Anthony Horowitz's Casino Royale prequel embellishes an origin story for James Bond that attempts to connect the 1950s, #MeToo and 2018, and whilst some elements work brilliantly, it never quite reaches full potential.
Having been responsible for penning the internationally acclaimed and stupendously successful Alex Rider series for teenagers and young adults, Anthony Horowitz can probably consider himself a veteran of the spy genre. This isn’t his first foray into trying to write James Bond either- the Fleming Estate already gave him permission to do so several years ago and Trigger Mortis – set after the events of the earlier Goldfinger – was born.
However, returning to the world’s most famous spy with Forever and a Day, Horowitz attempts to create an origin story that is both compelling and believable, intertwined in modern society’s views of #MeToo, Brexit and social justice while staying faithful to the Bond canon. This is, unsurprisingly, a very difficult task and one which sadly does not flourish to its full potential. The premise is simple enough: when a body turns up ridden with bullets in the French Riviera, MI5 decides to replenish their Double-Zero division with a new operative. His name is James Bond.
Forever and a Day begins with M and Bond’s first ever meeting, which is stifled by slow dialogue and a lanquidity which fails to create the tension a novel like this requires in order to drive the admittedly-slow early plot. Although Horowitz is keen to establish Forever and a Day firmly as a prequel to Casino Royale in the Bond timeline, he only succeeds in slowing the novel’s pace to a standstill during the early chapters. He then attempts to try and establish the motives behind Bond’s promotion into the 007 division, but the early acts mark him as less of a spy and more of a cold-blooded assassin. Whilst this appears intelligent commentary on the carte blanche cut-throat nature of spying in the years bathed in the ashes of World War II and the advent of the Cold War, Horowitz’s Bond never seems to really fit comfortably into this model. There is, however, some redeeming features to the writing, with the author’s careful attention to detail even going as far as to painstaking stipulate Bond’s breakfast routine, in homage to Ian Fleming’s meticulous style.
Catapulted into the South of France, Bond finds himself embroiled in a web of lies driven by capitalist greed, the horrors of drug addiction and the alluring Sixtine, who introduces him to Martinis shaken, not stirred and his favourite brand of cigarettes. Alluring and seductive, she dominates most of the novel and you often wonder how much of the story actually belongs to Bond. It’s no surprise that Horowitz said in an interview with Penguin: “Through either prescience, good luck or common sense, one of the things I’m most proud of in Forever and a Day is Sixtine, a woman who entirely gives Bond a run for his money, who is every bit his equal, and has a lot to teach him.” Her introduction adds much needed gravitas to a novel that simply would not be anywhere near as interesting otherwise and she retains that level of intrigue throughout, ultimately to heartbreaking and genuinely emotional effect. Although Horowitz refuses to refer to Sixtine as a Bond Girl, due to the apparently negative connotations which are attached to the phrase, I would argue she exemplifies the model Bond Girl- seductive and capable of holding her own against Bond, but also not shoehorned into the plot merely for a sexual subplot.
In terms of the overall plot, Horowitz’s attempts to interlace multiple layers, strands and antagonists does, at times, come across quite clunky and some of the situations are convoluted, even for the fantastic world which Bond exists within. He attempts to tackle some of the most tricky facets of 007’s character and some of them are dealt with maturely and confidently, particularly during the novel’s final moments. But all too often through the middle of the plot, I was left scratching my head at what exactly Horowitz aimed to achieve in most cases. Is he trying to make an Bond unlikeable cold-blooded killer and desperate womaniser? Does Bond not really care about trying to avenge his fallen colleague? If so, then why should we be rooting for the success of his diplomatic missions? It is these questions which continue to puzzle and bewilder as the plot twists and turns.
That said, some elements of Forever and a Day are very clever and feel completely suitable within the Bond world. Jean-Paul Scipio, the grotesque Sicilian gangster who runs the Marseille criminal underworld is comically-terrifying – a genuine beast of a man whose appearance seems absurd and terrible at the same time. His mannerisms are akin to Count Fosco of Wilkie Collins’s classic The Woman in White, but his mental manipulation and physical power come to the fore in some of the novel’s most dramatic moments. Scipio isn’t quite as memorable as Blofeld or Aulrich Goldfinger, but he is still an excellent antagonist nonetheless and it is a pity that he perhaps doesn’t feature more throughout the narrative. When he does feature, however, he is very chilling in how heartless he can be, with one particular scene standing out. I won’t specify what happens, due to spoilers, but Scipio’s actions are unlike any other Bond villain before him.
There is a surprising amount of comedy throughout the novel – with the particular highlights being the aftermath of Bond and Sixtine’s Vingt-et-Un casino showdown and also the running joke of 007 enquiring about the identities of Scipio’s thuggish henchman Carlo and Simone, and at times the espionage takes a back-seat for an adventure narrative. A tense Siberian assassination, an intense dockyard warehouse meeting, high speed chases and a factory-break in are particular plot points of note and they do help the narrative move on sufficiently, once you stutter past the opening chapters.
Although the novel is an enjoyable enough read, it never really does enough to bring it close to being in contention as the best Bond story. Horowitz’s writing feels more clichéd and long-winded than Fleming’s punchy prose, with Irwin Wolfe’s Hollywood relic being utterly absurd and CIA agent Reade Griffiths amounting to little more than a cowboy in a suit, but thankfully, the general tone of character is suitable. Anthony Horowitz should be commended for his brave and bold decision to attempt to create a plot which resonates with both modern societal issues and is also believable in the 1950s setting, but some of the literary elements which he attempts to express and mould these ideas together with just do not work as well as they could.
Overall, Forever and a Day is a solid, if not spectacular second foray into the world of 007 for Horowitz. Certainly not the worst story I’ve ever read, but not really the classic espionage we have come to expect from Fleming’s character.