Monday, 28 December 2015

Book review : Shaken Not Stirred By Aaron Cooley

I first heard about Aaron Cooley's shaken not stirred whilst he was being interviewed on the excellent James Bond Radio podcast. Aaron is also kind enough to follow me on twitter and I promised that I would write a review of Shaken Not Stirred as soon as I found some time.
I’ve never been much of a fan of historical fiction but the idea of a fictionalised version of Ian Fleming's WW2 exploits and the story of how that would lead him to create James Bond was an intriguing one.

Before i get into the review properly i should explain that this book took me quite a while to finish, not because it was bad or anything but because I was stressed out with college work and was reading other stuff. I should probably explain that I’m writing this review about a month after I finally finished the book (for the reason I’ve just outlined) which means I’m writing from memory (which is pants) so  some details may have escaped me .
Synopsis: Haven’t you ever wondered what inspired the creation of fiction’s greatest secret agent? Author Aaron Cooley takes the reader on a World War II thrill ride across two continents and six nations in pursuit of the answer to this question. A first-time British spy is on the trail of the Allies’ most important Double Agent, on a mission to determine his loyalty before he can hand over the means of creating history’s most devastating weapon to the Nazis. Before his mission is over, this young Briton will be inspired to create a fictional super-agent who will one day become one of literature’s most famous characters. An engaging, fantastical what-could-have-been, SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED is not to be missed by World War II buffs, literary devotees, and especially, fans of Her Majesty’s most famous spy.
 Shaken, Not Stirred is a fictionalized account of Ian Fleming’s wartime work, but it’s easy to imagine it really happening.

In Shaken, Not Stirred, a young Ioan is working for   Naval Intelligence and he’s sent to the Congo to find and report back to MI6 about   the whereabouts of double agent Dusan Petrović. His inexperience is apparent and he stands out like a sore thumb. While Petrović could have easily looked the other way, he takes Ioan under his wing, nick names him Phlegm and teaches him how to be a spy.
At first Ioan isn’t sure what to make of Petrović (neither was I) Does Petrović have a master plan or does he feel sorry for Ioan? Perhaps this is the nature of a double agent. Together Ioan and Petrović navigate the perils of being agents and Ioan gets a little more than he anticipated. Throughout the novel, we get glimpses of what would eventually inspire Ioan to create James Bond.

Ioan gets a code name and is introduced to gadgets Bond would be happy to use. We’re also introduced to would be Bond Girl, Christine who has a preference for martinis. It’s through Christine, Ioan quickly learns how women play a role in espionage. Petrović tells him,  "If you take one lesson from me, Phlegm, never forget the number one rule of espionage: Women are a business expense. You allow yourself to expect anything more out of them, you lower your defences. To a knife in the back." It’s at this exact moment, a reader can understand Fleming and why women are the “business expense,” in a Bond novel.

I must confess that i don't read much historical fiction (nothing against it , it just isn't my thing) and that I weren't a  mahoosive bond fan i might not have picked this up BUT. I really enjoyed Shaken, Not Stirred. It’s thoroughly researched and well written. It’s a different take on the life of Ian Fleming.

 Cooley  mixes Fiction  with reality and as I've said, he does a superb job with the research. Several events included are based on true events such as the Heisenberg and Dibner rivalry and it goes hand in hand with Hitler’s pursuit of the bomb. Petrović and several other characters bring up the ‘what if’ Hitler gets the bomb, which is a question a lot of people asked themselves at the time. Cooley kept me on the edge of my seat and afterwards all I could think of was, “thank god Hitler didn’t get there first.”  It’s something you’ll be thinking as you read.

Readers will easily recognize aspects of the Bond novels and films. In fact, if you’ve read Casino Royale or seen the film version, the scene where Bond watches Le Chiffre at the card table is familiar in Shaken, Not Stirred. This time it’s with Ioan and Petrović and a set of cards with Skorzeny and a game of Baccarat. Prior to Ioan joining Petrović and Skorzeny, Petrović sends him a suit and Ioan asks why. Petrović says it’s to seduce Christine and here we can see the birth of the immaculate Bond in his tux. It works well enough for Ioan since Christine waits for him in his room and says, ‘Why Ioan. I thought spies were meant to be suave. Debonair.’ Ioan replies ‘I was ill that day at spy school.’ That is a line that wouldn't be out of place in a Bond film.

 After I finished reading shaken not stirred I went back to that James Bond Radio podcast and I found out something that astonished me ,  shaken not stirred is Aaron's first novel but it's so well written you'd never guess it .  Shaken, Not Stirred is without a doubt a must read for any James Bond fan.    Cooley has done the near-impossible: crafted a spy thriller that   Ian Fleming himself would have been proud to call his own. It’s one of The best books I've read this year , in fact it’s almost as good as this year’s official Bond book : Trigger Mortis. 

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