Appropriately, they picked today — Ian Fleming’s birthday — to announce the title of the new Young Bond novel, Shoot to Kill.
Can’t say I’m inspired by the title, so generic that it has been used dozens of times before, but I’m not about to lay the blame on author Steve Cole. John Gardner and Raymond Benson weren’t always happy with the titles that Ian Fleming Publications (called Glidrose Publications back in Gardner’s day) chose for their Bond books.
Still, I don’t envy Steve Cole. He is taking up the Young Bond series five years after Charlie Higson’s fifth and final book, By Royal Command, was published. Higson’s books were superb, not just excellent young adult adventure tales, but suspense novels meticulously faithful to the world of Ian Fleming. Each of Higson’s Young Bond books was a well-crafted adventure, and Higson made it clear he was inspired by Fleming’s inspirations, primarily John Buchan. I hope that Higson’s young readers also appreciated his exceptional writing talent. As someone who has written and is trying to sell his own YA spy thriller, The Boy Who Knew Too Much (had to get the plug in, it’s my blog after all), I would read Higson’s Young Bond books with a mix of admiration and jealousy.
Frankly, I would be more nervous if I were asked to write a Young Bond novel after Higson’s run than to write a “grown up” Bond novel. More than 20 continuation Bond novels have been written since Ian Fleming’s death in 1964, and the last three (each by a different “name” author) were disappointments despite the marketing campaigns behind them. Could I write a better James Bond book than the last one, William Boyd’s Solo? I believe I could, yes. Could I write a better Young Bond novel than Charlie Higson? God, no. Just to display faith in my own talent (I am rather fond of my book) I’ll say that maybe I could write one on par with Higson. But it would be damned hard work.
And that is precisely the unenviable task Steve Cole signed on for. I am unfamiliar with his work as it appears his children’s books haven’t been imported to the U.S. His most successful series is Astrosaurs, books about space-traveling dinosaurs. I imagine I would have devoured them when I was 8. I see that he has written several Doctor Who novels, and I’ll try to read at least one before Shoot to Kill is published in November. I do find the Doctor Who connection encouraging.
Especially encouraging is that Cole calls himself a lifelong fan of the Fleming novels. So is Higson, and his knowledge permeated his Young Bond titles. By Royal Command ends with Bond’s expulsion from Eton after the infamous “incident with a maid” Fleming mentioned in Bond’s obituary in You Only Live Twice. Cole reportedly will write a four-book cycle that will follow Bond’s subsequent career at Fettes College, the Scottish academy Fleming describes as “somewhat Calvinistic.” Presumably Bond will take up judo in one of Cole’s books and become an enthusiast.
BOND GOES HOLLYWOOD
No details about Shoot to Kill have been released except that it takes place in Hollywood, probably in 1934 or ‘35, so that makes the title a pun. The book’s cover features a Zeppelin, so maybe it will have a Rocketeer vibe (I just hope the villain isn’t a Nazi spy patterned after Errol Flynn — that would be more than a vibe).
Higson set such a high standard with his Young Bond novels, Cole must be equally brave and foolhardy to follow him. Nevertheless, I hope he does well. I remember when the first Young Bond novel was announced, I was more than skeptical. “Why are the taking the Muppet Babies route with James Bond?” I asked as memories of the terrible James Bond Jr. cartoon of the early ’90s swirled through my head. Higson knew many others shared my thoughts, but he took the job and it turned out he was exactly the right person to pull it off. Maybe it will turn out that Steve Cole will be exactly the right person to take up the mantle.