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Book review: Raymond Benson's 007 novel High Time to Kill

By: Mats Hilli
Published:
2018-01-11
Recension av Raymond Bensons High Time to Kill
Raymond Benson's third James Bond novel is a really good book, a delicacy on the sandwich table. James Bond finally finds home in a story inspired by Ian Fleming's spirit and the adventurous feeling that the Sean Connery films from the 1960s offered.

It is a very physical Bond story, where 007 is subjected to severe trials in the Himalayas. Large part of the book is set there, although it is not Mount Everest that Bond is climbing (it is Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world). The hard trials and physical pain that Bond is forced to undergo makes it impossible not to think about the latest film adventures with Daniel Craig. At the same time, it's a classic agent story without any big gadgets or effects. Here, nature represents the same threat as Bond's new enemy, the crime syndicate Union, which is introduced in High Time To Kill (1999).

But how does James Bond end up in the Himalayas, among merciless snow storms and in ice cold weather? Everything begins in very Flemish waters at the home of Bond's old friend, the retired governor of Nassau [who told Bond about Quantum of Solace in the Fleming novel of the same name]. In the company of his secretary and recent love interest, Helena Marksbury, Bond ends up in the middle of a murder hunt. It turns out that the killer represents the Union - a very SPECTRE-like organization that Bond meets in three of Benson's books [continues in Doubleshot and Never Dream Of Dying].

Once back in England, Skin 17 is introduced, a secret formula on microfilm and an essential piece of puzzle in the UK's new defence technology. The formula is stolen by cruel traitors. Bond first goes to Belgium and Brussels in the pursuit of Skin 17 and then targets the white tops of the Himalayas. MI6 has found out that Skin 17 is on board a crashed plane high up on Kangenchenjunga. Bond is sent there with a rock climbing expedition to recycle the formula on behalf of the British.

Previously, Bond has met with Roland Marquis, an old rival from the school time at Eton. After a round of golf, which does not go particularly friendly, Bond and Marquis meet again - when the latter is chosen as leader of the expedition. Only Bond is aware of the expedition's real purpose. The official version is to collect the British citizens who died in the flight crash. Pretty soon, the Union has infiltrated the expedition. The final showdown sees Bond fight the infiltrators in a very dramatic environment. Everything culminates, in true Bond spirit, at the top of Kangenchenjunga.

Bond, of course, also finds the sleeping bag belonging to the expedition's only female participant, a certain New Zealand beauty named Dr. Hope Kendall.

Benson also presents Union leader Le Gerrant in a prominent scene in High Time To Kill. Le Gerrant has a secret past and is blind. Despite the handicap he has the ability, almost a sixth sense, to "feel" his surroundings. Le Gerrant is a classic Bond villain who has a lot in common with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He gets a more visible role in DoubleShot and Never Dream of Dying.

From the known character gallery, we meet the female M who is clearly based on Judi Dench and her interpretation in the film series. One can almost see her pronounce the replies that Benson gives her. Major Boothroyd (Benson follows the Fleming-Gardner tradition of calling Q only by his real name) has some custom lines with Bond - "Now, pay attention, Double-0 Seven." Bill Tanner is on M's side practically all the time and always defends Bond when the boss gets too hard.

Bond also has an interesting weapon brother for most of the book, namely Sergeant Chandra Bahadur Gurung of First Royal Gurka Rifles, a Nepalese troops federation in the British Army. Chandra's local knowledge and courage comes handy on the mountaintop with the heavenly views.

High Time To Kill is a really tense story that does not let go of the reader. Benson has found the right mood and combination of new and old. Bond feels dangerous and fresh, the surroundings we are dealing with are completely breath-taking and the scaled-down concept of man-to-man battle for life and death in Himalayas challenging conditions works throughout.

It feels like Benson wrote the book that Fleming didn't before he passed. Fleming himself was an avid mountain climber. That is one reason to give high marks, but above all, Benson has his own Bond-raid voice in High Time To Kill. There is no doubt that Bond is Bond in this book and that with a message.


Review by Mats Hilli. Translation by Anders Frejdh. Copyright © 2018 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

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