By William Boyd. Grade B.
It’s 1969, and, having just celebrated his forty-fifth birthday, James Bond—British special agent 007—is summoned to headquarters to receive an unusual assignment. Zanzarim, a troubled West African nation, is being ravaged by a bitter civil war, and M directs Bond to quash the rebels threatening the established regime.
Bond’s arrival in Africa marks the start of a feverish mission to discover the forces behind this brutal war—and he soon realizes the situation is far from straightforward. Piece by piece, Bond uncovers the real cause of the violence in Zanzarim, revealing a twisting conspiracy that extends further than he ever imagined.
Moving from rebel battlefields in West Africa to the closed doors of intelligence offices in London and Washington, this novel is at once a gripping thriller, a tensely plotted story full of memorable characters and breathtaking twists, and a masterful study of power and how it is wielded—a brilliant addition to the James Bond canon.
Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his every waking moment.
The plot is interesting, though the treatment is not. Set in the late 60s, Bond is deputed by M to Zanzarim to infiltrate a small region within that nation which is acting independently ever since oil has been found there. The area is being led by a local leader called Brigadier Solomon Adeka who belongs to the tribe which populates the region and believes the new found wealth truly belongs to them. Bond’s mission is to weaken the leader so that the country is taken over and the civil war is ended. But his arrival is not taken lightly by those who have vested interests in the new found wealth. Bond is shot and left dying as the handlers of the regime fly off minutes before the Zanzarim army takes over. Bond is lucky as he is discovered by a white journalist and recuperates in a military facility at Edinburg which he is briskly moved.
Once he has recovered, he wants revenge and it is only possible if he goes solo. Bond’s pursuit takes him to USA where vested interests of many organizations, both corporate and governmental, are unearthed. He ends up thinking that he has killed the man who had shot him, a Rhodesian white mercenary called Jacobus Breed.
The language is effortless, with short sentences and to-the-point approach with a sense of urgency that is essential for thrillers. Though I found the first half tauter and more reader friendly, the rest of it, when Bond goes solo, seemed laboured with awkward twists. This led to a climax that was far from satisfying and the reader in me was left to deal with a rather lengthy conversation between Bond and a CIA agent called Felix through which the author chose to plug gaps in the plot as they finished a bottle of Gordon’s Gin in Zanzarim, the fictional African country where the book is set.
Bond’s going solo seems justified to a degree, but there is hardly any rebuke from M let alone a disciplinary action when it is all over. I thought that was a serious flaw. Second, the mystery surrounding Breeds death is kept alive, which looked far-fetched because of the time Bond had taken to kill and the brutality he had used.
This book has fallen short on my expectations. A tighter narrative, more pragmatic events and plausible assumptions would have helped the plot better.