Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

"It was just one more example of the utter cold-bloodedness and 
contempt that seemed to be built into the Slavic race."


The Plot: Two weeks after the events of Goldfinger, M orders Bond to train for the Nürburgring, a first class motorsports race in Germany. He suspects one of Britain's top drivers has been targeted for assassination by SMERSH, purely as a propaganda move to establish the Soviet Union's technological mastery. Bond thwarts the assassination attempt, but at the after-party, hosted by the fabulously wealthy Korean-American Jason Sin at his island castle nearby, he uncovers a connection between Sin and SMERSH, as well as several photographs of US military test rockets in Sin's possession. Also at the party? Jeopardy Lane, a beautiful American woman who claims to work for Motor Sports magazine but is actually a US Treasury agent, investigating Sin for a counterfeit operation. Stonewalled by the US Navy officials in charge of its upcoming launch of a Vanguard rocket, Bond and Jeopardy must stop the fiendish foreigner from sandbagging the American space program and from murdering thousands of innocent New Yorkers by exploding a bomb underneath the Empire State Building.

Not mentioned above? Pussy Galore, whose appearance in Trigger Mortis dominated the discussion when the novel was announced early last year. 

Understandably, I guess. As an icon of early Bond, her character's return is of course buzzworthy. But other than to pinpoint the events of the time frame immediate to Goldfinger (1957), she has no bearing on the plot. It's nice to see her, I suppose, and her presence doesn't exactly irritate me. It's just that she's extraneous. On one hand it's interesting to see "the Bond girl" after the big finish of a previous novel, when Bond has to deal with her proverbial snoring, and there's a nice bit where he's embarrassed by her name when she introduces herself at the Savoy ("The name which had seemed both challenging and appropriate when he had first met her at the hoods' congress in Jersey City, became jejune, almost puerile, in a serious London hotel.") On the other, her "arc" could have been excised altogether, or summarized with a sentence or two, and the story would have been unaffected entirely. I kept expecting her to return to the plot to justify her inclusion, but she doesn't.

There was an awful lot of other chatter about the controversy over Bond's "de-lesbianizing" Pussy Galore in the original Goldfinger. I don't deny that the mostly-accurate perception of Bond as "every man's fantasy" lends a little something to this, but it's worth pointing out that nothing of the sort actually happens in Goldfinger. Sure, she ends up going with 007. Pussy Galore does what she wants, and she wanted to have sex with Bond. Any and everything beyond that is the reader's projection. Like I say, the overall men's-fantasy-life can extend to "turning" a lesbian via one's overwhelming sexual prowess and masculinity or whatever the hell you want, but one doesn't automatically follow the other. Pussy's clearly indulging herself in a highly unusual set of circumstances. I can't believe I'm saying this in context of Bond, but grow up, people; it wasn't a suicide pact or a political statement. As amusing as it might be to read things like "007 does not have a license to bestow homosexuality," the controversy simply isn't real. 

She exits the novel by going off with Logan Fairfax, the sexy lady who whips Bond into shape before the Nürburgring. Bond, who was feeling hemmed in, breathes a sigh of relief.

I somehow didn't realize Anthony Horowitz was the same guy who created (among other things) Foyle's War, a show I've seen here and there (and enjoyed). But how does he do with James Bond?

First things first, I love the title. Perfectly Killdozer in its immediate impact and likeability. It refers to the "panic button" on the Vanguard rocket - I'm not sure if this was/is a for-real nomenclature or just something Horowitz came up with himself - that can cause an instant self-destruct should the rocket go off-course or malfunction in any way. 

It apparently shares its title with this 1958 novel.

Secondly, I agree (mostly) with MI6: "Horowitz is perhaps the only continuation author to have captured not only the vivid description of place and time, of which Fleming was a master, but also the absurdity of characterisation and events, which made the Bond books so enjoyable." I'd say Raymond Benson did an admirable job with the same, as well, but sticking with Trigger Mortis, Horowitz recreates Fleming's style in several ways:

- The exclamation-point-heavy/ short-declarative-sentence of Bond's inner monologue: "And - goddamnit - he was edging ahead! He slipped past two of the Italians in Ferraris. Addio, signori! He risked a quick glance at the speedometer (...) He was doing 120 mph. He didn't need to know that. Not if it was going to kill him."

- Bond's snobbery, as evidenced by the Pussy Galore at the Savoy quote, above, and his geopolitics, such as the header-quote about the Slavic race, or when he's confronted with a bottle of Asbach Uralt brandy shortly after escaping Schloss Sin: "Weinbrand. At the end of the First World War, with more than ten million people dead and the world trying to sort itself out, the French had seized the moment to demand exclusive use of the word 'cognac.'"

- Bond's cynicism re: his countrymen: "...down the motorway into a countryside that in the years following the war had become too complacent with its thatched cottages and croquet lawns, the homes of bankers, judges and retired brigadiers who weren't content just to live there but had to take the place over. Suddenly 'country' meant not just where you lived but how." 

- As for vivid description of place and time, I've saved that for the closer.

Horowitz had something other continuation authors didn't have: unpublished material by Ian Fleming, namely the Nürburgring sequence. I'm unsure whether it's verbatim-Fleming or a hybrid of Horowitz and Fleming. I know as little about motorcross sports as I do about skiing, but as with the downhill escape from Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I found this chapter ("Murder On Wheels," named for the Fleming short story Horowitz incorporated into the novel) to be absolutely riveting.

Painting (r) by Nicholas Watts (Fangio in Maserati 250f op Nurburgring, 1957)

The book is divided into three sections:


"The citizens of London would have no idea of the perfection, the sheer genius of the weapon that killed them."

Things open with one of the Nazi scientists spirited away to the U.S. at the close of WW2 reflecting on his glory days hurling V2s across the English Channel. He's married a cocktail waitress and hates his job. So much in fact that he's just concluded a deal with Russian agents to sabotage an upcoming launch for a briefcase filled with cash. It's counterfeit currency, but he has little time to inspect it: as soon as he returns home, his wife kills him, steals the money, and burns the house down. Instant karma.


Outside the raceway stuff, let's look at some of the characters introduced: 

- Logan Fairfax, Bond's motorcross instructor, who has "deep brown eyes that were all the more enticing because they looked at him with such scorn." She and Bond come close to hooking up, but Pussy's predicament (getting kidnapped by a remnant of Goldfinger's army for their traditional method of revenge) interrupts things.

- Jeopardy Lane, the US Treasury agent also investigating Jason Sin. I liked her. Her motorcycle-circus background as well as her childhood in Coney Island both come in handy for the plot. Great name. 

- Charles Henry Duggan, head of Station G (Berlin/West Germany), larger-than-life old colleague of 007's and out-and-proud. He doesn't have much of a role in the book except to paint a grim picture of the urgency of the space race and how the Russians will stop at nothing to get there first, but he and Bond play off one another well.

- Sin Jai-Seong, aka Jason Sin, a Korean-American in bed with SMERSH. When we first meet him, he's in a spirited argument with the Soviet team outside Nürburgring, which rings alarm bells in Bond's head. He needles him in typical-007 fashion at the after-party then discovers the cache of rocket photographs. 

Sin is fine and all, but he's something of a leftovers-casserole of Bond villain tropes. I don't mind this, but this is a larger (though mild) problem throughout:


The first book, anchored by Bond's motorcross adventure, feels like what it is: an undiscovered "original source" document that's fleshed out into something that complements the Bond stories on either side of it. The rest of the book, while perfectly enjoyable, is more of a rearrangment of elements from other Bond stories: much of the rocket-plot seems straight out of Moonraker with the added element of the false flag event (also something from numerous other Bond stories), Sin's private-train reminded me of both The Man with the Golden Gun and Diamonds Are Forever, and his death recalled Weisen (the main villain)'s in Gardner's Death is Forever

There's more, but you get my point. Are any of these things dealbreakers or
unique to Trigger Mortis? No way. Horowitz draws attention to this when he gives Sin a replica-house of Keats House (itself a replica) at his enemy lair; this plus the replica-Vanguard Bond finds on site (which Sin plans to place amidst the wreckage of Manhattan to lay the blame at the US Navy's door) causes Bond to muse at all of the "replica of a replica"s he's coming across. 

That said, some sequences (escaping the hotel, buried alive, the train-chase) are exceptionally well done and felt wholly new. We've seen him do variations of these things loads of times, but these sections were great. New wine from old decanters, as Stephen King might say.

Sin's story, Bond-tropish as it is, is still compelling reading, such as when he reveals he is partially the way he is due surviving the massacre at No Gun Ri bridge:

"It was not my life that was taken from me, but my soul, my very humanity. Even as I sit here now, I still see the dead bodies. I can see my father's head as it separates from his body. I see my dead sister. I smell the blood. Those ugly, black flies are still crawling behind my eyes. I have become very wealthy (and yet) I myself am dead. I have forgotten the meaning of pleasure. I exist now only to destroy everything around me and I understand that this is what makes me so useful to SMERSH. Well, they are useful to me too. I have no interest in their ideology. I would be just as content to work for the American Secret Service or for anyone else. They simply give me the excuse to do what I do."

This line is interesting because Trigger alludes throughout to Operation Paperclip, the OSS operation that brought over 1500 German scientists and engineers to the U.S., most notably Werner Van Braun, a Nazi aristocrat who later popularized the rocket program for Walt Disney. Both Bond and Sin are proxy combatants in the larger war between the U.S. and her allies and the U.S.S.R. and hers. What separates them - as Bond realizes when he stops himself from cold-killing one of the rank-and-file members of Sin's organization - is that though evil things have been done to him, he does not do evil in return. It's the kind of shaky-but-ultimately-solid moral ground inhabited by any Cold Warrior.

Which brings me to one last point: the importance of the personal-WW2-connection cannot be overstated not just here but throughout the original Flemings. Bond can be extracted from it, as other continuation-Bond authors have demonstrated, and still be recognizably-Bond, but Horowitz has another advantage in addition to some original-Fleming to work with in being allowed to use the original timeline. The idea of the WW2 vet still being able to "get 'er done" and save the world/ stop nuclear holocaust where the government and military leaders cannot is front-and-center to so many of the heroes created in the 50s and 60s.

Before I go, there's a bit at the end worth reproducing re: Brooklyn / Coney Island of the late 50s:

"The fence, topped with barbed wire, stretched in both directions, a point of no return for the city which had crept almost to the very edge and then fallen back, knowing it was beaten. On the other side, there was a wilderness of gravel, discarded oil drums, concrete blocks, telegraph poles with drooping wires and seemingly abandoned pieces of industrial equipment. And railway lines, miles and miles of them, a labyrinth of intertwining metal that seemed to have been laid out almost randomly, a vast play-set that had run out of control as more and more pieces had been added. The empty space was somehow all the more shocking on the edge of Brooklyn. It was as if the fence divided two quite separate worlds. Bond could imagine the distant apartment blocks, filled with families, all of them crammed into small, dark rooms, one on top of the other. They would look out onto the Coney Island depot, forbidden to them, except as a view through a grimy window pane, offering more space than  they would ever enjoy in their lives. It was almost like the difference between life and death - with a cold, white moon bathing both in its spectral glow."

Final Verdict: I liked the first part better than the second, but this was (so far) either my 3rd or 4th favorite of the Continuation Bonds. 


  1. Glad you enjoyed this one. I thought it was very strong, and about as good as one can wish for from a continuation novel. I do agree that it loses steam toward the end, but it never runs all the way out.

    My understanding of the race scene is that the prose is 100% Horowitz, but that it was based in part on a screenplay written by Fleming for a never-filmed television series. There IS some genuine Fleming prose in the novel somewhere, though, and I believe I remember reading an interview stating that it was the opening of the chapter in which Bond is called to M's office. I thought I'd archives that interview, but I'm not having any luck finding it, so it's entirely possible that I've dreamed it!

    Either way, the race scene is dynamite. If it is Fleming, then it's a posthumous piece of evidence that the fellow really did know how to write; and it's it's Horowitz, it's proof that he really did know how to write in Fleming's voice. It's one of my favorite setpieces in any Bond book ever.

    I think I liked Jason Sin more than you did, but I agree that he does feel a bit like a Fleming-villain mashup. I don't mind; I rarely (if ever) mind that in a written-in-the-style-of sort of novel. I thought his backstory had the unmistakable whiff of the Flemingesque; Horowitz didn't do THAT much else with him, but so be it.

    I also thought the Pussy Galore angle was overhyped. I'd have preferred she figure out a way to overcome the gangsters on her own; having Bond step in to save her weakened her a bit. Letting her go off on a sapphic high note helped somewhat, though. Mainly, I was reminded that I was never that huge a fan of the Pussy of the novel; I prefer the movie one.

    Also kind of a dud for me: the titular plot device. Seemed to get a bit of short shrift for how much it was built up initially. Not a dealbreaker for me, though.

    All in all, I liked the novel a lot. I'd rank it second behind "Solo" in terms of the post-Benson novels, personally, but not far behind.

    1. It's a good point about Pussy Galore. She's kind of just a silly character in the book. (She'd be perfect for late-80s-era Robey to play, though. Just picture, hands on hips, throwing her head back and supervillain-laughing in Goldfinger's Board Room) I love the Cement Mixers angle, but it's all so insane.

      Goldfinger in general might be the most ridiculous book Fleming wrote, in terms of super-villain-scheming. As you say with Jason Sin, I almost never mind a villain/ supervillain-scheming written in that style, but just taking inventory: Goldfinger might be the craziest and most implausible of them all.

      Agreed 100% on the Nurburgring setpiece. Instant contender for one of my favorite Bond imaginings of all.

    2. Robey and The Cement-Mixers! Oh man, that's one of the best ideas I've ever heard.

  2. Trigger Mortis was the Bond continuation novel that I was waiting for. What a big difference it makes when you get an author who understands the genre.
    Both Faulks and Boyd are great authors, but I didn't feel that they knew the Bond universe and they created stories that were lacking any real tension, in my view.
    Glad you enjoyed it. I agree that the inclusion of Pussy Galore seemed to be there for no apparent reason beyond providing continuity between this book and the Goldfinger case. However, Horowitz made up for this by delivering a wonderful Bond book. I hope he gets another 007 gig in future.