New York: Putnam, 2002, pp. 272.
Just as after the over-the-top High Time to Kill Raymond Benson swung all the way around to a more grounded, more Fleming-esque adventure in DoubleShot, he followed up his even more over-the-top Never Dream of Dying with another grounded, Fleming-esque adventure in The Man with the Red Tattoo.
Granted, some of the weaknesses of DoubleShot are present here--not least his evoking a political theme without developing it beyond the usual broad supervillainy. (Goro Yoshida is a former member of Yukio Mishima's Shield Society, whose personal protest against modern Japan has taken the form of international terrorism--apparently, a decades-long campaign that has included some deadly bombings, one of which was depicted in Never Dream of Dying.)
Nonetheless the effort on the whole is more successful this time around, relying less on hokey plot twists than DoubleShot did--the more grounded thrills on offer the freshest and most credible he achieved in his tenure (as in the intrigue on the train to Hokkaido, which manages to stand on its own in a series replete with them). The novel also offers Bensons' most effective use of older Bond characters (specifically, his incorporation of Tanaka from You Only Live Twice), and presents Benson's best travelogue to date as he zips about a good deal of the country that Bond did not see in his first visit (and the presentation of which is a far cry from the awkwardness of High Time to Kill).1
The result is that while, as I have remarked often before, I generally prefer the Bond adventures over the top, The Man with the Red Tattoo struck me as actually the strongest of Benson's books--and made me feel that he had just been hitting his stride with them when he was pulled off the job.
I even wondered what might have been had he been permitted to continue.
1. After their arrival in Kathmandu, Chandra's comments about the historic sights he and Bond pass sound more like the canned remarks of a professional tour guide than genuine dialogue--and in contrast with the kind of evocative detail that made Fleming's travelogue engaging, it seemed like material copied out of a guide book. Red Tattoo, fortunately, does not suffer from this flaw.
Review: Never Dream of Dying, by Raymond Benson
Review: DoubleShot, by Raymond Benson
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