Devil May Care – Sebastian Faulks

A Mini Book Expo Review

Devil May Care
Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming
* Hardcover: 304 pages
* Publisher: Doubleday (May 28, 2008)
* ISBN-10: 0385524285
* ISBN-13: 978-0385524285

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As a huge fan of all things Ian Fleming (including his Bond-lite children’s tale, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), I was instantly intrigued by the prospect of his style of writing, if not his series of novels as a whole, being revived by someone who was in a much less absolute state of extinction.  Fleming sadly expired on August 12, 1964 of a heart attack just before the release of Goldfinger, the third Eon productions film based on his seventh James Bond novel.  Sebastian Faulks takes on the daunting and unenviable task of recreating Ian Fleming’s style of prose as it related to his series of James Bond novels (he wrote two works of non-fiction, The Diamond Smugglers and Thrilling Cities, as well as the aforementioned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).

Ian Fleming’s fourteen James Bond novels* have a distinctive voice and manner.  A bon vivant himself, the author infused his creation with refinements and tastes that were so far beyond his readers’ scope of familiarity that they took on fantastical, other-worldly qualities.  His novels were set in varied and exotic locations around the globe, and he describe those locations with such painstaking detail that you couldn’t help but be transported there.  The character of Bond himself was a ruthless assassin, but truth be told, he was far more Roger Moore than Sean Connery (despite what fans of the film series will tell you).

Bond drinks, eats, lives and loves well.  He is far less rigid in his tastes than his film counterpart, partaking in gin, champagne, bourbon, vodka, whiskey and sake (counterpoint to his singular “Vodka martini, shaken – not stirred” order on celluloid). Bond is an excessive smoker in the novels, at one point reaching 70 cigarettes a day.1 His palate is varied, if a bit odd. Bond is famous for loving scrambled eggs, but was also known to enjoy buttered stone crabs served with ice rose champagne.2 As for his sex life, Fleming has garnered some criticism for his portrayal of females in his novels, most notably, those females that end up in bed with OO7.  Women are a means to an end for Fleming’s creation, which some say is how Fleming lived having collected a long line of lovers himself.

Sebastian Faulks takes all of this on board, for the most part successfully, in “Devil May Care.”  After the events of The Man With The Golden Gun, the character of James Bond had relatively few plot strings left dangling.  So few, in fact, that Sebastian Fulks’ novel starts anew with a vicious murder in Paris and Bond being assigned to investigate Doctor Julius Gorner.3 After a tennis game that is highly reminiscent of the Canasta match in Goldfinger and the bridge game in Moonraker (where Bond cleverly outwits his cheating opponent), OO7 meets Scarlett Papava.  Scarlett’s sister, Poppy, has fallen into the clutches of Gorner, a suspected drug smuggler and you guessed it – he’s smuggling heroin derived from the opium of the poppy; touches like this appeared throughout Fleming’s novels and Faulks approaches this work with a tongue firmly planted in cheek as well.  In fact, Faulks manages to pepper “Devil May Care” with many Fleming-isms, most of which have become staples in the “Bond formula” that are still present in the current films: physically deformed villains (Gorner’s shame inducing monkey-paw), whimsical character names (sisters named Scarlett and Poppy, a fez-wearing henchman named Chagrin), fantastical plot devices (the ekranoplan), inescapable traps (having to wriggle out of a cave no bigger than his shoulders before drowning), etc.  Faulks does it so well however, that it sometimes reads as though various plot devices and story elements were lifted from the catalogue of Fleming’s Bond novels and given a twist (the tennis match being a prime example).  Yet it is evident that this “sameness with a difference,” like the Bond films, is the essence of what makes the Bond novels great (and the films, also).  But, as Fleming himself would often stray from his own established formula, Faulks seems trapped by it.  “Devil May Care” reads like the novelization to a Bond film, rather than as a wholly original work.  In reading Fleming, you never got the impression that he was repeating himself, but Faulks seems to be repeating (and modifying) Fleming’s ideas.  The question seems to be whether or not that was the entire point.

*The Man With The Golden Gun, although a source of some controversy, was indeed written by Ian Fleming for the most part.  Publishing posthumously, the hand that finished the novel and edited it is sometimes a source of dispute.

11985 Holy Smoke By Guillermo Cabrera Infante – University of Texas ISBN 0060154322 Page 212
2Ian Fleming, Goldfinger (1959)
3possibly a reference to Fleming’s Doctor Julius No, from Dr. No


~ by seangstm on October 8, 2008.

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