(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "JAMES BOND THEME")
ROBERT SMITH, Host:
James Bond is back, but don't go looking for him on the movie screen. This is the return of the literary 007, as invented by Ian Fleming. On the 100-year anniversary of Fleming's birth, his estate has contracted with writer Sebastian Faulks to craft a new 007 thriller in the same style. The title is "Devil May Care," and it picks up where Fleming left off when he died in 1964. You may not recognize Bond, though. In the opening of the new book, he's temporarily sworn off drinking and women.
SMITH: (Reading) Bond stood naked in front of the mirror and looked into his face with a distaste he made no attempt to soften. You're tired, he said out loud. You're played out, finished. His torso and arms bore a network of scars, small and large, that traced a history of his violent life. There was the slight displacement of his spine to the left where he had fallen from a train in Hungary, the skin graft on the back of the left hand. Every square inch of trunk and limb seemed to contribute to the story. But he knew that it was what was in his head that counted.
SMITH: That's Sebastian Faulks, author of the new James Bond book, "Devil May Care," reading from our London bureau. So, listening to that excerpt, that's not the swaggering, cinematic version of James Bond we're used to. It's introspective, almost self-doubting.
SMITH: That's right. Ian Fleming left his great character, James Bond, in a bit of hole when he stopped writing in '64, and Bond had been brainwashed and damaged, and he didn't really know whether he was coming or going. So if I was going to carry on the series, I needed to give Bond a little time to recover. And I like to give the reader a sense that maybe he won't recover. Maybe this guy is damaged beyond repair. So there's a little tension, even as the story itself is winding up quite quickly, whether our man is going to be up to what is asked of him.
SMITH: Now you're already an established literary writer. In fact, you've been on NPR for books of your own. Why did you take up this challenge of imitating someone else? I mean, especially someone as iconic as Ian Fleming?
SMITH: I think that I took it up because I was curious, I was interested, and I like a challenge. Initially, I was very doubtful as to whether I could really pull this off, or not sure even that I wanted to. So I said what I would do is go away and read Ian Fleming's books again from the beginning, and if I liked them and I could see a way in which I could do something in that vein, then I'd get back to them. And I read the books, and right from the beginning, there were much, much better than I'd expected they'd be. I thought they would be real pulp fiction, but they had a certain charm. And what they had, above all, was the sense of a man in terrible danger. And within about 20 pages, you feel your heart beginning to beat a bit faster, and you're worried for this guy. Is he going to get out of this? Is he going to be okay? And so, fairly quickly, I began to think this was something I could have a lot of fun doing.
SMITH: Is there a particular way in which Ian Fleming wrote, that you could recognize his style?
SMITH: Yeah. I think the characteristic Ian Fleming style is essentially that of a newspaper man. It's the journalistic style, which is it's short sentences, lots of verbs. Fleming wrote 2,000 words a day. It took him six weeks to write the books, and he was very definite that that was the way to do it. Don't look back. Don't correct your prose. Don't try and make it too polished. Just let the pace of the story carry you though. There's always time to dress it up and polish it later. But I think what's characteristic is that although that's how he learned to write as a reporter, he manages to introduce into that a slightly lofty tone in which he is saying to the reader, well, James Bond and I know about fancy drinks and we know what clothes to wear and how to behave and how to bet a huge amount of money at the blackjack table, but you, poor reader, you probably have never been there and you've never really experienced the sophisticated life we have.
SMITH: It sounds like you've gained some sympathy for Ian Fleming and sort of the challenges he's faced with this character.
SMITH: Yeah. It's not as easy to do as you think, actually. Bond, when I wanted to slow things down after a particularly important or violent piece of action, I tried to get him to reflect, or tried to get him to be introspective, to look back on his life. But it became clear to me that I simply didn't know what happened in his earlier life, and he's not a man who has any ability to look inwards, to introspect. And it's quite difficult to pace the story, especially when the story is everything. And, you know, it - to me, it was a bit like trying to write a sort of perfect three-minute pop song. And, you know, if you asked a serious musician who normally writes, you know, hour-long symphonies, do you think you can knock off a Beach Boys or a Beatles song three minutes? They'd say sure, yeah. Sure. But actually, when you come to do it, it's not as easy as it looks.
SMITH: Well, the new James Bond book does have all the classics in there. There's a villain with a deformity - I should say, a hand like an ape, a hairy hand. There's a psychopathic killer named Chagrin. That was a nice touch. Did you worry about veering into parody?
SMITH: My view is when you're doing parody, you take all the characteristics of the author, and then you exaggerate them. So you do like 125 percent of the given author. With Ian Fleming, what I tried to do was do about 75 percent. So I thought, what really works in these books? What do we like? We like Bond. We like the girls. So I thought, well, okay, let's have two girls. Why not? We like girls, so let's have two of them. What don't we like? We don't like it when they get - the names get too silly. We don't like it when the plots get too far-fetched. So we didn't do that. And sometimes Ian Fleming had a tendency to show off a bit about how much he knew. For instance, the first part of "From Russia with Love," there's a lot of showing off about how much he knew about the Russian Secret Service. So no long, slow passages - just constant movement and action.
SMITH: I think a lot of people have their own era of James Bond. Maybe it's reading the books as a child. Maybe it's one of the particular movie Bonds - Sean Connery, Roger Moore. But after a while, everyone moves on a little bit from James Bond. Did you sort of fall back in love with this character?
SMITH: And, you know, it does remind someone of my age how I grew up, expecting, in Western Europe, to be annihilated more or less any time, in the Cold War. We were on a state of permanent alert. There is still resonance in that, the resourcefulness of one rather cold-hearted but very quick-witted man pitted against a huge, vast, implacable enemy.
SMITH: Thanks for being with us, Sebastian.
SMITH: Thank you, Robert. It's been a pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "JAMES BOND THEME")
SMITH: Sebastian Faulks is the author of the new James Bond book, "Devil May Care." You can read an excerpt and get more great summer reading recommendations at npr.org/summerbooks.
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