FOREVER AND A DEATH by Donald E. Westlake
From the blurb;
The Bond That Never WasIntriguing!
Two decades ago, the producers of the James Bond movies hired legendary crime novelist Donald E. Westlake to come up with a story for the next Bond film. The plot Westlake dreamed up – about a Western businessman seeking revenge after being kicked out of Hong Kong when the island was returned to Chinese rule – had all the elements of a classic Bond adventure, but political concerns kept it from being made. Never one to let a good story go to waste, Westlake wrote an original novel based on the premise instead – a novel he never published while he was alive.
Richard Curtis is a powerful business man who had been run out of Hong Kong after the handover from UK control to China (post 1997.) He wants revenge and he wants his fortune back. He has a plan for destruction and robbery. When Curtis tests his "solitron wave" device on an abandoned isle, members of the environmental group, Planetwatch, get caught up in Curtis's scheme. After Curtis arranges the death of a young woman, Kim, his chief engineer George Manville defects, saves Kim, and maneuvers to block Curtis's plans from reaching fruition. The novel builds steam from there, with a cast of characters, reversals, turns, and intrigue. Like a Bond story, we have exotic settings - Singapore, Hong Kong, South Seas, and Australia.
Certainly, Hard Case Crime have used the Bond angle to promote the novel but Westlake didn't appear to want his novel near pastiche territory. He reused elements (Hong Kong, gold robbery, corporate villain with a destructive machine, etc.) but the characters are nowhere near MI6 or any other fictional spy agency or criminal organizations. Sex is off-screen and nearly non-existent - far more tame than any Bond movie or novel. Perhaps the most jarring element is the ensemble team of good guys trying to stop the bad guy, rather than one person. Manville at first appears to be a Bond analogous in training but he disappears off-page for a large chunk of time later in the novel.
Richard Curtis is the most realized character in the book. Westlake does a good job of creating a villain who just gets more villainous because he digs his holes deeper and deeper. He starts off with bribes and corner cutting, never imagines being a murderer, and by the end, the extinguishing of life no longer bothers his conscience.
The afterword by Jeff Kleeman is worth the price of admission. Kleeman reveals all the details of Westlake's involvement in the unproduced screenplay. He highlights some of the differences and similarities between the novel and the original project, including some cinematic scenes and Bond pun quips that aren't in the book. He also mentions Westlake was on-screen in LIVE AND LET DIE, as a background extra! (I'll need to rewatch the movie.)
While the novel might have been better if it had stuck closer to a Bond pastiche by keeping Manville's through-line consistent, it is still an enjoyable thriller. If you like Bond and adventure fiction, you should give it a read. (4/5 stars)