Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Too Bad to Die

Too Bad to Die (2015)
Written by Francine Mathews
348 pages
U.S. Publisher: Riverhead

Bond. James Bond. The words are iconic.

The suave style, the pithy one-liners, the strong women and the exotic locales are all part of what makes a Bond movie a Bond movie. But what about the man behind the secret agent?

In Francine Mathews' newest novel, Too Bad to Die, Ian Fleming does some spy work of his own to thwart a Nazi conspiracy to assassinate Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin during the Tehran Conference. When Fleming intercepts a message from Enigma code breaker Alan Turing suggesting a turncoat is in their midst, the race is on to find the culprit and stop the conspiracy.

Mathews clearly had fun writing this and that enthusiasm is evident on each page. She throws many Bond references in, whether it be a martini drink or Fleming thinking of himself as 007. Many of the trademark Bond items are in Mathews' book and the thrills are heaped on, particularly at the halfway point. It felt like a Bond movie written on the page and as I read, I thought, "This would make a pretty good movie." Mathews also melds the history of the Tehran Conference and fiction together seamlessly, causing some to try to guess where the fiction starts and ends.

In a welcome departure from the usual Bond formula, Mathews takes special care to creating strong female characters, particularly a British Signals operator and a rogue agent that plays both sides, that help advance the plot.

There's just one little hitch. I figured out who the turncoat was early on, so when the character is revealed to be said traitor, it didn't have the emotional impact. Most of Bond's villains have not been particularly secret (Goldfinger and Dr. No come to mind), so on one hand, this works with the usual Bond style. But on the other hand, it made the book easy to deduce.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars. Despite spotting the villain early, Too Bad to Die is a fun spy thriller, especially for James Bond fans, history buffs or anyone who wants a fun read.

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