Bond has a baby and the babushkas dance


Bond has a baby and the babushkas dance

Our expert in espionage, secret agent LINZA DE JAGER, devoured a 007-like suspense story.


THIS book was written with a target market in mind. I'm that market because I loved James Bond, and if he had a descendant now, I'd be delighted. In fact, I'd attend the baptism ceremony and bring a small gift. When we meet Argylle's hero, Aubrey Argylle, he is a burned-out beach bum in Thailand, incapable of overcoming the murder of his drug-smuggling parents.

His life is saved when the omniscient CIA recruits him as an agent. Why the organisation would hire someone like Argylle becomes clear over time. At first, however, he struggles to fit in with his team. The reception he gets from his fellow agents isn't exactly cordial. The only bright spot is his female boss, Frances Coffey, who recognises his exceptional talents. He is extremely intelligent, he thinks outside the box and he knows several forms of Eastern martial arts. Get the picture?

Argylle appreciates his boss in turn. And yes, she's probably a substitute for his mother. However, Coffey is also a master spy, making superhuman demands on her agents. They have to thwart the plans of Vasily Federov, a right-wing Russian politician. Federov stands a chance of becoming the next president of Russia because he has a powerful trump card: he promised the electorate that he would bring the legendary Amber Room, which was stolen by the Nazis from Catherine Palace in St Petersburg during World War 2, back to Russia.

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The Amber Room was described in its day as the eighth wonder of the world due to the fact that its wall panels consisted of amber and gold. We are dealing here with a precious treasure and a terrible opponent. Federov is known in certain circles as “The Black Hole" and he keeps a mysterious prisoner in the basement of his palace. The author worked hard to create a thug, and it works, even though Federov is so one-dimensional that it would be a bit much in real life.

When Federov pays millions for a bracelet that belonged to Napoleon III's wife, Eugénie, the CIA smells a rat. Why would he spend so much on a bracelet? The task force has to steal the bracelet and find out. After this, the pawpaw hits the fan and what follows is a treasure hunt.

The most practical clue is a map a prisoner carved on a piece of wood during World War 2. Nothing falls into the CIA's lap during this search for the Amber Room, and wherever its agents go, the Russians show up almost immediately. There's a traitor in the task force and that's one of the reasons, we learn, why the CIA hired Argylle.

The search for the Amber Room includes action-packed episodes filled with classic James Bond ingredients. There's also glamour and interesting places — our heroes aren't languishing in ugly locations. The search for the Amber Room takes Argylle and his henchmen to Fontainebleau in France, Monaco, a monastery on Mount Athos in Greece and a mysterious bunker in Poland.

There's food for thought for history aficionados and it's interesting to consider what's fact and what's fiction. The bunker is full of artefacts from the Nazi era. Here, among other things, is a train (fake) with bottles of the Führerwein (fact) made for Hitler's 54th birthday. The general feeling is that the Amber Room is also in the bunker. But Federov and his thugs show up and they're in a deadly mood. At this point, the traitor also emerges … and I must say, the traitor's identity caught me off guard (although I couldn't help sympathising with them, and I don't think anyone will disagree).

It's a clever book. Not literature-clever but smart in a blockbuster-and-moneymaking way. You know there were big plans for Argylle because on the cover, filmmaker Matthew Vaughn declares that it is “the most incredible spy franchise since Ian Fleming".

Something that doesn't work for me is the ridiculousness surrounding the author's identity. On the cover, the author's name is given as Elly Conway. A short biography reveals that she started writing after a terrible accident. It was during this period that Argylle appeared to her fully formed. “The book wrote itself," Conway writes, adding, “please don't hate me, guys". My irritation levels rise at the saccharine tone of voice.

Argylle was in fact written by Terry Hayes (I Am Pilgrim and The Year of the Locust) and Tammy Cohen (When She Was Bad and They All Fall Down). Perhaps I should temper my criticism. Cohen is fond of pseudonyms, but in this case the consequences have snowballed. There were even rumours that Taylor Swift wrote the book. I ask you. 

The book has been made into a movie but I think I'll give it a miss because it looks like it's been tampered with.

At the end of the book, Argylle rises above the madness that surrounds it. The ingredients are brilliance, action and the battle between good and evil. However, my greatest pleasure was to google the historical references. It became a personal treasure hunt and I wouldn't mind reading more adventures of Aubrey Argylle.

Who, what, where and how much?

Argylle by Elly Conway is published by Transworld and costs R390 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

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