Anthony Horowitz’s With a Mind to Kill is his third James Bond novel. This one features Bond going undercover and pretending to still be under a level of brainwashing. He must contend with the Soviet forces, the fact that many of his own people believe him to be a traitor, and Colonol Boris who managed to break him once already. Characters in this book feel approriate to a James Bond story, with more than a little addition of personal pathos and consideration.
This is true for Bond, who sees the world changing and has to reflect even as he ruthlessly does his duty. The antagonists remain delightfully over-the-top, and feel like proper foils for the character. Colonel Boris in particular is a gruesome figure, proud of his ability to turn people into disposable tools.
As usual there is a female character who comes to something of a bad end. Better than many James Bond stories in the past she is given her own character arc, with surprisingly detailed motivations. It is through her observations about the history Bond has with women that something of a retcon occurs to the original Ian Fleming novels that this volume supposedly shares continuity with. Specifically, she makes a note that Bond has never “forced himself on a woman who did not want him (page 99). Given that there is a very good argument James Bond committed a number of acts of rape in the original stories, this retcon is hard to ignore, but very appreciated for anyone wanting to sympathize with the man even slightly.
The look at Cold War politics is surprisingly nuanced and realistic compared to the works of Ian Fleming as well, yet in a way that leave the volume still feeling appropriate to the era and characters. Indeed the way that Khrushchev is used in the story is quite clever, as are the various expectations of different individuals relating to the future of the USSR.
There are a number of twists in this story, some of which a reader might predict quite early and others which might surprise them. None feel inappropriate to the tale overall, and none are likely to upset a reader by being obvious. Instead even when a reader anticipates a twist, the skillful rating of Anthony Horowitz ensures that they are more curious how it will affect the coming plot. In small ways the predictability of the plot comes down to this being an official James Bond novel.
The afterword is quite interesting, including explanations by the author about how he managed to incorporate prose written by Fleming. The discussions about his writing process were also quite nice, down to some of his research sources.
With a Mind to Kill is a solid addition to the James Bond literary world. While not identical to the original stories featuring the character, it outmatches them in certain ways and attempts to modernize concepts about the lead character without simply disowning what came before. For anyone interested in the character this book is easy to recommend, and for fans of historical espionage it is well worth the read as well.
(Harper Collins, 2022)