That’s the past and the future of Ian Fleming’s iconic spy with a license to kill. With the cooperation of the Fleming estate, British novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz has written two new Bond novels. His first spinoff, Trigger Mortis (2015), took the secret agent from the race course at Nürburgring to the space race between the United States and Russia in the late 1950s. This time, with the fast-paced Forever and a Day, Horowitz creates a Bond backstory. Trigger Mortis was post-Goldfinger; Forever and a Day is pre–Casino Royale, circa 1950.
Horowitz comes with an acknowledged pedigree. He created the Midsomer Murders series and the BAFTA-winning Foyle’s War. No stranger to working with legendary characters created by other writers, he wrote two Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk (2011) and Moriarity (2014). His own mystery novels include the distinctively original Magpie Murders (2017) and the recent The Word Is Murder (2018).
Building from the Fleming franchise, Horowitz details the beginning of Bond’s signature martini recipe, the source for the gold-banded cigarettes, his love of casinos, his loathing of opera, the history of other double zeroes, and the missions to succeed at any cost. It illuminates how “[d]eath was now his business.”
Forever and a Day pushes all the Bond buttons. The requisite staccato sentences, the larger-than-life characters, the vivid details of geography, and the action-packed chase episodes. He also justifies cold-blooded murder in the performance of duty to stop crime and save democracy.
James Bond is not the first double-zero agent. There were three others (008, 009, 0011) before him. Nor is he the first 007. His predecessor was found floating face down in the basin of La Joliette in Marseilles in a bespoke Savile Row suit. On the recommendation of Bill Tanner of Counter Intelligence, M. agrees to make Bond a zero zero spy.
Offered his own number, Bond chooses 007 for two reasons. He knew his forerunner and wants to keep his memory alive. He wants to send a message that taking out one 007 “changes nothing. We’ll come back the same and as strong as ever.” The first 007 used his number to cover his identity. That didn’t work too well for him. Bond sees no reason to hide behind a number so uses his real name. Though he never says, “Bond. James Bond.”
Bond has already proven his invincible capabilities with his first kill, a Japanese cipher man referenced in Casino Royale. At age 30, he earns his double-zero status with his second kill, a sloppy stabbing in Stockholm. Though he has the number, he has yet to earn the unfettered license to kill along with his three-digit identity. That comes with his first double-zero assignment: track down and eliminate Jean-Paul Scipio, head of the Corsican syndicate, major heroin supplier, and alleged killer of the previous 007.
In Scipio, Horowitz has created a proper Bond villain. In size alone, he dominates any place, any room. He is so corpulent that “his shoulders and his head were actually some distance from [a] table and he would have to reach an almost impossible distance to pick up [a] glass.” Each piece of his “three-piece white linen suit [was] the size of a small sail.”
Like most Bond novels, Forever and a Day is heavily plot driven, with dollops of character, and hefty action sequences. Reading any of Fleming’s novels underscores how closely Horowitz adheres to the sense and the style of the original texts. The brisk pacing of Casino Royale is replicated here in each of the brief chapters. Action sequences exist not only for the sake of dramatic tension but also to move the plot along.
Horowitz’s exact images of regional details echo Fleming’s keen eye for setting. Perhaps he is more aware of the filmic nature of some of the fast-paced episodes but even in these he remains true to Fleming’s concern for revealing characterization within those scenes.
He sometimes expounds more fully on themes, exploring the nature of good and evil. History moves “pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” In Forever and a Day, the transport of drugs might be construed as a parallel between the novel and current events.
Plot lines, character development, and action surface early in the novel during Bond’s first assignment with his 007 moniker. This takes him to the south of France, where he first meets Scipio, a man who claims to have complete control over Marseilles: “[T]he port, the city, the police, the justice system. It is all mine!” He finds Bond’s presence an “impertinence,” one that signals “a second message to London.”
The template plot demands that Bond cross paths with a Bond girl. He does not expect to find the very atypical Sixtine, a woman “about ten years older than him […] with café au lait skin around her elegant neck.” He encounters her at the gaming tables of Monte Carlo with their “reputation for romance and excitement.” There, bolstered with unlimited funds from his home base, he quickly learns that Sixtine is not to be toyed with. At one point, she halts his advances with an assertive, “Don’t touch me without asking.”
Throughout the novel, Sixtine threatens to steal the spotlight from Bond. He first encounters her at the gaming tables, where she is accompanied by a Syndicate of Five who help her scam the dealer. But Bond eventually beats her at her own game.
They soon discover they are not at odds. A “lesson in terror and absolute power” leads to the duo’s understanding that they are committed to the same purpose. They realize that Scipio is not alone in his criminal activities. His accomplice, Irwin Wolfe, is working on a secret scientific process that will revolutionize filmmaking with a replacement for Technicolor film. But Bond and Sixtine don’t believe that is their only joint endeavor.
They know that Scipio and Wolfe are building the world’s largest, most luxurious cruise ship — but to what end? The liner, christened the Mirabelle after Wolfe’s deceased first wife, is massive: 676 feet long, 85 feet wide, weighing 25,000 tons. There are 200 first-class and 320 second-class cabins, three open air decks (sports, sun, and promenade), three restaurants (with three Michelin stars), five kitchens, two pools, a library, and other sybaritic delights — works by Cézanne, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec. It is destined to be the most opulent way “a human being will ever cross the Atlantic.”
But it also has one curious accessory, “an extraordinary number of fire extinguishers,” definitely there for nefarious reasons.
The ship is not Wolfe’s only major holding. He owns Wolfe Europe, a subsidiary of Wolfe America, a chemical import/export business connected to Scipio’s syndicate. He built an elegant villa in Cap Ferrat, “in the wooded hills above the port, rising up on white, concrete legs like an attack dog about to spring [with] huge square windows, high walls, gentle curves of multiple terraces planted with olive trees, rose bushes and tumbling ivy.” Most importantly, he oversees the heroin factory hidden in his film production plant, a complex of buildings protected by woodland and fences (some electrified), surrounded by a ground covered by nettles.
In a breathless chapter — one of several rounds of exciting episodes — Bond and Sixtine infiltrate Wolfe’s well-guarded industrial compound in a baker’s delivery van. Once in, they find a “hell’s kitchen” of drugs and uncover a plan to sail tons of it on the newly built deluxe cruise ship to the United States to turn it into a nation of addicts.
A patently cinematic sequence puts Bond and Sixtine on the same ship, racing to stop delivery of the goods. First, Bond finds himself “led into an obvious trap, helpless, tied up, alone” seated in a chair with his mouth gagged, threatened with a bottle of hydrochloric acid. Then, together, fleeing Wolfe’s compound, jumping into the Mediterranean. And finally aboard the ticking time bomb of the Mirabelle.
Forever and a Day is true to the Bond character — not the Bond of the movies but the Bond of the books. You don’t know Bond until you’ve read Horowitz’s highly imaginative manifestation. This is Bond 1.0. Accept no facsimiles.
Robert Allen Papinchak’s literary criticism has been published in The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Journal of Books, and others. He is the author of Sherwood Anderson: A Study of the Short Fiction.