Wednesday, 1 June 2016


Buy Another Day

Sunday morning promised a sunny respite from what locals describe as a "million-dollar rain," a steady, dense downpour gentle enough to soak into the turf without carving runoff culverts in the soil or batter the still fragile spring plants. I refrained from turning on any electronic devices and settled outside on the patio under the shade of an umbrella. My companion was James Bond. I was finally able to get around to ‘Solo,’ London author William Boyd’s (‘An Ice-Cream War,’ ‘The New Confessions,’ ‘Any Human Heart’ to cite just a few works of his I’ve enjoyed through the years) addition to Ian Fleming’s literary legacy. ‘Solo’ was published in 2013 but it took me a while to track down because bookstores tend to sell lifestyle accessories rather than a varied selection of actual books.

There is so much to read and so much to learn. Each time I admonish myself for slumming with words I remember what my father said about 007, “I’ve always got time for a good story.” However there are certain standards and rules to be followed, and of course exceptions. I believe literary characters should die with their authors. Obviously I’ve not adhered to this view vis-à-vis James Bond. The only other time I’ve broken this rule was with ‘Poodle Springs’ in which the Boston detective author Robert. B. Parker (“Spenser, like the poet”) completed a fragment of a surviving Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe manuscript. It read seamlessly, but who knows where Chandler intended to go with it and whether he even knew himself?

I will not read the marketing novelization of a Bond film or any film. Ironically Fleming’s own ‘Thunderball’ novel began life as a film treatment and the settlement of the ensuing legal difficulties allowed for the original film to be remade as ‘Never Say Never Again,’ a smirking bastard outside the “official” Bond canon. (The stories in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ were intended for television.) I have made two other 35 millimetre exceptions in my life as a reader: Graham Greene’s ‘The Third Man’ was originally a film treatment for director Carol Reed and Arthur C. Clarke expanded the movie script he co-wrote with Stanley Kubrick into the much more expansive and elegant explanatory novel ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’

The movie 007 and the book 007, though the lines between their lethal silhouettes sometimes blur, are two very distinct brands of killers. While they both share very particular suave and sophisticated characteristics, the Bond Fleming typed out at Goldeneye, his Jamaican cliff-top hideaway, was not given to nudge-nudge, wink-wink quips. There is some evidence that Fleming was either growing tired of his hero or had literary aspirations: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ is narrated by a female, demoting Bond to a secondary, almost minor role. Fleming’s loyal readers did not embrace his tentative experiment.

The Bond of prose is easily recognized by his black hair and a troublesome forelock which tends to fall over his forehead and is usually described as a comma. He showers frequently, the water as hot as he can stand it and then cold only for the last five minutes. He is rigorous about his routine of calisthenics. He drinks, smokes, takes speed and more often than not thinks of women as “poor little bitches.” And he comes in three varieties. The first is the spy of Fleming’s imagination. The second type, despite the best efforts of SMERSH and SPECTRE, lives on in continuations by genre thriller writers including John Gardner and Jeffery Deaver. The third 007 perhaps reflects Fleming’s unfulfilled ambitions, noted and well regarded British authors Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks and Boyd have each taken a turn writing as Fleming.

The day before, Saturday, there was a break in the dreary drizzle. Ann said, “Let’s get off the property.” We motored over to a nearby antique store, one she likes that has since recently relocated inside the perimeter of our daily chore rounds. The gravel parking lot was peppered with desultory stalls selling one person’s junk as treasure, ancient Marvel comics and tarnished lapel pins, a sad little fair. There was a barbecue pavilion and it didn’t seem half as hygienic as Ann’s friend Rod the Trumpeter’s hot dog stand downtown on Jasper Avenue, or even the monthly charity lunchtime barbecue held outside our grocery store on the first Tuesday of every month; the commonality was the squeeze bottle of a sweet green relish, a disgusting condiment to contemplate with its toilet sounds of dispersal. We each had a bite to eat anyway, charmed to death when the fellow with the dirty fingernails who’d peeled the cello envelopes from the rat trap cheese slices asked us if it was “melty” enough on our burger and dog.

We entered the two-storey store. I immediately situated the washroom because at my age with dodgy food you just don’t know, you never can tell. Upstairs were shelves and barristers’ bookcases stuffed with musty, dusty spines. I spotted ‘Biggles in Africa’ and thought, “Maybe, just maybe.” Ian Fleming died in 1964. The first post-Fleming Bond novel was published in 1968. ‘Colonel Sun’ was written by Kingsley Amis behind the pen name of Robert Markham. This book has become something of a grail quest of mine. From Victoria, BC to Charlottetown, PEI and other towns and cities a long way from many places in between, I’ve combed used book stores and sundry curiosity shops hoping to buy somebody else’s discarded, yellowed junk, an obscure James Bond tale.

It was not to be. I then searched the vinyl bins for a secondary grail, the inaugural Rolling Stones Records release, the ‘Brown Sugar’ maxi-single backed with two B-side tracks, ‘Bitch’ and ‘Let It Rock.’ No luck there either but at least the music’s in the house in other formats. Instead Ann and I left with two impulsively purchased heavy oak office chairs that pre-date our respective arrivals on this planet. I was happy; if I were to furnish Philip Marlowe’s noir office for a film set, I’d use those chairs. They’re comfortable and they don’t make them like that anymore.

Today my Internet browser was open. I searched the web for ‘Colonel Sun’ simply to double check its first edition year. And there it was on Amazon, a mass market reprint released late last year to zero fanfare. One of my personal grails was finally and literally at my fingertips at an insanely competitive price. I sat back and pondered such a dull denouement to years of hunting and foraging. “No, Mister Bond,” I thought, “it cannot end like this. It’s just too easy, Blofeld would not approve.” I closed the browser and turned off the computer.