Sunday, December 11, 2016

Raymond Benson's the Union Saga (Extended James Bond Series)

When I first read Raymond Benson's Bond novels I actually found them rather more to my taste than the Fleming originals. They were more accessibly written--Benson not writing Bond as if he were writing Emma Bovary. (The "indirect glance," as Umberto called it, the nonlinearity that made the books rougher going than I expected, are absent here.) Benson's novels also--for the most part--dispensed with the less appealing bits of the characterization. (Bond is getting on in years--but much less the grouchy old Edwardian Tory civil servant overdue for a trip to Shrublands.)

The books were, I might add, more cinematic in their pacing (the overlong mah jongg game in Zero Minus Ten apart), and in their action. (Rarely on a par with the Clive Cussler novels that set the standard for me, but satisfying nonetheless--with Never Dream of Dying almost everything one can ask for on that score.)

For much the same reason, I also preferred Benson to John Gardner.

Of course, in the years since I have become more appreciative of Fleming's strengths (and Gardner's)--and of the weaknesses of the Benson novels (apart from the obvious purists' complaint that they are not just like Fleming's, as they could not have been in a different age and market).

Still, the Benson novels have their pleasures. And of course, they are a significant part of the franchise. This is partly a question of sheer volume--there being six of them, plus three movie tie-in novels (of the last three Pierce Brosnan films).

They are interesting, too, because of their being the last literary expression of the franchise before the much-touted 2006 reboot of the Bond films in Casino Royale. Since that time the franchise has had its successes (not least the billion-dollar gross of Skyfall), but the series has been less prolific, and in its identity much less stable. In fourteen years we have had just four Bond novels--as compared with the years when Bond novels came along annually--with the series zigzagging wildly. So far no author has written more than one, while each did wildly different things with their books--Faulks and Boyd trying to pick things up just where Fleming left off in the '60s; Horowitz retreating even farther into the '50s to write a Goldfinger sequel; and Deaver attempting a radical update.

The result is that Benson offers the last real continuity with the older books, and the older conception.

And it might be added, the books are interesting for having been written by a man who came to the series out of its fandom--Benson's first public association with the franchise his authorship of the James Bond Bedside Companion.

All this makes his contributions well worth a look. To that end I review the three novels of Benson's "Union" trilogy depicting Bond's battle with a new, SPECTRE-like criminal organization--High Time to Kill, DoubleShot and Never Dream of Dying.

Also just reviewed is the follow-up, and final Benson novel, which continued one of Never's plot threads, The Man with the Red Tattoo.

Review: The Man with the Red Tattoo, by Raymond Benson
12/11/16
Review: Never Dream of Dying, by Raymond Benson
12/9/16
Review: DoubleShot, by Raymond Benson
12/7/16
Raymond Benson and the James Bond Series
12/7/16
Review: High Time to Kill, by Raymond Benson
12/5/16
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
11/12/15
The Post-Ian Fleming James Bond Novels
11/4/15
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
10/10/15
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
9/24/15
My Posts on James Bond
11/9/12

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