He has even keeked down while a saw moved towards his manhood. He has lived a full and varied life. He was created by Ian Fleming, been manipulated and moulded by filmmakers and resurrected by Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver , Charlie Higson and now, gloriously, by William Boyd.
The mission for Boyd is simple: write a James Bond novel in about 300 pages that can later be filmed to dramatic and lucrative effect. Its execution is more tricky.
Boyd, frankly, is a far superior writer to Fleming and thus runs the risk of either concocting a pastiche or conjuring up a Bond who is unrecognisable to fans of the franchise. Solo, however, is meticulously constructed, allowing Boyd to give knowing nods to the traditional Bond, slightly mischievous glances at a shared past between author and creation, and strong intimations of what both drives and sustains the secret agent.
Boyd has breathed life into Bond but this is a novel of death. It is so subtly rendered that one could believe that Boyd had merely come up with another Bond caper. The plot is elaborate, relies on coincidence and is both garish and outlandish. This, though, is not a criticism. It is akin to blaming a rugby ball for bouncing oddly.
Boyd has grasped that Bond only needs a setting and a villain. The author of A Good Man In Africa and An Ice Cream War thus takes Bond to the Dark Continent and infuses the narrative with almost mischievous glances at a shared Scottish past. Bond's housekeeper, of course, is Scottish and her replacement is a member of her family. It is why there can be dialogue referencing "the talk of the steamie" and the description of a character as "peely wally".
However, the author is aware that Bond is not the sleek, insouciant hero made flesh by the actions of such as Roger Moore and Cubby Broccoli. Bond is a killer. It is what puts the 00 into 007. Fleming painted him sparely with a hinterland restricted to choice of clothes, cigarette and weapon. Boyd, brilliantly and subtly, shows the agent has been shaped and formed by killing and perhaps even made for it. Solo, set in 1969, has Bond, at 45, haunted by images of death and revolted by scenes of sickness and decay.
The author makes his intentions clear by opening Solo on Bond's birthday, a day for morbid reflections for any middle-aged man but most particularly for a character whose body and psyche has been marked by wounds form the past.
He reflects on a scene when, as a member of special forces just after D-Day, he passes "the sodden bodies of three British paratroopers" lying in a ditch. The agent is in a room in the Dorchester but part of him remains in Normandy on June 7, 1944. The sight of his fallen comrades is followed quickly by the reflection that a necessary, bloody execution of an enemy soldier followed swiftly, almost inevitably.
Quickly, Boyd is forging the Bond of Fleming rather than the sanitised version of film. This is a secret agent who kills for a living yet is disgusted by death and is careless of life. The destruction of Bond is focused on his and his country's enemies, whether they be a German conscript or a willing recruit to SMERSH or, in Solo, a South African mercenary. It is the self-destruction that is the more intriguing aspect of Solo.
In the post-millennium world of addiction issues and self-help groups, Bond carries all the hallmarks of the functioning alcoholic, not least his inability to perceive his drinking as a problem.
Bond is moved and affected by death. He vomits on seeing a soldier killed, he shakes when meeting a malnourished, hopeless child and is driven to a murderous despair when discovering a victim of the vicious Kobus Breed, a soldier of war who hangs his victims on steel hooks.
Boyd also throws in the mandatory sex scenes, the fascination with cars (in this case Jensens) and the gimmicks and gadgets of the modern secret agent.
However, Bond stands alone, solo. The title refers to the agent going on a personal mission but it also hints at a character who is lonely, even desolate. There is a moment when Bond mutters: "Je suis un paysan ecossais." He is, of course, much more than a Scottish peasant. He knows it, too. He dabbles in sophistication, he majors in charm and he succeeds in seduction. But he gives a hint to his deepest character when he books into a hotel as Kobus Breed, the name of his adversary and a psychopathic murderer.
Boyd has recreated the hero with wit, invention and no little humour. But there is a darkness. James Bond lives in death and will be consumed by it.