This week I went and saw Skyfall. I know, I know, only weeks after everyone else. I am never going to be one of those cool types who only listens to unsigned bands and rocks a retro look rather than looking like they haven’t bought any new clothes for a decade (I’ve been busy & I’m tall so I always bang my elbows on dressing cubicle walls which is bloody painful and puts me off, ok?)
I realised I hadn’t read any Bond novels, so I thought I would go to my beloved local charity bookshop and get one to write about here. Like a Bond villain, I was foiled in this (not so dastardly) plan, through them not having any in stock. However, they did have the brilliant Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book (Harper Perennial, 1965, 2009) for the bargain price of £3, which I thought was a suitable alternative. It has the greatest cover I’ve ever seen on a cook book, and may replace Are You Hungry Tonight? Elvis’ Favourite Recipes (Bluewood Books, 1992) as my culinary bible.
I wish Len was my father, as rather than “it’s never too early to start a pension plan”, his advice runs along the lines of: “taste a new cheese two or three times a week” (in fairness to my father, he would probably endorse the latter exhortation as well as the former). I most certainly will, Mr Deighton. As my cholesterol climbs alongside my girth I will be safe in the knowledge that I am doing your sophisticated 1960s-style bidding. He also counsels: “Do not forgive the guest who prods or pummels your Camembert”. I wouldn’t dream of doing so. That kind of behaviour is unforgiveable, and frankly anyone I invite into my home is lucky to be offered any coagulated milk products. I guard my cheese jealously, and they’re definitely not getting their hands on my Roquefort (not a euphemism).
If you want to plan a party as if you were an urbane thriller writer, Len Deighton allows the following alcohol per guest: “half a bottle per head each two hours. Oddly enough, for each subsequent two hours you must allow three-quarters of a bottle per head, since drinking will increase if they haven’t gone by then”. Oddly enough? Oddly enough? That throwaway adverbial phrase creates a casual tone that belies the fact that for a guest who arrives at 9pm and leaves at 3am (because who’s going to leave after 2 hours? How shit is this party?) Len Deighton suggests you need 3 entire bottles per person. I’ve been a student for more of my adult life than is strictly decent, and even to me that seems….actually, fair play. Maybe allow a few extra just in case.
But this isn’t supposed to be a blog about cookery books, which is clearly working well so far. Third entry and I’m totally off topic. Fear not, I will redeem myself thusly: for spy fiction, even if you don’t normally read spy fiction, Madame Bibi recommends Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box novels. I don’t normally read spy fiction (hence Ian Fleming and I are strangers, and my local charity shop conspires to keep us so) but I made an exception for these as Mark Gatiss seems totally lovely so I’m happy to give him my money, and he has done such a great job writing various television scripts over the last few years that I reasoned I was probably in safe hands.
How right I was. The Vesuvius Club (2004), The Devil in Amber (2006), Black Butterfly (2008) (all Pocket Books) are all witty, plot-driven light reads that revel in the genre. You’ll enjoy them, I promise, it’s impossible not to as they clearly are enjoying themselves so much:
“I nodded and took out my cigarette case. It is flat and well-polished with my initials in Gothic script upon it, yet it has never been called upon to save my life by absorbing the impact of a bullet. That’s what servants are for.”
You have to be a bit in love with the hero in this type of story, and here it’s easy as Lucifer is described as completely gorgeous, and in possession of that type of arch, dry wit that makes me think he’d be a nonchalant cigarette smoker:
“It was midway between the fish course and the pudding, as Supple began another interminable tale, that I did the decent thing and shot him.”
Plus he likes boys and girls, so there’s none of that probably-overcompensating-for-something-that-happened-at-Eton vibe that you get with Bond.
Lucifer is also brave and dashing, adept at everything, and more than likely slightly sociopathic – all you would expect from your heroic spy:
“Taking up a desert spoon, I dug it into Supple’s left socket and carefully removed the old fellow’s glass eye…I looked at the iris and smiled. It was just the shade of green I had in mind for a new tie and now I had a match for my tailor. What a happy accident!”
Alas, apparently there are no plans for any further Lucifer outings, but at least that means you can embrace these without worrying they will descend into formulaic flabbiness, unlike some other series that suck you in then break your heart with their money-grubbing mediocrity ………..no names.
Here are my books exchanging a message (OK, my ticket to Skyfall) on a park bench in true spy style (before it all went digital). Admittedly it should probably have been St James’ and not Regent’s Park, but I was closer to Regent’s and I’m very, very lazy. My copy of The Vesuvius Club is in cunning disguise as Are You Hungry Tonight?
The drop went OK, in case you were wondering.