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"As the sun blazes over the Caribbean island of Lagrimas Negras, its bloodthirsty ruler is watching and waiting. Criminals come here to hide, with blood on their hands and escape on their minds. On the mainland, in the quiet town of Tres Hermanas, ex-flying ace Jack Stone leaves his son and daughter in the company of James Bond. But a gang of thieves lie in ambush - they want Stone`s precious safe, and will kill for its contents." Hurricane Gold is the fourth book in Charlie Higson's Young Bond series and was published in 2007. I was rather sniffy about these books at first and put off reading them for a long time but I think they are surprisingly good and certainly as entertaining as many of the post-Fleming James Bond continuation novels (many of which were pretty awful to be honest). I think the main thing that lifts them up a notch is the way that Higson increasingly seems to make them more like riffs on the Fleming series and foreshadows the traits and future life of the character. Hurricane Gold riffs on everything from Dr No to Diamonds Are Forever to You Only Live Twice but also manages to have enough creativity and story to be a decent book in its own right. Maybe Hurricane Gold moves close to parody but then that's not likely to be a huge problem for younger readers who have never read anything by Ian Fleming.
To tie in with the Fleming series, these books are set in the 1930s. James Bond is a teenager and a pupil at Eton but he's already had more than his share of adventures and displayed the recklessness, determination and courage that will be so essential to him as an adult. Higson is increasingly holding up a mirror to the character James Bond will become and this element to Hurricane Gold is nicely done at times. What is the plot of Hurricane Gold? Bond is recuperating from his last adventure (Double or Die) and allowed a leave of absence from Eton to join his anthropologist aunt and guardian Charmian in Mexico. Charmian is visiting no lesser site than the ruined Mayan city of Palenque. I wish I'd had an aunt who got me off school and whisked me away to Mexico. Anyway, Bond is left with his aunt's American pilot friend Jack Stone's children Precious and Jack Junior in the village of Tres Hermanas while Stone flies Charmian to Palenque. But the house is raided by hoodlums (led by the villainess Mrs Glass) during a storm and the hoodlums seem to be very very interested in the contents of the Stone family safe. The children hide after Bond manages to knock one of the goons out of a window but when the Stone children are kidnapped, Bond goes undercover as a member of a criminal gang to track them down.
This will lead to a chase through the jungle to the apparently mythical island of Lagrimas Negras where it is said that criminals from around the world are given safe haven. The man behind it all is the ruthless El Huracán and Bond will need all of his nous and bravery if he's going to recover what has been lost and make it out alive. The only way to get off Lagrimas Negras is a deadly maze/obstacle course known as La Avenida de la Muerte - the Avenue of Death. And what exactly was in Jack Stone's safe anyway? This is the most bizarre and exciting of the Young Bond books and benefits from an unusual and slightly macabre story that involves abandoned mines, jungles, lost cities, and a race against time to retrieve something very important. The pace here is certainly more breakneck than the other books in the series although that doesn't necessarily make Hurricane Gold the best one. While I enjoyed this I did feel that Double or Die's plot was better in that it kept you guessing and felt as if it had been thought through a lot more. With Hurricane Gold I always felt as if I knew where we were going from reading the Fleming books and Higson didn't really seem to feel obliged to pull the rug out from under me too much. The exotic locale is well used by the author though and he manages to create a decent amount of tension as the story unfolds.
The raid on the Stone residence for example is a gripping passage and is slightly reminiscent of the start of Colonel Sun (although that might have just been me). "Precious screamed. The young man snarled at her to shut up. There was just enough light coming through the window for James to see him grab the two children and drag them out of the room. James stayed put, breathing heavily. The intruders seemed to have come prepared, but with luck they wouldn't that he was here at all. James waited in the Wendy house for a full five minutes. Once he was sure that the man wasn't coming back he crept out of his hiding place and tiptoed over to the playroom door. He hardly needed to be quiet. The storm was making a fearsome racket as it buffeted the house. There was a cacophony of different sounds; crashing, hissing, roaring, squealing, rumbling." I quite here the way that Bond impersonates a Mexican pickpocket who looks rather like him in order to infiltrate the gang. Not only does this foreshadow the sort of thing Bond will do in his future line of work but it also points out something Fleming-esque that the producers of the film series (and audiences) seem to have forgotten - Bond is supposed to be darkly handsome. The Eton scenes are eschewed here (probably wisely lest Higson should flirt with being Harry Potter) and it's probably a strength of the book too that it immediately plunges Bond and the reader far away straight into another adventure.
Perhaps this one feels less credible than the previous books but this is Young James Bond not Crime and Punishment so let's not nitpick too much. The Fleming references do seem to come thick and fast in the end. There is a (junior) dose of sadism when Bond and Precious (who is the vague love interest here for our hero) must run Lagrimas Negras' lethal obstacle course the "Rat Race" - the Avenue of Death. This includes baby crocodiles, a tunnel of scorpions, giant anacondas, razor-wire, boiling hot metal plates, army ants, lethal spikes, and so on. "James Bond is staring death in the face. And he isn't about to blink." Not only is this a fun sequence (Bond must use his wits to survive) but it's a fairly good homage to some of the Fleming books. Like Dr No's strange tropical island - based on Inagua in the Bahamas - with spiders, giant squids, hundreds of crabs and a very nasty obstacle course designed for the adult secret agent Bond. And Dr Shatterhand's deadly botanical 'garden of death' in You Only Live Twice. An old Japanese castle stocked with poisonous specimens of plants and animals. Once again I enjoyed the way that Higson structured his book like the Fleming novels. Split up into sections with Fleming style chapter titles (although a few of the titles are are a bit ropey here to be honest).
Maybe some of the riffs on Fleming are a trifle indulgent but the primary audience for these stories will be unaware of them anyway and I think Higson actually does a better than expected job of gradually making you believe this teenager could actually grow up to be the very adult character in the original 1950s novels. When the Fleming mirror device does work though it's very good. I liked the first meeting between Bond and Precious here. It seems to mimic the first meeting between Bond and Tiffany Case in Fleming's Diamonds are Forever. Hurricane Gold has its flaws but it's a fast paced adventure and this quality manages to negate the derivative nature of the plot and some of the situations and make it worthwhile for younger readers and curious completists. Not the best of these books but fun anyway. At the time of writing you can buy Hurricane Gold for a few pounds.
If there is one thing I hate about modern media it's the apparently constant drive to milk something for all its worth. Why stop at a movie when you can have toys, books and many other types of media? Why stop there even? You can spin off new variations of the show, re-imagine it, repackage it - just keep doing this every decade or so and tap into the new market of kids growing up. The problem with doing this is that you can dilute what made something great in the first place. Star Wars will never be as good as I cannot watch it without thinking of the various awful prequels. Harry Potter should have been 5 books instead of 7 as Rowling ran out of steam far too early. What about Bond? The films have been re-imagined and are looking good, but surely a set of book about Young Bond is a step too far? The first three in the series were reasonable, could 'Hurricane Gold' prove itself as a piece of standalone work that actually adds to the Bond mythos rather than detract from it?
Bond has been given time off from Eton after the adventures in 'Double or Die'. He has been sent with his Aunt to Mexico to get some much needed R&R. This being Bond means that action is never far away. When Bond is left with Captain Stone and his two spoilt children, Precious and JJ, he expects a month of boredom and frustration. However, this is far from the case as a group of attackers enter the house during a storm and try to kidnap the children. James, Precious and JJ must get away from the kidnappers and find help. These are stone cold killers and if Bond and co. do not get away they will be led to a deadly island where no one ever leaves.
'Hurricane Gold' is by no means comparable to the best of Bond. Fleming was a master of spy fiction in his times and the likes of 'Live and Let Die' are great. This book would also struggle if you tried to compare it to 'Casino Royale' or the soon to released 'Quantum of Solace'. This is because Bond is for adults, whilst Young Bond is not. If you read 'Hurricane' expecting the same type of thing from the films or original books you will come away disappointed at the naive nature and its simple structure. However, this book is not aimed at adults, but 8-12 year old boys and the 8-12 year old boy in me loved it!
From page one 'Hurricane' is action packed without ever losing its thread. The narrative structure is a linear one, but author Charlie Higson makes it a roller coaster ride. There are some action set pieces in this book that would not be out of place in a top thriller novel by the likes of Lee Child. What you basically get in 'Hurricane' is an excellent thriller censored somewhat for a younger audience. That is not to say that I did not have some misgivings over some of the violence in the book. There are several gruesome death scenes in the book and the baddies do kill without thought. I counted around 20 deaths in the book which may be a little unsuitable for some impressionable children (although most lads would love it!)
What makes the book stand out as great Juvenile Literature is Higson's writing. I have read all the Young Bond books and until this one they had yet to click with me. I felt that they were too fantastic in their approach and not grounded enough in reality. Once again the story is ridiculous in 'Hurricane', but at least everything seemed achievable in real life. What Higson also does well is introduce a maturity to Bond as each book has him learning a skill. Here he learns ju jitsu and also gets to have more experience with complicated women. By book 4 in the series it's clear that Higson has a plan to morph Young Bond into the Bond we know.
Another outstanding area that will appeal to a younger audience is the fantastic bad guys in this book. There is a core gang in the book and it is full of flawed and evil people. One character is hard of hearing, one is short, another is cold and beautiful and one even has a bit of skull missing! These bad guys are daft in context of adult Bond, but work great here. Jaws is not the most realistic character so having these extreme monstrosities is acceptable in this book. Higson also manages to write some thrilling sections of the book which is good writing no matter the age group aimed at.
'Young Bond: Hurricane Gold' is in my opinion a great book for young lads. If you know a boy aged 8-12 who is struggling to read then this could be the perfect introduction for them. The book is simple to read, but action packed and full of adventure. I am well past the age this book is aimed at and I still found it to be thrilling is some parts and amusing in others. In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than most of the adult fiction I have been reading recently.
Author: Charlie Higson
Price: amazon uk - £4.89
play.com - £4.99