Foiling the nefarious purposes of a range of unspeakably vicious and megalomaniac criminal masterminds is an easy day's work for this secret agent who likes his cocktail shaken, not stirred. What is more difficult is ensuring his feats retain their edge on their original medium - the printed page. But James Bond's latest chronicler deserves well his license to thrill.
The cinematic depiction of the British secret service agent is so ingrained in public consciousness that one may easily forget that his origin was in a most popular book series, penned by an author no less flamboyant and debonair. Despite Ian Fleming's death after a dozen novels and two short story collections, Bond, like two other equally famous and eternal characters - Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula - continues to flourish on and off screen - though the former has rarely seen a faithful transition from the books.
But since the lag time between his transition to the screen was much less than the other two characters, the depiction more sophisticated and alluring and impact more pervasive, the printed exploits are much overshadowed by the cinematic ones. Post-Fleming, there have been over two dozen novels, including three film novelisations, not to mention the spin-offs ("The Moneypenny Diaries" or "Young Bond") but they didn't create much interest save among diehard aficionados.
But Anthony Horowitz, the latest after Kingsley Amis, the prolific John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd, to continue Bond's book adventures, replicates Fleming's conception of the character, style and millieu.
On the other hand, he also makes Bond's latest outing as engrossing it could be with Formula 1 racing, a diabolical villain with a horrific way of getting rid of adversaries or inefficient associates and a relentless grudge which leads to a plan (involving a subway train transformed into a vehicle of destruction) for a catastrophic attack on New York, and plenty of cliff-hanging scenes and narrow escapes. And yes, there are heroines with characteristic names.
The action ensues soon after the events of Fleming's "Goldfinger" (1959), with Bond back in London with Pussy Galore, a lesbian gang leader (whom he had subsequently 'straightened') and villain's ally, when he is summoned by M, and told to prepare for a mission in the Grand Prix in Germany.
Horowitz, who is otherwise known for his works for younger readers including The Diamond Brothers and the Alex Rider series as well as two Sherlock Holmes novels for adults, hits a high point with this. As he notes, Fleming's books have had card games ("Casino Royale", "Goldfinger", "Moonraker") and golf ("Goldfinger"), but despite Bond's fascination for cars and the adrenalin-raising chases in films, nobody had put Bond in car racing.
The need here is to save an iconic British racer on whom the Soviets - through their infamous Smersh - are planning to eliminate in an "accident" on a German race track. And Bond has to save him.
But at the track, an unlikely trio he witnesses - the Soviet racer, a Smersh high-up and a South Korean businessman - catches his interest. Invited to the Korean's castle for a post-race party, Bond comes across some information on the ongoing American space programme (not very advanced then) and suspects the host's interest is not benign. An American journalist, named Jeopardy Lane, is also there and interested in the plans.
But they are discovered, and though they escape in true Bond style, the girl outwits Bond and makes off with the material. Though Bond is sent to warn the Americans, they refuse to believe him. And when he and Jeopardy, who saves him from an attack, try to find evidence, they get captured by the bad guys and Bond is to buried alive.
Meanwhile, Jason Sin (the Anglicised form of the Korean villain's name) heads with his train to Manhattan where he intends to unleash catastrophe. Will Bond manage to save himself, and stop him? The outcome is never in doubt but the way it happens is what makes them stunning reads.
And it is the same here. Even those who swear by the films will find this worth their time.