William Boyd’s new James Bond novel Solo – reviews

From a "brilliant imitation" that remains "utterly credible" to a "shaky story that left me curiously unstirred", we've gathered together the early critics' reactions...


Bond is back for another outing. No, they haven’t put the accelerator on film number 24 – this time 007 is in literary guise in a new novel written by William Boyd. It’s a brave man who takes on Ian Fleming’s iconic spy, but according to early reviews of Solo, the life-long fan of all things Bond has done a fairly decent job…


Boyd’s novel is set in 1969 and sees Bond sent on a mission to the fictional African nation of Zanzarin to put a halt to the civil war that’s ravaging the country. Ignoring M’s orders, Bond goes in pursuit of his own brand of justice – with the aid of a beautiful accomplice – leading him to Washington DC where he witnesses a fresh batch of horrors. 

Robert McCrum in The Guardian terms Solo “a success as it assigns James Bond a new mission”. He goes on to name Boyd’s Afro-American adventure “triumphantly the equal of the great Bond adventures, Casino Royale and From Russia, with Love… It’s not the real thing – how could it be? – but, dare one say, a brilliant imitation that’s occasionally superior to the prototype.”

According to Geoffrey Wansell in The Daily Mail, “William Boyd brings back the real Bond, triumphantly.” He goes on to state, “the way Boyd’s Bond shamelessly eyes up women, harks back to a chauvinist English class system, and smokes and drinks as if such vices were going out of fashion – remains utterly credible.”

“He has kept the legend alive while not tarnishing it, nor diminishing it for a single moment,” he concludes. “Bond is most certainly back between hard covers, with a vengeance.”

David Sexton in The Evening Standard pays five paragraphs-worth of attention to the amount of alcohol consumed by Boyd’s Bond. “Has any author ever been so assiduous in keeping his protagonist topped up,” he questions. “It seems almost to be Boyd’s chief preoccupation in this otherwise rather inattentive novel.”

Disagreeing with his fellow critics, Sexton concludes that “Boyd’s heart isn’t really in it, apart from the tippling… Perhaps we shouldn’t blame Bond for titrating himself so incessantly to get through this lame outing.”

The Telegraph‘s Jon Stock gives Solo three stars and praises the author for the scenes he sets in Africa: “It’s here that Boyd spreads his literary wings. The poised, lyrical writing is a pleasure to read, the prose sprinkled with apt similes. But it’s also where the book gets bogged down in an increasingly convoluted plot. Boyd’s Bond works on the streets of Chelsea but in Africa he abandons his journalist cover and morphs into a pseudo-mercenary, at one point orchestrating the military recapture of an entire village.” 

Stock claims that the novel’s ending “collapses under the sheer weight of exposition”, concluding, “it’s a shaky story that left me curiously unstirred.”

And finally, Cathy Rentzenbrink writes in The Bookseller declares that “Boyd has completely pulled off an excellent and absorbing spy story, layered with gloriously sensual detail of everything that is possible to consume, while emphasising the thoughtful, reflective aspect of a man who is a killing machine for his country.”

Solo by William Boyd is released today – Thursday 26 September