Before Ian Fleming created the ever-suave superspy James Bond, he was an operative himself, working for the British in WWII. And after the war, as Fawcett (The Scottish Ploy, 2000, etc.) would have it, Fleming retired to Jamaica, where houseman Cesar and his young brother Joshua tended to his every need. This paradise is disrupted by the arrival of Sir William Potter, who tries to get Fleming back into the game. Secret American information about atomic bomb tests has been finding its way to the Russians. (Working with documents was Fleming’s specialty with naval intelligence.) Fleming entertains Sir William lavishly, planning to turn him down gently because he doesn’t want to compromise his brother, who still works for the government. His plans abruptly change when Sir William disappears during a pre-prandial stroll on the beach. Only his white dinner jacket is left behind, ominously slashed. When a murder and a dangerous explosion follow, Fleming comes out of retirement, if not to undertake the mission earmarked by Sir William, at least to learn the identity of the nobleman’s kidnapper or killer. A shaggy odyssey that’s half scavenger hunt takes Fleming from Jamaica to New Orleans and west to Arizona, where he learns some secrets of the Manhattan Project and faces a murderous cabal. Along the way, he’s assisted by a series of inscrutable beauties who suggest early studies for Bond girls.
Fawcett describes brunches and betrayals with equal elegance. Fleming’s adventure mirrors his personality: leisurely, wordy, intellectual. Savvy readers will be way ahead of the “surprise” solution.