Boyd brings back Bond as he takes off on solo run in Africa
Cream of crime writing rounded up
007: William Boyd with his James Bond novel. Photograph: Philip Toscano / PA Wire
Set in 1969, Solo (Jonathan Cape, €25.99) is the latest James Bond novel from a high-profile author, as William Boyd follows in the footsteps of Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care, 2008) and Jeffrey Deaver (Carte Blanche, 2011) in re-creating Ian Fleming’s hero. The fictional oil-rich African country of Zanzarim is embroiled in civil war, and Bond, with a cover story as a journalist, is dispatched by M to render the rebels’ inspirational leader, Solomon Adeka, a “less efficient soldier”.
Bond, more sensitive and better rounded here than he was on Fleming’s watch, reads Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter on the BOAC flight to Zanzarim, alerting us to Boyd’s theme of a new country’s postcolonial struggle to assert independence on its own terms as it fends off the West’s rapacious drive for natural resources.
Bond is happy to serve as a tool of the British government’s dirty tricks, of course, but being played for its patsy is another matter. Hung out to dry, 007 commits the cardinal sin of going solo as he pursues a personal revenge. The poetic flourishes that go into the vividly realised setting of Zanzarim apart, Boyd’s prose is crisp and clean, and the story fairly ricochets through its twists and turns as Bond zips from London to east Africa and on to the US. Fans of the original Fleming novels will find much to enjoy.
Cross of Vengeance (Severn House, €19.99) is the 10th of Cora Harrison’s novels to feature Mara, the 15th-century Brehon judge based in the Burren, in the west of Ireland.
Here Mara investigates the murder of a German pilgrim to the church at Kilnaboy, who is discovered naked and spread-eagled in the cruciform position the morning after a precious religious relic is burned. Given that the pilgrim was a follower of Martin Luther, some locals believe his death was an act of God, but Mara, who is not noticeably devout, goes in search of a more prosaic killer.
The religious fanaticism that underpins Cross of Vengeance gives it a contemporary resonance, but for the most part it is an unabashedly and enjoyably old-fashioned mystery investigation as Mara quietly but conscientiously interviews suspects and excavates motives. The setting is integral to the plot, and Harrison’s elegant style beautifully evokes the world of the Burren, in terms not only of its sights and sounds but also of its languid pace and enduring traditions.
Most intriguing of all, however, is the experience of a murder investigation conducted according to ancient Brehon law. It’s a fascinating blend.
The threat posed by hitchhikers is a staple of crime and suspense fiction, but Linwood Barclay’s A Tap on the Window (Orion, €15.99) gives it a neat twist. Private detective Cal Weaver offers a lift to high-school student Claire late one night, hoping that she might be able to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of his son, Scott. His plan is scuppered, however, when Claire asks him to pull in to an all-night diner and then engineers a switch with her friend Hanna.