My thanks go out to the lovely Helen, representing Helen Richardson PR, for inviting me on this Blog Tour journey and for supplying a complimentary review copy of the book.
THE SPY WHO INSPIRED ME
For legal reasons, The Spy Who Inspired Me does not mention J*mes B*nd. Which is a shame, because it is a comedy based on the idea that I*n Fl*ming’s famously macho spy might have been inspire by a woman.
It is April 1944, and chic armchair naval officer Ian Lemming (yes, Lemming) is accidentally beached in Nazi-occupied Normandy.
With no access to a razor or clean underwear, and deprived of his cigarettes, Lemming just wants to go home. But he is stranded with a young, though hugely experienced, female agent called Margaux Lynd, who is on a perilous mission to unmask traitors in a French Resistance network.
So, as she bullies him across France, Lemming receives a painful crash course in spy craft, and starts to fantasize about a fictional agent – male of course – who would operate only in the most luxurious conditions, and lord it over totally subservient women.
A world-famous spy is born…
Stephen grew up on the south coast of England, leaving to study French and German at Oxford.
Following University and a slew of uninspiring jobs, Stephen moved to Glasgow and then on to Paris, where he secured a job as a journalist for an English-language magazine.
Stephen had always continued to write fiction, which he began self-publishing, before finding himself an agent and being offered a deal with a major publisher. He is the bestselling author of the hugely popular Merde series of comedy novels and several serious-yet-humorous books on Anglo-French history.
He has also written two stage shows based on his books, a French radio sit-com and a radio play, alongside material for stand-up comedians and lyrics for singers.
Keep up to date with all Stephen’s news on his website
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“In World War Two there really were female undercover agents who were ten times tougher and braver than Ian Fleming. I thought it would be great fun to send him (or rather, someone very like him) on a dangerous mission with one of these women who would show him what real spies got up to.”
NIGHT-TIME, OCCUPIED FRANCE, EARLY APRIL 1944
“Lemming realized that he was genuinely scared of this girl, even though they were supposedly on the same side.
She seemed to recognize the effect that she had on him.
‘I don’t think you truly understand my job, Ian,’ she said. ‘A secret agent in the field has only one duty. That is to survive long enough to carry out our mission. And we will do anything, anything, to achieve that goal.’
‘In that case, don’t you think you have ought to have tried to -‘
The fires in her eyes were burning again.
‘Don’t ever doubt me.’ she said. ‘Don’t ever accuse me of doing less than I possibly can for our mission.’
He had frequently thought of himself flatteringly as something of a lady-killer. But this young woman was a genuine lady killer – a female assassin, a feminine bumper-off.
And he was seriously afraid that he might be her next victim”
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM THE STORY
“You’re very easy to read, you know. You’re a book waiting to be written. A manual for women on how to fend off predatory men”
“This war was changing England’s social order, bringing people into close contact who would barely have spoken to each other before”
“Even worse than the lack of space was the stink. It was multi-layered, and the diametric opposite of a good wine: first to hit your palate was the sickly scent of diesel. Then came the heady aroma of unwashed bodies. Finally there were subtle notes of stagnant water, in which someone had long ago dumped a cargo of cabbages. All this with an ambient metallic aftertaste, like something Lemming had once experienced after food poisoning. A decent cigarette would at least dull the foulness, he thought, but one spark and the heady blend of chemicals in the atmosphere would probably combust”
“God, he thought, what a woman. He was suddenly seized with a desire to crush her with a kiss and make love to her on this dirty sacking, in this sordid hut. With any other woman, if they had been sheltering from a storm, he would have done so. Or suggested doing so. But now something stopped him. And it came as a shock to realize that it was respect. Plain respect. He felt that this woman was his equal in every way. Superior, even, in some of them. He had never felt that way about a woman before. Leaving aside the question of physical strength, he had always felt, or been allowed to feel, dominant. Even if the women were partially play-acting for his sake, he had always been ready to fulfil the role of the decider, the inciter, the alpha male. Even after an evening of sophisticated conversation, on an equal footing, women became mere objects of his desire. Margaux was desirable, certainly, but she was different. Usually he would heave propositioned her despite her rejection in London, and not cared if his advances had been rejected again. But now he found that he did not want to offend her in any way. If something was going to happen between them, it had to come from her. It was a startling new sensation”
“When she went to bed with a man during wartime, he thought, it would be an extreme experience, enjoyed in the full awareness of life and death. There would be little or no romantic attachment. It would be purely, urgently, sexual. And as ephemeral as the physical sensations it provoked. This, he realized, was because a woman like her, could never really fall in love, or let anyone fall in love with her. The very existence of that love would make both her and the man vulnerable. If her lover was captured, she might do anything to save him, putting her mission at risk. But if he betrayed her, he had to die. So the true secret agent was doomed to be alone, and profoundly cold at heart”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you!”
“A spoof with suspense!” is how its author, Stephen Clarke describes this book and I probably couldn’t agree with that more. The pitch, pace, style and overall tone of the story, was apparent from the very first line and kept true to its beginnings, right to the very last full stop!
This unique and unconventional book still held on loosely to what I personally enjoy as a format for any story; it had a good opening which had me intrigued; a storyline that kept me wanting more and with some serious undertones which I also found interesting, but also a few laugh out loud moments; to an ending which although totally in keeping with the characters and as I soon worked out the wider spoof theme of the book (for any of you who are B*nd fans), wasn’t what I had expected, but left me satisfied with the outcome.
Whilst all the names in the book have been changed and aliased, including a good few notable names from the literary world, in an extremely humorous and clever way I might add, their real-life counterparts are fairly obvious for all to detect, in this full-blown parody of a story about one of the world’s most favourite fictional spies, as he embarks on what might well have been his debut adventure and which makes a fitting prologue to the long running book and film series, he has since made his own! Or, is this nothing more complicated than a nod to said spy books’ author, as he sets out on his own hypothetical, personal journey, resulting in the germ of an idea from which both stories, characters and films all stemmed!
Some of the nuances are subtle and needed a second take on the narrative to unravel them, some of them are about the size of a brick and hit you full-on in the face, just so there’s no mistaking what they are! That’s what makes this both a fun and frustrating read, at one and the same time.
A good mix of plot and character driven narrative meant I had to be on the ball to keep up with all the innuendo and double entendre, which throughout the book constantly vied for attention with the suspense action scenes, where the much more serious subject of the actions of the World War Two French Resistance took centre stage, despite such forays still being treated to the skilled writing of a Stephen Clarke ‘makeover’.
I didn’t really find myself engaging with either of the two main protagonists, one of whom is as secretive and insular, as the other is gregarious and flamboyant, and neither have much genuine depth or loyalty. But I think that is exactly how Stephen intended it to be, as their union and mission are a transient moment in time, from which they are both destined to move on.
Margaux is the much stronger and multi-faceted character of the two and finds herself tasked with having to ‘babysit’ Leming, which she does with ill disguised disgust and contempt (although I suspect that she does come to have a grudging respect for him by the time the operation is over), whilst she completes her latest and definitely most difficult mission. She discovers that she personally has to pay a high price to avoid The Resistance being infiltrated and brought to its knees, which she does without hesitation and only the slightest of wobbles. I had thought that at this point she might have shown a modicum of emotion or distress, however Stephen has made her of sterner stuff than that and she leaves a very open-mouthed and quite distressed Lemming standing, as she moves quickly on.
Whilst our reluctant, chain-smoking, hero moans and grumbles his way through just about every aspect of the mission; from the fact that he can’t shower and shave daily, to his cigarettes have almost run out; that he has to share a pen with the pig in order to evade capture, to having remember how to ride a bike fast enough to outrun his captors and then have enough lung capacity to do it! I guess what really makes this self-confessed, lady-killer most upset though, is that Margaux has been given authority to run the show and she doesn’t trust him enough to confide in him what the mission is – plus she doesn’t immediately fall for his charms and has no intention of sleeping with him at the first opportunity which presents itself! There are signs that Lemming is beginning to realise just how self-centred he is, that he is not a team player, that he genuinely believes he is better than everyone else, and that he definitely believes he is God’s gift to all women!
So is this leopard about to change his spots? – Ah! now that would be telling!
Whilst I might have been asked to consider the idea that F*eming’s spy character B*nd might have indeed been inspired by a woman, as a keen B*nd fan and having watched the many characters who have taken and adapted his persona over the years, it appears to me that the character of Lemming is B*nd down to a ‘T’ and definitely nothing like his uber organised and methodical female companion.
This book is a timely and fitting tribute to the late S*an Co*nery, the man who for me, will always be synonymous with the character of J*mes B*nd.
However from Lemmings point of view, I think even he would agree, that the ‘female of the species is more deadly than the male!’
A PDF copy of this book for review and promotional purposes, was kindly gifted to me by the PR company.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 4 out of 5 stars!
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