Solo – A Book Review


It is 1969 and James Bond is about to go solo, recklessly motivated by revenge. Solo William Boyd FINAL

A seasoned veteran of the service, 007 is sent to single-handedly stop a civil war in the small West African nation of Zanzarim. Aided by a beautiful accomplice and hindered by the local militia, he undergoes a scarring experience which compels him to ignore M’s orders in pursuit of his own brand of justice. Bond’s renegade action leads him to Washington, D.C., where he discovers a web of intrigue and witnesses fresh horrors.

Even if Bond succeeds in exacting his revenge, a man with two faces will come to stalk his every waking moment.

~Synopsis from goodreads

[title subtitle=”Oh! The Looks”][/title]

Very rarely does the appearance of a book make me gasp in pleasure, especially books that I receive for review. But my goodness! I received this book in hardcover and I can’t begin to describe the excellent production. The pages are thick, the font is great, the hardcover is imaginatively designed with an inner illustration covered by a dust cover to give an impression of a book shot by bullets. Big money has been spent into making this book handsome. And it is handsome, in a very macho Bond-ian way, and suits the book perfectly.

So, yes, the book is good-looking, but is it all gloss, and no substance? Read on to find out.

[title subtitle=”My Review”][/title]

I upfront admit that I am not a fan of James Bond novels. It’s almost sacrilegious to admit that but even the weakest of the Bond movies are better than the books. Simply put, all the fabulous places, suits, and beautiful women appeal more in a visual setting than in a book. At least, that’s what I feel.

Also, Bond is not very likable, and in the books there is no handsome face to offset that lack.

That admitted, I liked quite a bit of this book. The author William Boyd has cleverly set the book in 1969 and it makes it easier to swallow Bond’s rampant sexism when you know the book is set in the past.

Another aspect that works really well is the setting of West Africa. Apparently Boyd has roots in Africa, and his knowledge of the place and some of the issues make the book read pretty authentic (for a Bond novel). Another thing that he nails down perfectly is the atmosphere of suspense and danger that permeates throughout the first and second half of the book.

Boyd also plays around with some of the Bond clichés – beautiful women, fast cars, and alcohol, but with a slight twist, which I enjoyed.

So, three-quarters of the way into the book, and I am all praises. However, the last part is a disappointment. Once the action leaves Africa and Bond goes on his solo revenge mission, all the Bond clichés come into play in the most unoriginal way.

I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but the build-up and tension that was so meticulously crafted in the beginning of the book is thrown away by a slipshod and rushed ending.

Another disappointment is the villain. I think Boyd was in two minds how to characterize the villain – whether to write a larger than life villain typical of Bond movies or a regular villain. In the end, the villain is a mish-mash of both styles and loses much of the impact. In fact, if I am allowed to leak a little spoiler, one top villain is killed in such an anti-climactic way (shot by some random person other than Bond), that I was left a little startled at how everything played out.

Thankfully Boyd gets his mojo back in a final menacing chapter ending the book on just the perfect note.

[title subtitle=”Final Thoughts”][/title]

The book starts ambitiously but falters towards the end. Still, it is a good book for Bond fans and in spite of the unevenness, I enjoyed the book overall. It’s eons better than the last Bond outing I read, and I hope future Bond books play around a little with the Bond stereotypes like Boyd has attempted here. It makes for an enjoyable and unpredictable read.

This book is more in line with our present-day Bond – Daniel Craig – showing strains of loneliness, bitterness, uncertainty, and generally more human than the Bond that Ian Fleming created. I think this book is a start in the right direction to make sure Bond stays relevant and modern and appealing to the sensibilities of today’s readers.

[title subtitle=”Disclaimer”][/title]

I received this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon.

  • I’m with you in preferring the Bond movies over the books. I wonder if my husband might like this one – it’s so hard to find books he’ll actually enjoy enough to take the time to read.

    • Nishita

      @disqus_EEI6Da4ah1:disqus I’m not sure, if he likes Bond he will. The book right up to 3/4th of the way in is excellent, but the ending went all limp on me.

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I’m not a fan of James Bond either – I find him to be somewhat offensive – so I probably won’t give this book a try.

    • Nishita

      @bermudaonion_kathy:disqus This one is not as offensive as you might think. It’s par for the 60s and I liked one of the heroines of the story very much – a somewhat older woman with her own background and history. She and Bond made a very good pair.

      I thought the book was quite unusual and even has some literary merit when compared to other Bond novels which can be quite bland and fatuous. It’s the ending that brings the book down.

  • I’ve actually never read a James Bond novel, seriously. I do want to someday, so I could start with this. What would you recommend?

    • Nishita

      @priyatabularasa:disqus hmm, the Bond classicists would say Dr.No or Casino Royale, but to be honest they don’t appeal to me. CR is well-written, but all that gambling was very boring. To me Solo is a good one, and miles better than Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks – another Bond book I read some time ago, which was awful.

      • Actually, the gambling in CR is one of the few part I liked.

        • Nishita

          @disqus_EEI6Da4ah1:disqus I don’t know, I found the book well-written but dull, but the movie? the Daniel Craig and Eva Green one? Miles better, I thought

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