All fiction demands suspension of disbelief, but a book inspired by an absent hero is a particularly high demand. In double or nothing (HarperCollins, £20), Kim Sherwood is the latest in a string of authors including Jeffrey Deaver, William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks to bring 007 to life.
The book is the first in a trilogy, but Sherwood faces the same creative dilemmas as his peers: Bond was a creature of 1950s and 1960s Britain. He chain-smoked, drank vodka martinis and slept a legion of women. A Bond suited to our own time has to be so reconfigured as to be almost unrecognizable, although Daniel Craig managed to do just that.
Sherwood’s response is that Bond’s spirit haunts the story but he disappeared on a mission. Instead, she highlights three other number 00 agents, “expanding the James Bond universe”: Johanna Harwood, Aazar Siddig Bashir and Joe Dryden. The ethnically and sexually diverse trio’s complicated mission involves a terrifying international group of mercenaries called Rattenfanger and a billionaire believed to be fighting climate change. Moneypenny has been promoted and drives an electric Jaguar E-Type.
It’s all very 2022, and it feels a bit like Sherwood consciously ticking the required boxes, but the narrative unfolds at a fast pace with great action scenes and crisp dialogue. Still, there are too many point-of-view characters, letting energy drain from the storyline. Globally, double or nothing is a pretty decent thriller – but, when it comes to Bond reboots, would it be time to live and let die?
In Seventeen (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99) John Brownlow has no such constraints. The book takes off like a rocket from the opening pages as Brownlow’s eponymous narrator and assassin annihilates a group of German financial villains in Berlin. Seventeen is the world’s best hitman, the latest in a line of killers across the decades to work for a group of shadowy global backers. Numbered Assassins are “the deadliest, and for that reason, the most feared”.
Brownlow is an accomplished screenwriter, and it shows in his style: the first-person narrative brings immediacy with short, action-packed chapters and sharp dialogue.
The violence may be Tarantinoesque but there is also an emotional depth and complexity here. Seventeen is not an automaton but a killer with a conscience. Like Jason Bourne, he is haunted by his past, by the dead weight of his victims’ bodies. And his real enemy is his predecessor, Sixteen, who has disappeared from radar but knows too much to be allowed to live. Luckily, Seventeen finds an ally in Kat, another feral child from a fractured background. The film rights to this highly promising series have, unsurprisingly, already been sold.
Edward Zuckerman, an award-winning television screenwriter, also brings energy and engaging characters to his impressive debut thriller. Wealth management (Arcade Crimewise, $26.99) is a clever and entertaining adventure into the world of high finance and dirty money.
Catherine and Majid are both Harvard Business School graduates, working for dodgy clients in Geneva, when their old college friend Rafe shows up. Rafe says he’s also a fund manager, but he actually works for the US Treasury, investigating terrorist financing – meaning Catherine and Majid. Catherine and Majid are lovers, but she and Rafe had a passionate affair at Harvard. It turns on quickly. The narrative deftly revolves around global politics, international finance, terrorist threats, and the trio’s love triangle.
And finally, brief mentions for the latest thrillers from Dan Fesperman and Humphrey Hawksley. by Fesperman winter work (Head of Zeus, £20) opens in Berlin in February 1990 when Stasi officer Emil Grimm finds his neighbor, a colleague, shot dead. I was in Berlin at that time, and I well remember how the celebration of the fall of the wall was mixed with unease about what might come next. Fesperman, who has won numerous awards for his thrillers, creates an atmosphere of dark menace as East Germany crumbles – a time when intelligence operatives on all sides calculated their chances of success, if not survival .
ice island (Severn House, £20.99) is the fourth release from Alaskan-born Major Rake Ozenna. Ozenna’s mission is to target one of Japan’s most powerful criminal dynasties, but he’s soon caught up in a geopolitical crisis far above his pay grade. Hawksley is a distinguished former BBC foreign correspondent. It once again combines fast-paced storytelling with the experience of a knowledgeable journalist.
Adam LeBor is the author of ‘Dohany Street,’ a Budapest noir thriller
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