Colonel Sun is a James Bond novel written by Kingsley Amis, under the pseudonym of Robert Markham. It’s lot of fun, though descends into a bit of a farce towards the end (consciously, perhaps?), and is rich with the casual racism and sexism of 1968 – though, weirdly, it was probably on par with the Roger Moore films. That said, it’s a bit of a thoughtful and stylish romp.
After starting rather timidly with a round of golf, in which Bond speculates how his life has become rather dull, the action moves to M’s country home – from which M gets captured. Bond attempts to save M, kills one of the assailants, but ends up being injected with something that makes him groggy. He manages to escape, just about, while M is whisked away out of the country. Bond reports the incident to his superiors. They study the body that Bond killed to find some very obvious secret code, which they think was planted, pointing them all towards Greece. So, to Athens with Bond, where he’s anticipating being captured at any moment – this is, he suspects, all part of a ploy by the same people who kidnapped M.
In a bar, Bond saves a lovely young Greek communist called Ariadne Alexandrou from the lurid overtures of an “amorous Turk”. She’s meant to be there to set Bond up, but she ends up falling for his charms. They avoid capture during a shootout at the Acropolis, and she tempts him with “the swell of one firm breast”. Later they have hot sweaty sex.
Meanwhile, on a Greek Island, M is being held captive by the “yellow-skin” Colonel Sun and his two bikini-cald translators/assistants, and there’s a vicious plot involving former Nazis and various agents to blow up a secret conference. Soon Bond discovers he needs to head to the island of Vrakonisi to save M and that’s where he, Ariadne and colleagues head. Their aim is to try and stop the mysterious Colonel Sun of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army from unleashing his dastardly plot. There’s lots of late-night discussions of communism and the political state of post-WWII Europe. Lots of boating action, shootouts, explosions, and general tomfoolery around the Greek islands. And it’s all described with a breathtaking flair. SPOILER: It’s all jolly good fun, but plummets, as I say, into something of a farce when one of the sexy bikini-clad assistants – who is at that point, I kid you not, absolutely naked because the Colonel Sun wants Bond aroused as he tortures him some more – saves Bond from being killed and supplies him with a knife to shove into his enemy’s back. It all went a bit Roger Moore at that point. Austin Powers, even.
Bond is a hard man in this book, a violent killer, and considered a “terrorist” by the enemy. There’s little humour, though weirdly not enough character – which goes against the grain of the rest of the cast. Amis provides some wonderful descriptions of people and places, often delivering a full and rich character within a paragraph. At times it actually reminds me of early J.G. Ballard (how I would love to have seen a J.G. Ballard Bond novel), in its attention to unusual detail, and of freezing a particular scene to analyse its sentiment or key feature. The sort of thing you might get in The Atrocity Exhibition. As a literary device, it does somewhat get in the way of action scenes, but it makes them rather interesting at least.
Colonel Sun is utterly bonkers, and a product of its time, but still remains a cracking and stylish read.