Zero Minus Ten (1997) by Raymond Benson


Benson’s first James Bond book begins in the worst way imaginable, with a training exercise we’re supposed to believe is a real operation, then settles into a story of nuclear threat and corporate intrigue set against the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese, finally returning to silliness in the climax. The bad guy pokes fun at villains who devise special means of killing their enemies, then proceeds to do the same thing. Readers who found Ian Fleming’s descriptions of Bond’s gambling (at cards, at golf) too long and detailed will be buried by Benson’s homage, as he plays out a game of mahjong over two chapters and 20 pages.

Both Bond and the book, however, hew closer to Fleming’s than did John Gardner’s, though noticeable and regrettable deviations remain. One of these has to with M (this is the new, female M). Benson goes to some length to position her as a real no-nonsense type, then efficiently undermines her authority by having her recognize Bond as a “loose cannon,” one who can seemingly ignore her direct orders with impugnity. Unlike Gardner, Benson recognizes Bond’s chivalrous attitude toward women, but doesn’t adopt it, his Bond having abandoned all hope of lasting love.

As a spy novel, Zero sounds about right — the plot works like Bond’s “spy kit,” which, though scaled down to fit in the heels of his shoes, contains everything he needs in a pinch — yet as a Bond novel, it is reasonably entertaining. The hope can only be that the series will improve, though as the author’s qualifications for the job include designing software “products” and his tenure as Vice President of the American James Bond 007 Fan Club, this is faint hope indeed.


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