Rob takes a look at the latest entry in the Young Bond series.
I remember being particularly nervous when it was first announced that Charlie Higson, best known at the time as being on The Fast Show, would be writing a series of Young Bond novels. I’d sat in horror before at the animated show James Bond Jr. (even if it did have an annoyingly catchy theme tune) and so having a comedian tackle 007’s young years was not something I was particularly looking forward to.
Fast forward to now and it’s safe to say that Higson’s Young Bonds were cracking reads that remained respectful to Fleming’s creation, true in tone to the original novels and like all the best prequels, cast some light and backstory on the books set further forward in time.
So I was equally nervous when it was announced that Steve Cole would be taking over from Higson. By Royal Command had felt like it ended the series and at the right time and I wasn’t that clued up on Cole’s other books but was happy that they would be following on from Higson’s tales. Having now read Shoot to Kill I’m delighted to say that the series is in safe hands.
Cole picks up the baton where Higson’s five books ended with By Royal Command. Bond has been expelled from Eton and due to attend Fettes in Scotland. It’s the perfect place in Bond’s life for Cole to take over from Higson with the young James uncertain of his future and feeling the effects of where to go after Eton. Also if we’re getting into the real nitty gritty of Bond, after the fifth book in Fleming’s From Russia with Love Bond is left for dead and starting a fresh in the sixth title Dr No. Shoot to Kill mirrors this nicely.
Cole sends Bond off to Dartington School in Devon, just as Fleming sent Bond off to Jamaica in Dr No. Dartington is not part of the Bond canon but works well as a contest to the rigours of Eton. It is a progressive school, and also a mixed one, and allows Cole to send Bond off to America through the educational philanthropy of Anton Kostler who is studying the school’s unique way of teaching.
The cast of characters around Bomd at Dartington are an interesting bunch. His main friend (even though Bond tries not to get too attached) is Hugo, picked on by others due to his diminutive size but grows in stature through his relationship with Bond. The school bully, for there is always one, is female while Boudicca Pryce, the closest we get to a ‘Bond Girl’ proves that she is more than just a pretty face, being smart, witty and ends up arming Bond with his first gun.
It’s a very action-packed book which is guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. Every chapter ends with a cliffhanger and while that’s the essence of a thriller, it was perhaps a little exhausting at times. It is more fast paced than some of Fleming’s Bonds but it never feels like it is trying to ape the all out action of the movies instead of the books. It was much gorier than I expected with some flashes of brutal violence. Even in the first chapter I was taken aback by not only the clever twist but the ruthless efficiency of some of the killings.
Cole has clearly done his research into not only the time but the character of Bond. The period setting of Hollywoodland 1938 felt true and with the use of Movie studios and blimps it brought the glamour that Bond requires. A few times though it delved into what could be considered a cliche with the feisty female reporter and the fedora wearing gangsters. The reporter Tori Wo felt a little one-dimensional and at times only seemed to be there to serve the plot. The gangsters that chase Bond and his school colleagues all ended up blurring into one with no memorable features.
Bond though feels like the Bond we met in Higson’s books. He is become weary of his adventures so far but once they occur he enters into them with full gusto. He remains loyal to his friends and is driven by a duty to do the right thing. He goes through a lot of physical punishment in the book and shows the early recklessness for danger and excitement that we know and love.
Overall with a fast-paced plot, exotic locations, an interesting cast and winks and nods to the future developments, Shoot to Kill is an enjoyable addition to the series. At times I felt that Cole doesn’t quite have the flair for writing that Higson did but writers often grow into a series as they progress. I’d heartily recommend this and am already looking forward to Cole’s next title in the series.
Shoot to Kill by Steve Cole is out now.