By Anthony Horowitz
The name is Bond. James Bond. And after over fifty years of this franchise, you know what to expect.
Trigger Mortis fulfills those expectations, being not so much a re-set as it is a throwback, a novel based on notes left by Ian Fleming for a possible television series based on the British superspy.
Anthony Horowitz has approached the project very much in the spirit of the original. The year is 1957, and Bond has just finished off Goldfinger. That case is so fresh Bond still has Pussy Galore in his bed, even though he’s lost all interest in her and wants her to clear out. This she soon does, prompted by a kick in the plot that has her return to the States, and her previous sexual orientation (fans will recall from the earlier novel that Pussy was a lesbian, and Bond the straight-maker prides himself here on how “this was a girl who had felt nothing but suspicion and hatred toward men until he had come into her life”).
With Pussy gone, Trigger Mortis settles into the formula that has become as comfortable as one of Bond’s bespoke suits. An initial meeting with M and some office banter with Miss (not Ms.) Moneypenny is followed up with a trip to an exotic location for a spectacular introductory mini-adventure. Here it’s the race track at Nürburg, where Bond is involved in an explosive high-speed chase behind which he detects the presence of his arch-enemy, the spy organization SMERSH.
Also in Germany Bond meets the two essential secondary characters in every Bond adventure: the Bond Villain and the Bond Girl. The Villain is a Korean immigrant, scarred by war, named Sin Jai-Seong, a moniker that is Anglicized (or really Bond-icized) to “Johnny Sin.” Sin is, of course, fabulously wealthy after having started a temp company in the U.S. servicing the transit, construction and sanitation industries.
At this point one’s heart quickens at the thought of a class war scenario, with Bond having to fight off hordes of low-paid day labourers, and the Occupy Movement turning out to be a false front for SMERSH. But it is 1957 and that is not in the cards. Instead, Johnny Sin has an army of Korean flunkies and a killer henchman named (cough) “Harry Johnson.”
No I didn’t make that up. I’m not making any of this up.
The Bond Girl is Jeopardy Lane, an agent for the U.S. Secret Service who also has an interest in Sin. Though not a classic beauty, Jeopardy is a fetching gamine with perhaps the “prettiest scowl” Bond has ever seen. Indeed, he wants to kiss her “serious lips” so hard he’ll make them bleed. Which is sexy, I guess.
Bond and Jeopardy investigate. They are captured. The cultivated, asexual, egomaniac Johnny Sin treats them to an excellent meal (presaged by an execrable martini, ruined by too large a measure of vermouth) and starts to talk. “I have a feeling you will have been in this position before,” he says to Bond, indicating that he knows the drill too. In any event, as Dr. Evil, he really can’t stop himself:
“It may further interest you to know what it is that I am doing here, what exactly it is that I have arranged. It will please me to tell you. Am I acting out of vanity, I wonder? Am I, perhaps, a little too pleased with myself? I do not know – but I suppose I must be as there can be no other reason to explain everything to you. Even so . . .”
The mad plot is explained and Bond’s demise determined by a lethal pack of cards. Bond escapes. There’s a countdown to destruction. A crisis is narrowly averted. Bond takes Jeopardy to bed (“She watched as he undressed himself and only then did he see the appetite awaken in her eyes”). There’s a violent coda that plays out until “the bullets spat their ugly farewells.” Curtain, more or less.
Telling you this much of the plot doesn’t require any spoiler alert because these are all well-known parts of the Bond formula. If you’ve read just one of the novels, or seen one of the movies, then you know what to expect. This is the way it has to be.
Formula, however, is not the curse of genre fiction, but rather its main attraction. It’s what fans of the franchise want.
For what it’s worth, Horowitz handles the action stuff nicely, and doesn’t seem at all embarrassed by the silliness of what he’s writing. He also appreciates the texture of Bond’s world, its comfortable materiality made up of items like the orange and bergamot shaving cream he buys from Floris in Jermyn Street, his hotel room’s luxurious 300-count Frette sheets, and his Rolex Submariner watch. These lifestyle details are an essential part of the Bond experience. They matter.
I had read all of Fleming’s Bond novels by the time I was twelve years old. I realize now they’re not very good, but like most fans I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re as much a part of my life as many of the people I’ve known. And if Trigger Mortis doesn’t have the same meaning those earlier books had when I first encountered them in public school, it at least provides the comfort of a pleasant and familiar ritual.
Review first published online May 9, 2015.