Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz review – a prequel to Casino Royale

We meet again Mr Bond … but this time 007 is still learning the ropes of spycraft, in this enjoyable spinoff authorised by the Fleming estate

One of the many pleasures of Ian Fleming’s Bond books is the fact that he doesn’t bore us with too much of his hero’s background. There is no tiresome origin novel featuring a teenage Bond experimenting with murder techniques on small forest animals. To the reader of Fleming, Bond is a fully formed force of nature, elegantly inevitable.

Horowitz is therefore taking a risk in writing, as his second “official” Bond novel, a story set before Casino Royale, at the beginning of which Bond isn’t even 007 yet. Indeed, it turns out there was a previous 007, and it’s only when that one turns up face-down in the waters of the French Riviera, riddled with bullet holes, that M decides Commander Bond merits promotion to the ranks of dinner-jacketed executioners. His test run, the killing in Stockholm of a wartime traitor, is adjudged to have gone well (though it is a rather unnecessarily messy stabbing), so off the new 007 is dispatched to find out exactly what is going on in the south of France.

This is, then, Bond Begins. It is, naturally, not long before he meets a femme who might or might not be fatale. She is named Sixtine, and is first encountered where else but in a grand casino, where she proves to be an expert card-counter. She also prefers her martinis shaken not stirred, because her hated ex-husband insisted on them being made the other way. So it turns out, somewhat disappointingly, that one of Bond’s signature preferences was not the result of his own cold ratiocination on the virtues of bruised alcohol, but simply copied from someone he fancied. There’s also a somewhat unconvincing explanation of why the later Bond happily introduces himself by his real name: because the previous 007’s cover was blown, M decides that there’s no point using false iden-tities any more. Which seems like a spectacularly bad policy, but then I am not a famous fictional spymaster.

Anthony Horowitz was given some material from Ian Fleming’s estate.
Anthony Horowitz was given some material from Ian Fleming’s estate. Photograph: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Horowitz has, though, come up with an excellent villain: a tremendously corpulent Corsican drug-dealer named Scipio. “I have total control here in Marseilles,” he announces villainously. “The port, the city, the police, the justice system? It is all mine!” This burst of exposition is possible since, as is mandatory (at least in the movies), Bond has done something stupid and is caught, tied up and completely at the mercy of the bad guy, who then prefers to gloat and bluster rather than eliminate him. Happily, this gives them a chance to meet again later, when the villain literally says: “Meester Bond”. At length there are hi-jinks in a secret chemical plant hidden in the mountains and aboard an enormous cruise ship. Horowitz is good at action scenes, which he helps along with emotive adjectives: Bond driving a jeep draws “a savage arc in the dust” or swings the wheel “viciously”; later the jeep will, as in all car chases, have to overturn a melon cart and cheese stall.

As with his previous Bond effort, Trigger Mortis, Horowitz was given some original material by the Fleming estate: the outline for a TV series that was never made. Helpfully, Horowitz in his acknowledgments points out which chapter uses this stuff, and it turns out to be an excellent little yarn that Bond tells Sixtine about a previous adventure he had had at the same casino. Horowitz takes care to disclaim responsibility for any old-school views that might have leaked out through the use of this material (“many of the attitudes expressed are Fleming’s, not mine”), and Sixtine herself is certainly a post-#MeToo Bond playmate. After his first clumsy pass at her, she schools him thus: “I want to make it clear that you are never to touch me again without asking.” This Bond, in general, is still rather unformed, a wide-eyed ingénu. He feels uncomfortable in Monte Carlo, even though later he is said to be “completely at home in casinos and first-class hotels”. Sixtine even asks him whether he might be a psychopath. He doesn’t feel like one, he responds: it’s not clear whether this is meant to be a joke.

Inevitably, the prose throughout is more verbose and cliched than the brutal efficiencies of Fleming, but Forever and a Day is still an enjoyably compact thriller, with an absolutely killer last line. Scattered throughout the book, too, are some pleasingly echt Bond moments, as when he tells one of his captors: “It would be nice to know your name when I kill you.” My favourite of these scenes came early on, when the morose spy is seen in a restaurant, “stabbing at a bad filet mignon accompanied by a worse glass of Burgundy”. We’ve all been there, even if we weren’t allowed to murder anyone because of it.

Forever and a Day is published by Jonathan Cape. To order a copy for £16.14 (RRP £18.99) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Steven Poole

The GuardianTramp

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