Colonel Sun by Robert Markham

51OsGZdI6TL._SY445_ You can judge a book by a cover – just look at this one. You wouldn’t need any text to know it’s a James Bond novel. However, Robert Markham isn’t really Robert Markham at all. He’s Kingsley Amis, slumming it in 1968 as an Ian Fleming add-on after the latter put his cue in the rack. Anyway, 007 has vigorous sex with a beautiful secret agent, eats some great food, drinks a lot of alcohol and gets horribly tortured by a Chinese psychopath. In short, all of his favourite leisure activities are well represented. It all begins with another – a quiet round of golf at Sunningdale. Bond’s boss, the head of the secret service, M – who is the closest thing that 007 truly has to a love interest – gets kidnapped from his home by a mysterious, ruthless gang. (As well as killing M’s housekeepers, they shoot one of their own men who has been injured in the attack. They are very, very bad hats, in other words). Bond is angry, this is personal, etc. The action switches to Greece, where Kingsley and his wife had just had a holiday. Fleming liked the travelogue aspect of his work (see his brochure for Japan in You Only Live Twice, for example) and Amis tucks in too, with pages of fishing boats at anchor and glasses of cloudy ouzo. However, Amis is a more reflective writer than Fleming and Bond thinks about his purpose and his place in the scheme of things a bit more than usual. A government minister de-briefing Bond after the bloody denouement says: “Yes, I suppose knifing people one after the other can become a strain, even for someone like you.” It’s a good point. There is lots of killing in order to foil Colonel Sun’s dastardly plot – which is, essentially, to murder lots of high-ups at a secret meeting on a Greek island in order to discredit the Russians and the British – and the brutality is, by the standards of the times, turned up to 11. Ex-Nazis are involved. The Colonel does unpleasant things to Bond’s head with a skewer. Amis/Markham has a whale of a time with it all. Shame he never wrote another one, really.


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