Forever and a Death by Donald E Westlake

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Forever and a Death by Donald E Westlake

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Category: Crime
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: George Manville is an engineer who also happens to be caught up in a pseudo-Bond adventure that lacks the punch of a true 007 novel.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 463 Date: June 2017
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781785654237

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A lot of time and effort goes into the average movie, but this is at least double in the case of Bond. Each one is part of a decade's long institution and must excel. With this in mind there is a sea of discarded wannabe-Bond themes, wannabe-Bond stories and wannabe-Bond actors. For every successful Garbage Bond theme, there are numerous other indie bands that never made the cut. Donald E Westlake was a successful thriller writer in his own right, but once he jumped aboard the good ship Bond his work never cut it. The result was this adaptation of his failed Bond script, but did Barbara Broccoli have justification for passing?

George Manville is a good engineer, but apart from that, a pretty ordinary bloke. He has been tasked by an eccentric businessman to destroy some reclaimed land so that it can be built up again. Unbeknownst to Manville, this businessman has a more sinister plan in mind should the pilot project work. Richard Curtis has a hatred of the Chinese after they chased him from Hong Kong and cost him his fortune. He wants revenge and if he makes money at the same time, so be it. As for the thousands of corpses he leaves behind; you can't destroy an island without breaking a few people.

Forever and a Death is not the strongest thriller in its own right without being compared to the James Bond cannon. In fact, if the publishers did not mention everywhere that it has some slim DNA with 007, you would never know. All that really comes out in the wash is that Curtis is a billionaire madman who will do whatever it takes for revenge. Keeping Bond in mind, this suggests that Manville is the super-agent, but nothing could be further from the case. He is a super engineer, but that is about it.

The books feels a little confused as when Westlake tries to move the story onwards, large parts of it concentrate on Curtis, the bad guy. He is by far the most interesting person and you get a clear image of why he wants revenge. Manville on the other hand is a thinly drawn mystery. He is a pretty bland bloke who likes to follow orders and is detail orientated, but in some sequences he suddenly becomes a super hero taking out several enemies with a cold disregard. Sound familiar? Manville is obviously crowbarred in to replace Bond in the narrative, but whilst it makes sense for a secret agent to shoot a man in cold blood, the person you hire to assess your drains – not so much.

Hard Case Crime mention in the extras of the book that this manuscript was hidden in Westlake's files, unpublished. After reading it, it is perhaps clearer why the author chose to do this. The action when it does occur is fun, it may be bizarre that an engineer can pull off all these things, but it is great whilst he is doing it. Unfortunately, a lot of the book is more about plodding mismanagement. Curtis in particular is meant to have once been a successful businessman, but here he compounds his own mistakes one after the other. He would have achieved more by doing nothing.

Forever is a curio novel for fans of Westlake who want a little more from the author, but be aware that it is not his strongest work. Bond fans should bypass it entirely as there is little here that feels like the classic themes of Bond; be it the early Fleming books or the later more bombastic films. This is the type of book you can read quickly and enjoy to an extent, but will soon forget.

If you want to know more about what happens behind Bond then For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond by Ben Macintyre is an excellent read.

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