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By Charles Higson
Miramax Books, April, 2005 ($16.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
Like the rest of the world, I am very familiar with the adult life of Ian Fleming's master spy, James Bond, but knew nothing of his beginnings. Until Charles Higson wrote SILVERFIN, the first in the Young Bond series commissioned by Ian Fleming's estate, I didn't realize I wanted to know about the subject. After reading this book, I can't wait for the next installment.
Young James had a happy if unorthodox childhood, the well-loved son of two adventurous parents, Andrew, a Navy veteran of World War I turned arms dealer, and Monique, daughter of a Swiss businessman. When one of their adventures ends in tragedy, the young orphan is packed off to the rarified air of Eton, where he struggles to find his place, learning to deal with ancient and bizarre rituals, appalling living conditions, and bullies. Not surprisingly, he manages quite well, with a little help from a few interesting and unique friends and allies. A professor who recognizes his potential encourages him, and a tubby tuba player teaches him the secret of deep breathing. When he gets involved in his first mystery while on holiday in Scotland visiting his paternal aunt and uncle, a cheerful young petty criminal teaches him the fine art of breaking and entering and the skills of street fighting and a young lady on a fine horse shows him that women can be beautiful and tough. Aunt Charmian, an anthropologist, gives him a home where he is loved and well-fed. Uncle Max, who unfortunately smoked a few too many cigarettes, introduces his enthralled nephew to his first Astin Martin, and a legend is born. He does not, however, introduce him to martinis, shaken or stirred, but he does teach him how to fly fish.
When James learns that a young village boy is missing, and that Lord Hellebore, the father of James' nemesis at Eton, may have something to do with the disappearance, he and his Cockney buddy Red Kelly decide to investigate. The boys run afoul of sinister bodyguards, mad scientists, and genetically altered livestock, but a combination of skill and quick thinking carry them through.
The series is marketed to children age eleven and up. Some of the action might be a bit intense for the younger reader - at the very least, they'll never look at eels in the same way again - but the book over all is very entertaining for children of all ages. Higson, better known for his comedic writing and acting, is an admitted Bond fanatic. When it comes to inventing a plausible, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable history for Britain's favorite secret agent, it might be said that nobody does it better than Mr. Higson.
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