Sep 11, 2016

Donald E. Westlake's Sort-of James Bond Book Coming Out Next Year

Hard Case Crime announced recently (via Birth. Movies. Death.) that they will release a "lost" novel by the late, prolific crime writer Donald E. Westlake next year entitled Forever and a Death. And it's sort of a James Bond novel. But not really. After GoldenEye, EON Productions hired Westlake, who was probably most famous for his Parker novels (written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark) to develop a script for the next Pierce Brosnan 007 movie. In addition to having had many of his books filmed (most famously John Boorman's Point Blank with Lee Marvin), Westlake himself was also an accomplished screenwriter, and received an Oscar nomination for his script for Stephen Frears' 1990 film The Grifters, adapted from the Jim Thompson novel. (Frears would have his own brush with Bond at the end of Brosnan's tenure, when he almost directed Jinx, a spinoff about Halle Berry's Die Another Day character... but that's neither here nor there.) No actual Bond script emerged from Westlake's efforts, but he did produce two different treatments along with 007 producer and frequent screenwriter Michael G. Wilson. While it's likely that some of their ideas ended up in some form shaping the film that became Tomorrow Never Dies (that's just how the development process works), the final film written by Bruce Feirstein was a totally different animal, and Westlake did not receive a story credit. Since Westlake's passing in 2008, the magazine MI6 Confidential reported that the author (never one to let a good idea go to waste, according to Hard Case) had turned one of these treatments into a novel, never published. In 2017, that will no longer be the case when Hard Case releases it as Forever and a Death (words you can even sing to the tune of Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" theme song!).

Obviously, the protagonist of this novel will not be James Bond, but I think it's probably a decent assumption that he will share some traits with Ian Fleming's secret agent. I suppose Westlake's estate could have gone with a Canadian publisher, as Bond is in the public domain in that country, and published it as a Bond novel, but then they probably couldn't have gotten Wilson to pen the afterward. (Birth. Movies. Death. indicates that "one of the Bond producers" has done just that, and I would assume that producer is Wilson.) According to Hard Case's synopsis, "the plot Westlake dreamed up—about a British businessman seeking to destroy Hong Kong after being kicked out when the island was returned to Chinese sovereignty—had all the action and excitement, the danger and the sex appeal, of a classic Bond film—but for whatever reason, the Bond folks decided not to use it." So next year Bond fans will get a taste of a Bond film that might have been, and collectors will acquire an interesting oddity to shelve adjacent to their legit 007 titles.

Tomorrow Never Dies has already inspired two great theme songs. (David Arnold's brilliant, rejected title track, performed by k.d. lang, ended up playing over the end credits as "Surrender.") Could it now, in a sort of circuitous fashion, also inspire two great novels? (Raymond Benson's official novelization of Feirstein's screenplay is one of the best Bond novelizations.) We'll find out next June! In the meantime, you can read a sample chapter on the Hard Case Crime website.

The cool, decidedly Bondian, McGinnis-inspired cover artwork is by Paul Mann.


teeritz said...

This will be interesting to read. Thanks for the heads-up!

Silent Hunter said...

The handover of Hong Kong is the basis of Raymond Benson's "Zero Minus Ten", I would point out.

Tanner said...

You're welcome, Teeritz! Yeah, it should definitely be an interesting read.

Great point, Silent Hunter. My understanding is that EON abandoned notions of a plot dealing directly with the handover for fear it would date too quickly (and I think they were right), but Benson and Glidrose had no such qualms. Obviously the general Far East locale remained from those initial discussions, and certainly the pace and tone of a Hong Kong action movie, which is a large part of why I love TOMORROW NEVER DIES so much. It's got a unique feel among the Bond series.

Interestingly, while EON may have backed off of direct references to the handover, Benson still peppered them throughout his novelization of TND. I don't know if that means that they came from an earlier script draft, or just that he wanted to make it relevant and/or reference his own original novel ZMT. In the novelization, I remember Carver was forced to move his Far Eastern base of operations from HK to Saigon because of the handover, and a general grudge related to that (and his own HK upbringing) fuels his motivation to pit a war between Britain and China.

Kees said...

Thanks for this Tanner, and I agree fully about Tomorrow Never Dies.
BTW did I miss your Jason Bourne review?