There are fleeting moments in the world of James Bond that would resonate with any real espionage type—the twists involved in devising a cover story; the loneliness of a life spent misleading all the people who can't know what line of work you're really in. But Bond, as author Ian Fleming created him, is more fantasy than reality. While actual intelligence operations are usually carried out by sensibly clad teams of professionals painstakingly pursuing multiple leads, most of which fizzle out, 007's universe is an aspirational one: An average evening for Bond involves donning a white dinner jacket, jumping into a tricked-out Aston Martin, and dropping a few thousand at a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo. And that's what makes him irresistible.
Since Fleming’s death nearly 50 years ago, we’ve had the pleasure of Sean Connery’s Bond, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond and Daniel Craig’s Bond. But what we haven't been treated to in a while is a big, old-fashioned, rollicking new Bond novel to escape into. Now, though, courtesy of debonair literary novelist William Boyd—the writer Ian Fleming Publications most recently chosen to carry the Bond flag—we have Solo
(Harper), an exhilarating tightrope of a tale that's also just retro enough to conjure the original books.
The novel opens in swinging 1960s London with Bond, age 45, test-driving Jensen FFs, sipping martinis, and smoking cigarettes without a care, waiting for his next assignment. As usual, he can seduce the most desirable female in the room with the flourish of a lighter and one "The name's Bond. James Bond." But his hiatus is rudely interrupted when M summons him for a mission to the fictional African country of Zanzarim to "stop the war." There he trades a tuxedo for a safari jacket and sets off to complete his assignment. After things go awry and his own handler double-crosses him, he goes rogue, eventually resurfacing in Washington, D.C., where he takes matters into his own hands.
Boyd has rendered his Bond perfectly—worldly, virile, complex, and with just the right hint of near vulnerability. He can be shaken, but never really stirred, reminding us why he's still the spy we love.