s a shaky story that left me curiously unstirred," Stock concludes.
Writing in The Bookseller, Cathy Rentzenbrink, disagrees. Boyd has "completely pulled off an excellent and absorbing spy story", she writes. Solo is "layered with gloriously sensual detail" and emphasises the "thoughtful, reflective aspect of the man who is a killing machine for his country". ·