When a Frenchman of Algerian birth is savagely murdered on the outskirts of Paris, Detective Inspector Mathis is mystified as to who could have
committed such a violent act: the boy’s tongue is severed, a single bullet fired up through the roof of his mouth. Drugs are thought to be the likely
root of the crime, but Mathis comes to the realization that there is something far bigger going on than just young, dissolute youths peddling heroin.
Meanwhile, James Bond holidays in the South of France, on sabbatical from the Secret Service, somewhat worn-down from battling Auric Goldfinger and his plans to raid Fort Knox and obliterate the world economy. James is beginning to show his age: his torso and arms
bear a network of scars small and large that trace a history of his violent life.
Even in the mirror he looks careworn: “You're tired James, you're played out, perhaps even finished.”
At the invitation of Felix Leiter, his old friend from the CIA, James travels to Rome where he meets an extraordinarily beautiful woman by the name of Larissa Rossi, ostensibly in Italy with her husband, a director of one of the large insurance companies.
Her presence fills James with a strange mixture of unease and passion.
Intent to enjoy his time with Larissa, this woman who reeks of “breeding, youth, and expensive hosiery,” James can’t quite believe it when he is called back to London by a cigar-smoking M. Apparently there’s been sudden increase of illicit drugs
coming into England, most likely orchestrated by the psychopathic “master-of-all-trades,” Dr. Julius Gorner.
Changing sides during the Second World War - fighting for the Nazis initially, then for the Russians at the battle of Stalingrad - Gorner has become a poster child for the soldier of fortune.
Equally contemptuous of England as he is of the rest of the world, he feels as though the country laughed at him. Now armed with his drug cartel and access to nuclear weaponry, Gorner
intends to wreak havoc on the West and change the course of history by ensuring world domination.
Embarking on a mission to doggedly pursue Gorner across Europe to Persia, Bond stays hot on the trail of this madman,
meaning to shut down Gorner’s demonic pharmaceutical operation. This twisted individual seems to be beyond reach, locked in a world where ordinary human concerns can’t touch or weaken him.
His only vulnerability, his physicality, is marked by a rare deformity, a hair-covered wrist shaped like a monkey's, and a white glove that hides it.
Surprisingly it is Larissa who also has a connection to Gorner, soon revealing herself as Scarlett Papava, an accomplished merchant banker and a mysterious lady of the night who wants to enlist James’ help to get Poppy, her heroin-addicted sister back from the evil clutches of Gorner. Scarlett, determined to find her sister, and James, delving deeper into Gorner’s criminal enterprises, are blindsided by the extent of this madman’s plans for world domination that eventually play out in the vast, desolate surrounds of the Caspian Sea.
From London to Paris to Tehran, then on to Leningrad and Helsinki, Bond and Scarlett try to escape the clutches of Gorner and in the process are faced with a world that is ruled by protection and influence as much as with arms and dollars. The novel is filled with misfits and vagabonds, stoolpigeons and secret agents as Gorner and Bond ultimately battle it out against
the background of the Cold War, where America fights a lonely war for “freedom” in Vietnam and where the threat of the West being overrun by
Communism is always present.
Writing in the tradition of Ian Fleming, Sebastian Faulks delves deep into Fleming’s iconic secret agent and the mythology
surrounding him, meditating on darker-than-usual themes that have implications for the way we live now. In Faulk’s
Cold War world, Bond has been ravaged at the hands of his enemies, his life at best a double-edged sword where no triumph is likely to be anything but short-lived.
Formulaic to the last, Faulks doesn’t shy away from giving us a series of climactic spectacular set pieces involving a giant ship-like seaplane loaded with nuclear bombs and a stolen Vickers VC10 British airliner that is heading toward a fiery crash in the Soviet Union. Although this novel certainly doesn’t reinvent the legend of our favorite secret agent, Bond’s adventures are still harrowing in his journey from the known to the unknown.
The author propels his hero’s story at breakneck speed, riding the wave to its violent conclusion, with James ultimately saving the world and eventually getting his girl.