Thursday 27 September 2018

Who matches up with Bond?

Being a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, I was recently given a copy of Match Up, an anthology of short stories that pair up well-established characters from thrillers and crime fiction. The volume is edited by Lee Child, and naturally Jack Reacher makes an appearance, teaming up with Kathy Reichs' forensic anthropologist, Dr Temperance Brennan.

The idea of character crossovers is nothing new, though is largely restricted to television, films and comics, especially of the superhero kind (though I remember a somewhat bizarre episode of Murder She Wrote in which amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher joins forces with Magnum PI). Characters from different novels rarely share the page together.

Unsurprisingly, Match Up got me thinking about James Bond and which other character he could join in an adventure. There are plenty to choose from – the many rivals in 1960s spy fiction for Bond's crown, for example – but there are two characters I'd put on my shortlist: Philip Marlowe and Jules Maigret. Their respective authors, Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon, both have a connection to Ian Fleming. Fleming certainly admired their work. He knew Chandler well and had met and conversed with Simenon about their respective books. 

I would also like to find out the answer of an intriguing question. Raymond Chandler was once asked who would win if they found themselves up against each other, Bond or Marlowe? With a story featuring both characters, we might have a chance of finding out.

Actually, come to think of it, there is already a ‘match up’ of sorts – Clive Cussler’s Night Probe, featuring marine adventurer Dirk Pitt and a British agent called Brian Shaw. Clive Cussler based Shaw on Bond and indeed is reported to have intended the character to be Bond but was prevented by legalities.

There was another aspect about Match Up that interested me. In Lee Child and Kathy Reichs' story, Brennan is framed for the murder of a journalist, who had been investigating the suicide of an air force officer, one Calder Massee. It was believed that journalist had evidence that supported claims that Massee had in fact been murdered and that Brennan was part of the cover-up. But Reacher knows that it was a case of suicide and joins Brennan to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. 

How does Reacher know? The air force officer had been exposed as a spy, having passed secrets to the Russians (the back story is set during the 1980s at the tail end of the Cold War). As an officer in the military police, Reacher is sent to confront and arrest Massee. When they meet, they talk. Reacher later recounts, 'I laid out the situation. He begged me to let him shoot himself. He wanted to spare his family the disgrace.' 

Suicide to avoid dishonour is a familiar trope in fiction, but I couldn't help thinking of Ian Fleming's Octopussy, in which James Bond, investigating the theft of gold and the death of a mountain guide in Austria at the end of the war, catches up with the perpetrator, Major Dexter Smythe, and offers him the chance to put his affairs in order and commit suicide, thus sparing Smythe the disgrace of a trial.

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