cover image Zero Minus Ten

Zero Minus Ten

Raymond Benson. Putnam Publishing Group, $22.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14257-4

Disorienting as it is, James Bond will be as youthful and virile as ever on July 1st, when Hong Kong becomes a part of China. Benson (an Edgar nominee for The James Bond Bedside Companion) is the latest of the literary Dr. Frankensteins enlisted to inject life into old 007. Committing the mistake of pinning Bond down to a specific point in time instead of letting him float in an undefined Cold War limbo, he inadvertently reveals how Ian Fleming and others protected Bond from the real ravages of time. An early description here (""Dark and handsome, he had piercing blue-gray eyes. His short black hair had just a hint of gray at the temples, was parted on the left, and was carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow"") makes it clear that this tale is more a self-conscious homage than an organic story to sink into. Benson moves rapidly into pastiche and commercial ripoff, skating around on the surface of things until the action begins to seem ludicrous. Bond goes through the motions of discovering who is trying to sabotage the transfer of power in Hong Kong by blowing people up, bedding the usual array of beautiful young bimbos, dodging and fighting the same sinister crowd of ethnic heavies (including a trio of giant albinos called Tic, Tac and Toe) and confronting the same cliched threats to destroy the world. Benson, a games designer, has come up with a kind of computer-game parody that will make readers wonder why they don't just reread Fleming's classics. (May)