When Ian Fleming created his larger-than-life character, James Bond, did he have any idea that Bond would outlive him? Fleming who had a penchant for giving sexy women sexually explicit names (even in his children's book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, replete with Bondian gadgets, the woman was named Truly Scrumptious, the G-rated version of the Bond girls' names) was a master of the short stroke. Fleming's Bond novels were fast reads, heterosexual males' fantasies rolled up into one very suave character, and nearly a spoof of the British way of doing things. After Fleming's death, John Gardner took over the series, and although his books were certainly entertaining, I felt they lacked something. Happily, since Raymond Benson has taken over the James Bond franchise in books, new and exciting life has come into them.
James Bond is back. And he's on one of his most explosive missions ever. Sounds like good hype, huh? But let me tell you, in The Facts of Death, Benson does something very smart. He ties Bond's adventures into real-world issues and genuine threats. The book opens with a man who is recuperating after gall bladder surgery in a veteran's hospital in Los Angeles. Very quickly, he dies under mysterious circumstances. Then, soon after, anyone who has come into contact with him dies, victims of some kind of virus. We flash over to the island of Cyprus, where James Bond and others are in protective gear, studying an American barracks in which all the men have died, again of some mysterious ailment. Bond is in fine form,particularlywhen he meets sexy Niki Mirakos, who is with the Greek secret service, and invites her to shower with him. Niki wisely declines. As Bond gets under the spray himself to wash off the day's dirt, he detects a poison gas being released from the shower nozzle. Chasing down the bad guy who did this is one thing, but then James Bond leaps aboard the hijacked helicopter that the crew of bad guys has in their possession. The real Bond is back.
Surviving this is, of course, a piece of cake for James Bond, as any reader coming to this book will know. Half the fun is seeing what gadgets James will bring to the party, and in The Facts of Death, they are real treats. Also, car lovers will enjoy the specialized Jaguar that Bond gets as his big toy, which includes viscous fluid to fill up the spaces left by attacks on the car, thus "healing" the vehicle. As the plot thickens and the terrorist group behind these seemingly random attacks makes itself known, we get to see old Bond friends, like the original M, as well as the newer M. Sure, James Bond is a holdover from the martini-and-cigarette set of the 1960s, and sure, his attitude toward women, however well he treats them in other arenas, is mainly drawn from the bedroom fantasies of thousands of college freshmen; but still, James is an institution worthy of a tip of the hat. Besides that, this novel crackles with excitement as the story rolls to its tense climax.
For James Bond enthusiasts, this is the book to read. It's great, page-turning summer reading, and Benson does Fleming proud. The Facts of Death is heartily recommended for any reader who loves a dashing hero, sexy women, and mind-blowing action sequences. I'll have my next martini shaken, not stirred.
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including Dark of the Eye and The Children's Hour. His recent critically acclaimed short story, "O, Rare and Most Exquisite," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 10.