Shelf Aware: Double or Nothing
The Obligatory Preamble
James Bond novels have been in a bit of a stagnant place since the end of Raymond Benson’s run in the early 2000’s. And even then, of the 6 original novels Benson wrote, only High Time to Kill was truly good. After Benson’s run, the Fleming estate passed the authoring duties around rather than throwing their lot in with one voice. We got a throwback to the James Bond of the 1960’s with Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks followed by an ultra-modern re-imagining of 007 with Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver (my review). I surmise that, of the two, Devil May Care was the more successful novel because what proceeded was the abandonment of modern Bond and 4 more throwback novels over the following decade.
Meanwhile in the world of comics; Dynamite Entertainment started a run of James Bond stories in 2015 that showed that the world of 007 can be successfully modernized with series after series brilliantly adapting old storylines and characters and creating many new ones. They finely demonstrated that there is a path for James Bond to exist in the modern present.
The 007 movies, novels, and now the graphic novels have bared little in common but titles and character names since the 80’s. But interestingly, we currently find all three mediums at a convergent thematic crossroads. The end of Daniel Craig’s run of James Bond films culminated with the unambiguous demise of Bond in No Time to Die, the latest run from Dynamite Entertainment; 007: For King & Country where 007 disappears and is presumed dead by MI6 and now Kim Sherwood’s Double or Nothing which wears it’s premise on its jacket “JAMES BOND IS MISSING” all seem to beg the same question: what does the world of 007 look like without James Bond?
The Actual Review
It’s tradition at the end of an actor’s run as James Bond for speculation to begin about who will be cast in the role next and how to update the series with the times. Whether it’s an elderly Roger Moore suggesting a young Cuba Gooding Jr. or a Jinx-centered Die Another Day spin-off starring Halle Berry. As Judi Dench’s M so succinctly summed it up in 1995’s GoldenEye: “[James Bond is] a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War…” James Bond has always paradoxically remained timeless and frozen in time; in perpetual need of an update.
So it was this perennial fervor that had me chuckling in the opening pages of Double or Nothing where Sherwood seems to delight in creating a refreshingly diverse cast of characters. What if James Bond was a woman? What if James Bond was Black? What if James Bond was gay? What if James Bond was Pakistani? What if James Bond was deaf? Sherwood simply answers: “Yes”. And so part of the initial fun of Double or Nothing is seeing where all these new pieces fit on the old game board.
Aside from new characters, Sherwood also masterfully walks the tightrope of including classic characters we know and love, like M, Q, Tanner and Moneypenny and updating them smartly. Although, I must admit the update to Q, while logical and fitting, took effort to adjust to.
The overarching plot to Double or Nothing is appropriately zeitgeist-y, involving an eccentric billionaire, climate-change and artificial intelligence. It’s enough to propel the characters forward and, while not preachy, Sherwood doesn’t shy away from using her new platform to subtly say a few pointed things about socio-economics, race, and gender politics. Very refreshing after the last few cringe-tastic Fleming novels I’ve recently read.
In Double or Nothing there’s a little less jet-setting and glamor and a little more tactical spec-ops. It seems a more accurate reflection of the real world and certainly the direction of the spy-craft genre. Sherwood’s writing vacillates easily and appropriately from Tom Clancy-esque statistics-spouting technical descriptions to evocative borderline-poetic prose.
I was trepidatious that a large cast of characters and intersecting plot lines would overwhelm the story, but it all works and makes for a story richer than just one man’s adventure. Reading this novel and considering the development of the 00 section, something we’ve only ever caught glimpses of in the periphery, left me muttering “Why didn’t they do this sooner?” several times. The reveal and cliffhanger ending has me on the edge of my seat for the next entry in this planned trilogy. Fantastic work by Kim Sherwood.