27 September 2023

With a Mind to Kill

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Anthony Horowitz, Penguin, $32.99.

Prolific crime writer Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders, Magpie Murders etc) completes his trilogy of Ian Fleming-adjacent James Bond books in With a Mind to Kill. This book set late in Bond’s career follows Horowitz’s Bond origin story (Forever and a Day) and an adventure set mid-career (Trigger Mortis). As with the other books in this series, Horowitz opens by situating the action in line with the Fleming timeline so that it is clear that this book is set after the last two Ian Fleming books You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun. And for those readers who have only seen the movies that are loosely based on these titles, Fleming summarises the main plot points of these books (both of which become important for the plot of With a Mind To Kill).

With a Mind to Kill opens with the funeral of M, apparently killed by a brainwashed James Bond. Bond had been brainwashed by the KGB after You Only Live Twice and prior to the action of The Man With the Golden Gun and the action of that book was an attempt by M to help Bond get his mojo back and recover. It is soon revealed that this is part of a deep ruse to make the Russians think that Bond had in fact been turned and to then implant Bond back into the secret Russian cabal that tried to turn him. That cabal buys the scenario and its members see an opportunity to use the brainwashed Bond for an evil “world changing” plan. But not all of the Russian plotters are convinced of his conversation and much of the book is a psychological cat and mouse game between Bond and his new employers, including pairing him with beautiful psychologist Katya who is told to get as close to him as it takes. Only a passing familiarity with Bond’s MO will be needed to work out what happens there.

In With a Mind to Kill, Horowitz once again walks the tightrope of period specific and reverential Bond fan fiction with the need to deliver characters and plot that will not offend twenty first century sensibilities. And for the most part he succeeds, also providing a bridge between the Bond of Fleming’s books and the Bond most readers will be familiar with from the movie series. The Fleming style, as delivered by Horowitz, is more contemplative then the non-stop, quip-filled action-fest that Bond movies have become. But while this is decidedly not the movie Bond all the familiar elements are there: the suave coolness under pressure; dastardly plans; super-evil moustache twirling monologuing villains; a conflicted love interest; and a couple of fights to the death.

As with the other two Horowitz Bond outings, this is probably only a book for James Bond fans. But there are plenty of those. And for them he delivers plenty to enjoy – an over the top Cold War thriller, with an actually believable nefarious plan and the world’s greatest agent, creaking a bit as the legacy of his years of service take their toll, the only one in place to stop it.

Over 800 more book reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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