Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: DoubleShot, by Raymond Benson

New York: Putnam, 2000, pp. 272.

As if conscious of having deviated too much from the usual pattern of the Bond adventures in High Time to Kill, DoubleShot hews more closely to Fleming's novels--actually appearing assembled from parts taken from several of them. As with Casino Royale the book is rather nonlinear, opening in media res--at a climactic moment, in fact--and then flashes back to trace the development of the situation. In that opening we see a Bond apparently brainwashed by the enemy to strike a blow against his country, as in the opening of The Man With the Golden Gun; and then it cuts to the bad guys' plotting revenge on Bond and Britain in the course of pursuing larger goals, like From Russia With Love. Afterward it cuts back to Bond coping with the loss of a woman with whom he had been personally involved, a result of the blackmail directed against her--a touch of Casino Royale again, but more than a touch of You Only Live Twice (Benson referencing the events of that book in case we missed it, and even writing in James Molony--old Sir Miles Messervy's psychiatrist friend).

There is, too, a Fleming-like emphasis on Bond's being a long-battered soldier of the secret wars--if with a new spin. That Bond has taken so many blows to the head (the most recent in the oxygen-deprived conditions atop Kangchenjunga in High Time) is a crucial plot point. As a result, Bond is suffering from blackouts, and perhaps worse than that--which not only leads to Bond pulled from the field, but to his being on the wrong side of his own Service once more. It might be added that in contrast with the movie-like action of previous Benson novels, there is an emphasis on grounded fight scenes rather than high-tech equipment, protracted vehicular chases and big explosions.

The result is that the earlier chapters often feel more like a psychological thriller, but it is back to the accustomed international intrigue well before the midpoint--and Benson does not wholly eschew the cinematic touches. Bond is again on the run from the Service--and his involvement with twin CIA agents Heidi and Hedy Taunt (the womens' characterizations, the type of comedy their initial meeting entailed, and of course, where it all leads up), is the sort of thing fans of the Roger Moore movies are prepared to enjoy and which their detractors hate. There is, too, something not often associated with Bond, namely a rather political plot: the villain, Domingo Espada, means to take over Spain as a Franco-like dictator, with his movement to recover Gibraltar from Britain a major move in the game.

The result is a mix of the derivative, and of the awkward. While I am more favorably disposed than many to the Moore era, the fact remains that we are ultimately expected to take the Taunt twins seriously in a way the Moore era would have, and Benson does not manage that (though I don't think anyone else would have either). Additionally the rather political scenario mixes poorly with the usual hand-waving regarding supervillain motivations and the matching of means to end. More development was required to make the premise credible, and the book not only suffers from the weakness of this element, but gave the impression of a missed opportunity.

Still, DoubleShot has its strengths. The unlikely combination of old and new elements geled better in the reading experience than it had a right to do, as a result of which it was not just a brisker read than the preceding book (bogged down as it was by its chronicle of Bond and company stop-and-going up a mountain), but a smoother one--the tale undeniably hokey, but not without fun.

Raymond Benson and the James Bond Series
Review: High Time to Kill, by Raymond Benson
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on James Bond

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