Page 45 Review by Stephen
The terror of a teenage James Bond:
"I must warn you...
"I haven't had many driving lessons.
"This could be a bumpy ride."
Oh, James! They're always going to be bumpy.
There will be terror, but it won't be Bond's: as a thirteen-year-old he's yet to become so hardened, detached or indeed accomplished. Don't expect a precocious marksman or a preternaturally fit athlete, although he will start training at school and prove a fairly strong swimmer after being thrown in at the deep end of a freezing Thames in order to compete in Lord Hellebore's Cup, a triathlon challenge involving shooting, swimming and running because that's what his son George is best at.
James does evidence a smattering of sexism - though no more than any other 1930s boy - but don't worry, he'll be charmingly disarmed of that.
Back to the terror, and this teen-orientated tale kicks off near Keithly in Scotland on the banks of Loch Silverfin, framed by mountains and now surrounded on all sides by a chain link and razor wire fence so that the landed gentry inhabiting its island castle can keep out the riff-raff.
TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT
Lovely decorative dead dog heads...
One enterprising young poacher takes bugger all notice and quite right too! Bloody aristos - it's not natural, is it? - I bet you they're English. This Loch always had the best fishing, though you do have to wade in quite deep for the choicest catch. Unfortunately the water starts churning, and so will your stomach...
This is a gorgeous graphic novel, a period piece between the two wars, set largely in the wilds of Scotland, and Walker provides all the eye candy you could hope for: plenty of panoramas and very rich colouring heavy on grass-green, earths and purple. He makes much use of mist for a hazy sense of distance or smoke at the smog-clogged train station.
Walker's silhouetted castle is most Mike Mignola, as are his monstrosities, while his cast come over like Paul Grist characters - look at the eyes and teeth! - inked by P. Craig Russell (there's a perfect James Bond quizzical arched eyebrow raised early on). Oh yes, there will be monstrosities, along with the obligatory Ian Fleming strapped-to-the-rack torture scene, although nothing so heavy as having a buzzing saw or lasers roving too close to one's crown jewels. Once more this is beautifully lit in a much more toxic shade of green, and toxins may well be involved.
It's also a book about friendship and family, for although Bond had famously lost his parents by this point, his Aunt Charmian and her brother, Uncle Max, are determined to look after him as best and for as long as they can and even give him an unorthodox early driving lesson. Alas, Uncle Max - a former spy during WWI determined that James should not follow suit - doesn't have long, for he's fading away with cancer. There are two very tender scenes when his uncle lights up and teenage James is so sad. Not disappointed, not upset, but ever so sad. Yeah, I know the 1930s are a little too early for a young lad to link them, but it's never a bad message to reinforce so delicately, is it?
But of course there are bad families too, passing down their line the fine art of bullying and, after that eel-ridden prologue, we begin with Bond bound for boarding school, specifically Eton.
This allows Higson an early opportunity to engage us with a "Bond, James Bond" moment because borders called each other - and may still call each other, for all I know - by their surnames. The suave confidence with which our future secret service agent will deliver such lines is undercut brilliantly by the first of many rude awakenings in store for him at Eton, when he's contradicted with "James Bond - sir", not by an avuncular and ever-exasperated Quartermaster but by his dreaded Housemaster.
All too quickly Bond falls equally foul of older boy George Hellibore, son of American arms dealer Lord Hellibore, but before that he has to deal with his bedsit being bare with peeling paint and plaster. Oh, yeah, you thought Public School accommodation was plush?! Pffft. There's a reason we had to use drapes.
Still, the great thing about the school hols was you could always leave the bullies back at boarding school, eh? They're not going to live anywhere near you.
Oh, James, you're in for such a bumpy ride!