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Tag Archive: Goldeneye


Review by C.J. Bunce

Twenty years ago this weekend, the sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom as the last act of the old British Empire, without incident.

The anniversary of this transfer of power coincides with the release by Hard Case Crime of one of crime fiction readers’ most eagerly awaited events: the final novel of Donald E. Westlake.  The result surpasses all expectations from one of America’s most celebrated authors:  the adventure of Ian Fleming, the complexity of Michael Crichton, the surprises of Stephen King, the thrills of Peter Benchley, the pulse of John Grisham.  A taut thriller, gripping, heart-pounding, and jaw-dropping, Forever and a Death is Donald E. Westlake saving his best for last.  Forever and a Death is his never-before-published new novel–a James Bond story of sorts–with an intriguing backstory.  Tapped to write the second James Bond film to feature Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Westlake created a compelling story of international intrigue revolving around the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997.  Because of the success of GoldenEye, the uncertainty of a smooth transfer of power of Hong Kong, and a distaste by the Chinese market for Bond,  the Broccoli family and the Bond franchise machine amicably parted ways with Westlake.  But he then reworked his story in secret, leaving behind at his death in 2008 a stunning action adventure, only snipping the world famous spy from the story.

The result is one of the most intelligent, loathsome, and shrewd Bond villains you’ll ever meet, Richard Curtis, an enormously wealthy business mogul who has amassed a network of corporations across the globe that will allow him to carry out his every wish.  When he is booted from Hong Kong at the transfer of power, he becomes fixated on a power play to destroy Hong Kong as payback.  As with many wealthy CEOs, Curtis is charismatic and influential.  He has encircled himself with individuals who are beholden to him for their own wealth and they would do anything to maintain his and their own lifestyle.  And that includes murder.  Not as preposterous as many Ian Fleming constructions, the method Westlake creates for Curtis is completely believable: using a series of carefully calculated explosions, a soliton wave will be created that will shake the very foundation of Hong Kong and reduce the entirety of the city–skyscrapers, homes, and millions of lives–to sediment.  Westlake introduces his male protagonist to show us the way, a trusted engineer named George Manville (a partner in action with Bond in the original treatment).  Kept in the dark about the ultimate goal, Manville completes the first test on a small abandoned island near Australia that he believes to be part of a plan to make the island into a lavish resort.  But when an environmental group tries to stimy Curtis’s test, a headstrong activist and diver emerges, a woman named Kim Baldur (who would become, to a small extent, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies) dives into the ocean and swims for shore to stop the operation.  Unfortunately for her, Manville neglected to incorporate a kill switch to the project, and she is swallowed by the wave and what would have been a superb Honey Ryder-esque Bond girl is left for dead.  And this is only the introduction of the novel.

Artist Paul Mann completing the original artwork for the cover of Forever and a Death (from Illustrated 007).

Westlake peppers his story with completely unique characters, and readers will find they empathize with even the most minor of them as they are subjected to Curtis’s gruesome tactics.  You may need to remind yourself to breathe as well-meaning whistleblowers find themselves in Hong Kong’s underbelly just as Curtis begins to carry out a plan to walk away from his destruction with a haul of gold bars that rest in the bank vaults beneath the city.

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The Renaissance of movie and TV tie-in action figures arrived in 2013 with Funko’s classic Kenner-style ReAction figure line.  Other companies focus on single licensed figures and getting the likenesses spot-on, but Funko’s diversification of lines meant everyone could find something that fit their personal niche at an affordable price point.  A true throwback series, one of the overlooked features of the line is the incredible variety of no-names-taken, classic kick-ass heroines represented.

In fact you can find here the top of the world’s best, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, genre heroines.  Buy them for yourself, for your friends, or get your favorite as a totem to inspire you each day from your desktop.  And where the early sculpts in Funko’s line admittedly looked nothing like the actresses that made the roles famous, the new lines have only improved.  And nobody has better packaging designs than the ReAction line.

Zoe Washburne scene

Who would you add to the Funko roster of heroines?  Compare your list to our more than 85 suggestions for future kick-ass women action figures below.

First, check out this Baker’s Dozen of our favorites in the current Funko pantheon:

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Legends banner

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

With Burn Notice over and Homeland confined to premium viewing only, basic cable’s best hope for a weekly spy drama fix may be TNT’s new series Legends.  Un-gripping title aside, this new Sean Bean vehicle shows surprising promise.  Although it follows the cliché template for every crime drama of the last ten years (eccentric male expert and his younger female law enforcement handler), the format is elevated by familiar actors and an intriguing added premise.

Based on Robert Littell’s Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation, Legends the series follows Sean Bean (Game of Thrones, Patriot Games, National Treasure, GoldenEye, The Fellowship of the Ring, Sharpe series) as undercover FBI agent Martin Odum, the “most naturally gifted undercover operative” in the US arsenal.  Bean himself seems naturally gifted for the role, easing eerily between his “legend,” or cover identity, and his real self, donning accents, hairstyles, and costumes with Mission Impossible-style finesse.  But the ultimate deception may be on Odum himself–according to a shadowy figure with Manchurian Candidate overtones, Odum may not really be Odum.  Martin’s “real” life may be nothing more than just another legend.

Larter in Legends

Bean’s performance is bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including Ali Larter (Heroes, Final Destination), Steve Harris (Awake, Minority Report), and Tina Majorino (True Blood, Veronica Mars, Corinna, Corinna, Waterworld, Andre), although we’re hoping Larter and Majorino aren’t getting typecast–Larter already stripping as she did in Heroes and Majorino as the same tech nerd we’ve seen her play so well and so often.

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By C.J. Bunce

In March 1952, on his estate called Goldeneye in Oracabessa, northeast Jamaica, ex-British Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming finished his first spy novel, penned over the past two months.  As the 60th anniversary of the birth of James Bond approaches, what better time to read the twelve novels and nine short stories written by Fleming?  Casino Royale was a collection of Fleming’s ideas and experiences, and the result of a long-time desire of Fleming to write his own spy novel.  The character of Bond was a compilation of several spies Fleming had met while in the military.

Can the Bond novels hold up after 60 years?  Even considering Bond’s 1950s era womanizing that has been to one extent or the other in 24 Bond films (the original comedy plus the 23 films including the forthcoming Skyfall) the Bond of 1952 is as familiar as the current Bond.  The James Bond novels remain in the top 25 best selling novel series of all time.

As theatrical adaptations go, Casino Royale is very faithful to the original novel.  But there are enough twists and turns that anyone who has only seen the Bond films will find new elements to enjoy in the original novel.  It begins with a dossier read by head of the Secret Service “M,” on one Soviet agent, Monsieur La Chiffre, who “stole from the till” and lost on bad investments over time and with a bounty on his head he is in need of millions of francs to save his own life.  La Chiffre has cleared out accessible bank accounts to turn that money into greater wealth come June at the casino at Royale-Les-Eaux in France, and La Chiffre is reputed as a formidable player.  The recommendation: “the finest gambler available to the Service should be given the necessary funds and endeavour to out-gamble this man.”

Despite that seemingly silly premise, readers can look forward to tight writing, great characterization, and well-plotted action.

What doesn’t come through in the movies is Bond’s inner thoughts.  Modern audiences see Bond as polished and perfect.  The original Bond story shows a different man.  This could reflect a character not yet firmly established or the fact that the character himself was only recently made a 00 agent, the designation of a British agent who had made two kills.  His inner-workings are fun–at one point he plots to rob the bank at the casino and how many men it would take to do the job successfully, simply as an afterthought between pondering how we will proceed next in his actual assignment.

Bond is a renaissance man.  Sure, in the movies he is portrayed as suave and knowing what drink to order, but in Casino Royale we see Bond fluent in French cuisine and culture.  And he is also fluent in subtlety.  His extreme paranoia, required to keep a spy in the danger game alive comes across over and over.  No rest for the weary?

It’s difficult not to approach Bond novels without reference to the corresponding films.  Thankfully Fleming’s first Bond novel can now be compared to the first Daniel Craig Bond film, as opposed to the funny 1967 comedy spoof version with David Niven. In that regard the movie reflects the novel with familiar characters M, head of the Secret Service, assistant Moneypenny, René Mathis, from the French service, CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Vesper Lynd, assistant to the head of the S (Soviet) branch of the British intelligence.

Unlike James Bond of the movies, James Bond of the novels is self-correcting.  He may have classic womanizer thoughts or presumptions, but does not hesitate to adapt or change his mind and act against his baser instincts, something we rarely see in the movies.  Hard-hearted is not yet the established Bond as featured in Casino Royale, and he is a bit more likeable, more personable, apologetic, less automaton.

The plot revolves around a game of baccarat of the highest stakes (literally in the game they break the world record for high stakes play), with Bond strategically placing himself opposite La Chiffre, and they become the key competitors despite a dozen other players.  Bond withstands a few attempts on his life, including one at the table, and ultimately loses millions in the first round of play.  American Felix Leiter comes to the rescue with an endless pot of CIA money, that Bond uses to re-enter the game and finish the job.  From there, Bond and assistant Vesper Lynd are kidnapped as part of a trap, and La Chiffre attempts the most brutal torture to exact the money from Bond, money Bond hid at the hotel.

Iam Fleming’s writing is evocative of the time and place: “Bond lit a cigarette and settled himself in his chair.  The long game was launched and the sequence of these gestures and the reiteration of this subdued litany would continue until the end came and the players dispersed. Then the enigmatic cards would be burnt or defaced, a shroud would be draped over the table and the grass-green baize battlefield would soak up the blood of its victims and refresh itself.”

Negatives?  Readers may encounter a few quirks.  One may be nits like over-use of the word “ironical” once preferred to the modern “ironic,” which after several uses grates a bit.  Fleming also has Bond over-explaining his actions to Mathis in the last chunk of the novel.  And there is a long sequence that is not so much the modern Bond tongue-in-cheek encounter with the “Bond girl” of the week, but reads a bit like a scene from a Harlequin romance novel.

But certainly there is more of what you’d hope for than not:  Bond’s love of wine and food.  A fast car (here a Bentley).  Bond’s vodka martini (the “Vesper”).  A heightened awareness of surroundings.  Pleasure in relationships with other agents.  Pursuit of the beautiful woman of the moment.  Calculated risks.  Confidence to the point of over-confidence.  A car chase.  A crash.  A hand-to-hand fight.  A card game.

A W carved on the back of Bond’s right hand is a curiosity–carved by a Soviet agent who chooses not to kill Bond, but brand him with the symbol of the Russian word for spy.  (Did this come up later in the series?)

There is also much explanation that makes sense of Vesper’s role in the card game and aftermath, that was rather rushed in the film adaptation.  And the ending fully explains why readers were eager for the next and subsequent James Bond spy thriller.

No question–Casino Royale is a fun read, and although it may be obvious, it explains why the successful franchise got off to a good start.

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