With a Mind to Kill by Anthony Horowitz review – 007 in a polished page-turner

Bond is headhunted by Smersh in a plot to eliminate the moderate Khrushchev in this rollicking Russian spy story

Anthony Horowitz’s third James Bond tale begins both dynamically and canonically. It starts immediately after the events of Ian Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun, at M’s funeral; his murderer is none other than 007, who has now been brainwashed by the Russians and turned into their prime asset. Nothing is as it seems, though, and a labyrinthine game of spycraft develops, with Bond caught between British intelligence and a dastardly group of Smersh villains who regard Khrushchev as too moderate. They wish to recruit the British spy to further their nefarious plans. Will they succeed? Or will Bond save the day?

This is the first 007 novel to be published post-No Time to Die, which ended with the death of Bond. A similar sense of unpredictability permeates With a Mind to Kill. The secret agent depicted here is an ageing, vulnerable figure, weary both from torture and from years of deceiving everyone around him; this is not so very far from the Daniel Craig incarnation, but I was also reminded of William Boyd’s poignant representation of an over-the-hill Bond in his 2013 African-set novel Solo. At one point, a junior MI5 agent angrily says to 007: “Whatever you were is gone… there are no heroes any more, and you’re just the lowest of the low.” Strong stuff.

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