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For Heaven’s Eyes Only by Simon R Green

There are two questions floating around in my head after finishing For Heaven’s Eyes Only from Simon R. Green. The first is, I suppose, rather trite: what do we expect from a book? The second: what’s the effect of humour when it doesn’t match our own? As to the first, I could talk about wanting to be entertained or hoping for some intellectual stimulation. We pays our money and we wants good value. So, in our search for a book, we cast about for authors who can lift us up when we’re down, can give us a white-knuckle ride when we want thrills, can offer us the brain food to keep our mental processes ticking over, or whatever. That’s what these marketing gurus get paid to do when they classify books by genres, hoping to pander to our expectations through the jacket artwork and the blurbs. So how should we react when what’s billed as a fantasy/horror book turns out to be attempted humour?

Well, I suppose there’s humour and humour. Sometimes an author can invert our expectations and have fun subverting the genre. In short doses, such playfulness can actually be very amusing as our barbarian with rippling muscles turns out to be a gay librarian, or we glimpse the life of our prime minister as a Vegan vampire. Notice I said “short” doses. The problem with one-trick ponies is that, as the name suggests, their repertoire of tricks is limited and, after you’ve seen the same thing three or four times, the experience quickly grows boring. So you couldn’t write an entire novel about a straight orangutan appointed as a librarian, but you could get a smile by briefly meeting him in a novel about something else.

So let’s take this head-on by briefly considering two other authors. In the Laundry novels and short stories, Charles Stross explores Lovecraftian ideas in different styles. So, for example, The Atrocity Archives “borrows” from Len Deighton, The Jennifer Morgue channels the James Bond films while, theoretically, The Fuller Memorandum draws on Anthony Price. Notice how the targets to pastiche or lampoon change so that we don’t get too tired of the joke. Moving on to Kim Newman, he created the character Richard Jeperson based on the 1960s and 70s television shows The Avengers, Department S, and so on. These stories are a mostly affectionate look-back at the kitsch culture of the time, again varying the themes so we can be reminded of the horrors of the time without being overwhelmed. In a sense, my test for accepting or rejecting such work is whether the joke drives the plot or the plot just happens to include elements we might recognise from other work. This gives us a kind of litmus test to decide whether the story can stand on its own or is only “good” because it apes another’s style or creativity. To answer this for Charles Stross, I think the best of the Laundry stories draw their inspiration from the Lovecraft universe while mocking the idiocy of bureaucracies and drawing inherent humour from the situations in which the characters find themselves. Depending on the readers to recognise ideas from the work of others is a slippery slope to unoriginality.

Simon R. Green in an environmentally friendly setting

So back to Simon R. Green and For Heaven’s Eyes Only. This is the fifth in the Secret Histories series about Eddie Drood/Shaman Bond and his ever reliable witch partner, Molly Metcalf. Essentially, Green is out to have “fun” with everything even vaguely Bondian. This runs the gamut from incorporating versions of entire scenes from Bond films — like that bit in Tomorrow Never Dies where Bond has only seconds to steal the plane and fly it away from the mountain-top, weapons-for-terrorists sale convention before the cruise missile launched by the British navy hits — to sly little jokes and references that only the true aficionados would pick up. If you can be bothered to wade through all the detail, you can’t help but admire Green’s determination to pack every last possible joke in the text, no matter how feeble. Except, no matter laudable this input of effort, it’s all for nothing.

The real problem lies in the completely unsympathetic nature of Eddie Drood. This is a man in a suit of impermeable armour who, when his dander is up, will kill every one and thing he considers “evil”. It’s like he and the other Droods are on a holy mission to exterminate the bad guys. This is tiresome. When they can just stand there and absorb more or less whatever the enemy throw at them, there’s no sense of danger or hazard. These are men who can decide who lives so, to put it mildly, when they are not personally at risk, their morality in killing the opposition is decidedly grey. For Shaman Bond, we also have the Adam West/Batman syndrome. Wearing my Batman disguise, I’ll just sit at this table in the back of this busy restaurant and no-one will notice me. So Shaman Bond infiltrates meetings, stands at the back or next to the bar, and becomes invisible until it’s convenient for the enemy to notice him. I don’t mind an author making the same joke once or twice but, like the other repeated jokes, it gets tedious as the series continues.

For Heaven’s Eyes Only has a weak plot with the overall effect depending on you liking a non-stop James Bond pastiche. In other books, the cliffhanger ending might have rescued some of the situation and led to enough curiosity to generate sales for the next in the series. Unfortunately, it just caps the idiocy of what has gone before. How can this be a surprise to Eddie and Molly when their protocols call for regular contact with the other Droods? Since this book goes on for 368 pages, you’d better be a real fan to read it and find it exciting all the way through. If you’ve already read the other four, to embark on this as the fifth volume requires a degree of fortitude I can only vaguely understand. It’s so far above my own levels of courage and endurance as to be almost superhuman.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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