Saturday, 14 June 2014

Steve Cole's other secret agent book


When the next Young Bond adventure, Shoot to Kill, is published in November this year, it won't be Steve Cole's first book about secret agents. This month saw the publication of Secret Agent Mummy, the first in a series of children's novels about an ancient Egyptian mummy who fights crime in the modern world. Inevitably I wondered whether the book showed any Bondian influences, and so read the book to look for James Bond memes.

The book begins with a visit by schoolboy Niall Rivers (geddit?) and his mother to a spooky-looking house on top of a hill to collect bric-a-brac for a fête. Niall notices a small figurine drop from a box. Picking it up, he is suddenly infused with some ancient power and can see things others can't. What he does see is a strange man wrapped in bandages and wearing a trench coat and hat spying on the house. Later Niall notices a pyramid in the garden next door, which he enters and meets the man in the bandages – Secret Agent Mummy. The mummy's mission is to capture the occupant of the spooky house (the sorcerer Azmal Sakra) and return him to Ka-Ba, the realm of the Egyptian gods.

I'm guessing that Steve Cole wrote the book before he began work on Shoot to Kill, and certainly there isn't any obvious reference to Young Bond. Indeed, references to James Bond appear to be absent, although there are allusions to general spy tropes which nevertheless recall aspects of the James Bond books and films.

One of these is the use of gadgets. Niall is something of a gadget-master, inventing all sorts of devices to spy on his annoying sister. Later he uses Secret Agent Mummy's workshop to repair the agent's part mechanical/part real dog, damaged after a run-in with Azmal Sakra. Secret Agent Mummy also carries gadgets, such as a pit-amids, a pyramid-shaped device used to create instant deep pits.

Secret Agent Mummy becomes known as Sam, but his code name is SAM 117. Thanks largely to 007, every spy in usually humorous espionage tales has a code name, although Sam's perhaps owes more to OSS 117, the code name of Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, the fictional spy created by Jean Bruce in 1949 and recently portrayed by Jean Dujardin in the films OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009).

The villain, evil sorcerer Azmal Sakra, has a few lines that wouldn't be out of place in an early Bond films (or at least a Bond parody). “We meet again, Niall Rivers,” he says at one point, bringing to mind the sort of lines attributed to Bond villains, such as “I've been expecting you, Mr Bond.” And after Sam stumbles into Azmal Sakra's hideout, Sakra says, “So you have found my secret lair at last.” The line is Bondian, as is the idea of a secret lair, which has become widespread and long-lived in popular culture, thanks to a large part to the Bond films, especially You Only Live Twice.

Steve Cole's Secret Agent Mummy is an enjoyable, entertaining read, and has made me all the more eager to read his Young Bond novel (and indeed his next Secret Agent Mummy book). Shoot to Kill is likely to be very different from Secret Agent Mummy, although both contain aspects of Ian Fleming's creation to lesser or greater extents.

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