Sunday, 10 April 2016

Book Review : Double Or Die by Charlie Higson

Even when I was just a lad, I was a big fan of James Bond. I think it is probably due to the high level of action and the sense of danger that is evident in the films, and  around the time Skyfall came out, I read some of the books. Most of the books, though, I quickly learned the pacing was quite a bit slower and the plots were a bit thinner. Although On Her Majesty's Secret Service remains the only book ever to make me cry.

A few years ago, Charlie Higson started coming out with a new series called Young Bond. The first book, SilverFin starts off with James first arriving at Eton as a new student. Unlike the other boys at the well-known prep school, James was not rich. But That didnt  prevent him from forming a small but loyal group of friends. It was also the start of his high adventures on an international scale.

This is the third volume in the series, which follows after  Blood Fever ( The best of the Young Bond bunch if you ask  me) . James has returned home to Eton after his summer adventures on the Italian isles. The holidays are quickly approaching when his good friend Pritpal receives a letter from Mr. Fairborn, the teacher/advisor of the Crossword Club. It offers his apologies for having to leave and seems to be filled with errors, which Pritpal, James, Perry, and their other friends quickly realize are clues to a cryptic puzzle. It quickly becomes clear that Fairborn did not leave by choice, and he is likely to be in danger.

After a mysterious visit from one of Fairborn's colleague for a planned visit with the Crossword Club. The visit does not go as planned as the visitor is not only rude, but he seems to have no interest in crosswords or any other form  of puzzles. It does  however, provide James and his friends with the first clue, outside of the letter, that they can use to find Fairborn.

James is confronted with an interesting cadre of villains. Sir John Charnage quickly comes to the fore along with the eerie looking brothers, Ludwig and Wolfgang Smith (who are hilarious). They are joined  by  Russian henchwoman, Babushka  in the fight to get a handle on the precursor of computers.

Today's younger readers will get an opportunity to learn about the early attempts by the British secret service to create a machine that will help them with their espionage. Familiar names and terms (to those with knowledge about computer history) such as Charles Babbage, Alan Turing, and binary code are weaved nicely into the storyline , Charlie Higson manages to make the latter interesting without it being overwhelming or boring.

Fans of the series will be thrilled to see the return of siblings Red and Kelly Kelly as they play a crucial role in James' plan. Kelly's feelings toward James are definitely shifting from friendship to something more, perhaps as a precursor to Bond's luck with the ladies.

The series has done a wonderful job in capturing everything that made the film series popular with its nice mix of humor, edge-of-your-seat danger, and an elusive solution the audience must join James in second. Double Or Die isn't just good by the standards of the Young Bond series , it's a book that Ian Fleming would have been proud to call his own if he'd written a book about the Young Bond. Does praise get any higher than that? Probably not.

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