Trigger Mortis Review (beware, ahead there be spoilers!)

DariusDarius UK
edited October 2015 in Literary 007 Posts: 354
Trigger Mortis Review
by Darius

As can be seen from other threads, I have taken a fairly circumspect route around many of the James Bond inheritance novels, simply because I was rather disappointed by John Gardner’s Licence Renewed, when it came out in 1981. It was okay as a run-of-the-mill thriller, but there was an element of “cookie-cutter” plotting that I found clichéd and contrived. I can’t for the life of me imagine why James Bond would have moved from a gas-guzzling four and a half litre Bentley to a rather wimpy vanilla-flavoured eco-friendly Saab Turbo.

Whilst I persevered with the Gardners for a few years, I eventually gave up, for want of a book worthy of Bond’s creator. I was later horrified by the mangling Bond took at the hands of Raymond Benson, so it took a lot of doing to pick up Devil May Care much later on in the hopes that a well-respected author such as Sebastian Faulks would do a better job with Bond. Not so, I’m afraid. What I got here was a clichéd mess of unfocused plotting that most good fanfic writers would have thrown out on the first draft.

After mixed reviews of Solo by William Boyd, I decided my hard-earned cash wasn’t worth risking for what could have been another Faulks tribute crap-athon. It’s sad, I thought, that some of the world’s most respected thriller writers have failed to step up to the Fleming crease and hit a clear six. I admit that I may well have misjudged Messrs Boyd and Deaver by not reading their books, but I’m putting that to rights as I write this, so with a review in mind, please feel free to watch this space.

However, Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz came to my attention a short while ago and I sensed a definite horse of a different colour. This book was coming from the pen (or rather keyboard) of the man who had created the brilliant Foyle’s War for ITV and the less brilliant, but no less engaging Midsomer Murders. This was also the man who had written two very good Sherlock Holmes inheritance novels, so this new Bond book definitely caught my attention, especially since it had received mostly good reviews.

I decided it was time to remove the padlock from my wallet and delve inside to find the necessary cash to risk buying this book. Whilst rummaging amongst the white fivers and gold dubloons for some more contemporary currency, I thought: “What can you buy for ten quid these days?” Well, it turns out that you could do a lot worse than buy Trigger Mortis, which is a rip-roaring read that will definitely leave you wanting for more. The bottom line is that if Mr Horowitz is invited to write another such novel, it seems I’ll have to throw away the padlock on my wallet in the hope that we may get a series of books.

Why? Because Trigger Mortis is set in the Fleming universe of 1957 directly after the events of Goldfinger and shows us a Bond that is close to Fleming’s vision of the character and my own view is that it is probably close to what Fleming might envisage had he been writing retrospectively today.

The other factor-in is the fact that elements of the book are taken from Fleming’s unpublished writings, and this material merges seamlessly with Horowitz’s own poetic and vivid style of writing. He delivers the much-needed precise prose that makes Bond compelling, but credible. More than that though, he also supplies many of Fleming’s trademark poetic flourishes. A Maserati engine sounds like “a vast sheet of calico endlessly torn”, and the Nürburgring race track is “a long, green scream”. Horowitz also shares Fleming’s pleasure in real-world detail, such as engine specs, firearms models and contemporary news stories, which are incorporated in subtle ways, without being thrust in your face (such as was the case in Devil May Care).

I thought Jason Sin was a worthy adversary for Bond, a man driven to the edges of sanity by the horrific events of the Korean War, events that left him emotionally bereft and psychotic. Whilst this villain serves in many ways to vilify the Koreans as the bad guys, it does shed a great deal of light on a war that has largely been unheeded and forgotten, except for the iconic photo by Nick Ut of napalmed child, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running naked down the road after her family.

My only niggle about Trigger Mortis is the continuation of the Pussy Galore story line from the concluding events of Goldfinger. This was not really needed, and if Pussy had been removed from the plot of Trigger Mortis, then it would have made little difference to the novel as a whole. I concluded that featuring Pussy may well have been a ploy to lure Fleming die-hards, such as myself, into the book’s “web of sin”. However, as it stands, Horowitz does a bang-up job of rounding out Pussy’s character as a three-dimensional woman, giving her a backstory that transcends Bond’s native Freudian masculinity, and even though she is essentially surplus to requirements, one feels a sense of disappointment when she disappears along with the other half-cooked heroine (Logan Fairfax), never to be seen again.

And then there’s Bond himself. He’s still deliciously sexist and xenophobic, although he is now more cultured than he was under the pen of Fleming. This Bond is better read and better informed than before and the fact that he spots a young woman’s resemblance to Jean Seberg leads us to the implied notion of Bond taking time out from pressing double-O duties to catch a screening of Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan (1957), when the book is set, is not really quite credible in the light of Fleming’s original. This said though, Horrowitz's Bond is the Bond us Fleming-o-philes know and love. He has a few more qualms about killing now than he had before, but this only acts to humanise him in ways that I think even Fleming would not have thought to do with his self-confessed “cardboard booby”.

The conclusion is simple, Dickensian and direct: IFP, can we have more please?


  • edited October 2015 Posts: 4,622
    Good review. I've been critical of this book, but all told its a decent effort, and yes reasonably Fleming worthy.
    Better than any of Faulks, Deaver (just awful)or Boyd.
    Sure he can do a couple more. Just be sure to read our critiques so as to know what to fix

    Two more books please, and then we can reasses, and see where we are at.
    We do have a dedicated TM thread.
    Maybe mods could merge.
  • DariusDarius UK
    Posts: 354
    Thanks for that, @timmer.

    MODS: I decided to give this review its own thread for two reasons. First, to draw more attention to it because I would really like to give it a good chance of reaching the attention of those awfully nice chaps and chapesses at IFP. The more lobbying we do for a follow-up, the better, I say.

    Second, because the review I wrote is redolent with spoilers and I didn't want any unwitting reader to stumble upon them before they'd had chance to read the book. At least the thread title gives a warning.
  • Posts: 5,767
    Since the thread is still open, I delve in with a question to all who read the novel. I read the prologue today at the local book store, and found it wonderfully written. Does the whole book keep that level all throughout? I remember Boyd´s Solo novel having a very good intro chapter, but after that, apparently it gets hit and miss. I haven´t read more of Solo, but I remember one or more guys mentioning that it seemed as if Boyd had given special effort to those passages he read publicly, and not so much effort to the rest of the novel.
  • DariusDarius UK
    edited October 2015 Posts: 354

    Trigger Mortis does keep up a good level of consistency, but there are a few areas where a bit of polishing wouldn't have gone amiss. I suppose Horrowitz was writing to a stiff deadline and there may not have been time to polish once more, but as it stands, it's better than Carte Blanche and Solo, if only for its brevity.
  • Posts: 5,767
    Thanks, @Darius. I will read it then. I guess I´ll wait for the cheap paperback version :-).
  • edited October 2015 Posts: 4,622
    Book is finished. What I like most about this book, is that AH does seem to have got the character very close to the Fleming character.
    I didn't find the actual story to be great shakes. It was OK, but it was kind of carefully constructed to incorporate familiar elements, some of which seemed more filmish.
    AH also seemed to want to spell out very clearly that he understands the character and does so by essentially explaining that he does, rather than just showing.
    ie we get a dissertation on Bond's killing morality. Those of us that have read Fleming already know this. If he just had Bond behave like Fleming's Bond we are happy.
    Oddly he seemed to get it wrong in the early going when Bond seemed to consider killing Sin's guard at Castle Sin, and then later with the kid in NYC, took pains to reveal later that Bond had not in fact killed the kid.
    Very good, congratulations,he got it right both times. ie in neither instance would Fleming's Bond have killed either character, at least not under the circumstances described.
    We also get a lecture from Jeopardy on how Bond's relationships with women must ultimately go. Again, this sort of thing we already know, and even then it isn't hard and fast, its just how things always seem to work. Its not a rule, its just the way things play out. ie in Flemings world Bond and Jeopardy would have their little tryst and then move on. Jeopardy wouldn't spell it all out for Bond as to where it could go or not go. Who cares. At least AH got Bond right. Bond didn't ponder much. If he bumps into her again, great, if not so be it,. But it seems AH used Jeopardy to explain to us that he understands.
    OK fine, that's one and done.

    Anyway, just observations and minor quibbles. Main thing I think is that he seems to have the measure of the man, thus he's qualfied to keep inventing new adventures for the man to have.
    AH has passed his Bond Writing entry levels and may continue now with even greater license and creative latitude. Bravo!
    Training wheels are off :)
  • DariusDarius UK
    edited October 2015 Posts: 354
    A very good review, @timmer. You've hit many nails on the head and it's my hope that Anthony Horrowitz reads this and takes note. The bottom line though is really to IFP -- this is a winning formula, so don't throw it away.
  • chrisisallchrisisall Brosnan Defender Of The Realm
    Posts: 17,687
    timmer wrote: »
    Training wheels are off :)
    I like that last part.
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