cover image High Time to Kill

High Time to Kill

Raymond Benson. Putnam Publishing Group, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14500-1

James Bond has always been a figure of fantasy and Benson, in his routine fourth Bond novel (after The Facts of Death) wisely keeps him fantastic. An international mercenary terrorist gang called the Union pilfers the British secret formula for Skin 17, the only aircraft material that can withstand a speed of Mach 7. Besides its technological importance, Skin 17 is a triumph for the lagging British military, so spymaster M needs Bond to get it back, and to find the turncoat who helped the Union steal it. The terrorists hide the formula for Skin 17 on a microdot implanted inside the pacemaker of a Chinese national, who dies a few days later when the airplane he's flying in is hijacked and crashes on Kangchenjunga, third-highest mountain of the Himalayas: hence this novel's title. Bond, of course, is dispatched to retrieve the microdot. En route to a blood-filled, ice-encased climax, Agent 007 indulges his old tastes for dangerous women and beautiful cars. Thanks to Q, the violence features some deliciously nasty weapons, including a gadget-laden Jaguar XK8. Benson's prose, including the dialogue, is wooden, but the action he provides is fast and furious and Bond fans will note the narrative scores ""a first for Bond... sex at 7,900 meters""--a high point in a novel that otherwise is middling all the way. (June)