When, two years ago, it was announced that Sebastian Faulks would be ‘being Ian Fleming’ and writing the 36th James Bond novel, Devil May Care, Bond fans rejoiced. Faulks, the award-winning author of Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, was personally requested by the trustees of 007 creator Ian Fleming’s estate, and the book was released on May 28 last year to coincide with what would have been Fleming’s 100th birthday. One year later, it's coming out on paperback. So sit back (not too far, or your screen will fade from view), and let the sex, violence, charm and opium consume you. If you like what you read, buy the paperback version of the book here.

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It took Bond almost ten minutes to get the ‘Locomotive’, the Bentley Continental he’d had rebuilt to his own specification, as far as Sloane Square. London seemed to have gone slightly off its head in the time he’d been away. Every zebra crossing on the King’s Road was packed with long-haired young people, ambling across, standing and talking or, in one remarkable case, sitting cross-legged in the road. With the convertible hood down, Bond could smell the bonfire whiff of marijuana he’d previously associated only with souks in the grubbier Moroccan towns. He blipped the throttle and heard the rumble of the twin two-inch exhausts.

"Bond could smell the bonfire whiff of marijuana he’d previously associated only with souks in the grubbier Moroccan towns"

Eventually, he made it to Sloane Street and up through Hyde Park where the speedometer touched sixty as the Arnott supercharger made light of the car’s customized bulk. Bond turned the car into the right-hand bend on the racing line and just missed the apex he was aiming for as he came out of the left-hander. He was out of practice, but it was nothing serious. This is more like it, he thought, an early summer day in London, the wind in his face and an urgent meeting with his boss.

All too soon he was in Regent’s Park, then at the headquarters of the Service. He tossed the car keys to the startled doorman and took the lift to the eighth floor. At her station outside M’s door sat Miss Moneypenny, a tailored Cerberus at the gates of whatever underworld awaited him. ‘James,’ she said, failing to keep the elation from her voice. ‘How wonderful to see you. How was your holiday?’

‘Sabbatical, Moneypenny. There’s a difference. Anyway, it was fine. A little too long for my taste. And how’s my favourite gatekeeper?’

‘Never better, thank you, James.’

It was true. Miss Moneypenny wore a severe black-and-white hound’s-tooth suit with a white blouse and a blue cameo brooch at the throat, but her skin was flushed with girlish excitement.

Bond inclined his head towards the door. ‘And the old man?’

Miss Moneypenny made a sucking noise over her teeth. ‘A bit cranky, to be honest, James. He’s taken up . . .’ She crooked her finger in invitation to him to come closer. As he inclined his head, she whispered in his ear. Bond felt her lips against his skin.

"Do you know what baci means in Italian, James? It means ‘‘kisses’’"

‘Yoga!’ Bond exploded. ‘What in God’s – ’

Moneypenny laughed as she raised a finger to her lips. ‘Has the whole world gone raving mad in my absence?’

‘Calm down, James, and tell me what’s in that pretty red bag you’re carrying.’

‘Chocolates,’ said Bond. ‘M asked me to bring some from Rome.’ He showed her the box of Perugian Baci in their distinctive blue-and-silver wrapping.

‘Do you know what baci means in Italian, James? It means ‘‘kisses’’.’

‘I suppose they must be for his wife.’ ‘James, you b –’

‘Ssh . . .’

Before she could protest any further, the heavy walnut door swung open quietly, and Bond saw M standing on the threshold, his head to one side.

‘Come in, 007,’ he said. ‘It’s good to see you back.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Bond followed him in, pausing only to blow Miss Moneypenny a last tormenting kiss before he closed the door.

Bond sat down in the chair across from M’s desk. After a long sequence of struck and abandoned safety matches, M finally had his pipe going to his satisfaction. The small-talk about Bond’s sabbatical was over, and the old sailor peered briefly out of the window, as though somewhere over Regent’s Park there might be enemy shipping. Then he swung round to face Bond.

"There’s something I need your help with, 007"

‘There’s something I need your help with, 007. The details are a little hazy at the moment, but I sense that it’s going to be something big. Very big indeed. Have you heard of Dr Julius Gorner?’

‘You’re not referring me to another medic, are you, sir?’ said Bond. ‘I thought I’d satisfied you on – ’

‘No, no, it’s an academic title. From the Sorbonne, I believe. Though Dr Gorner also holds degrees from Oxford University and Vilnius in Lithuania, which is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. At Oxford, he took a first-class degree in modern greats – that’s politics, philosophy and economics to you and me, Bond – then, rather surprisingly, switched to chemistry for his doctorate.’

‘A jack-of-all-trades,’ said Bond.

M coughed. ‘Rather a master-of-all-trades, I’m afraid. This academic stuff is merely background, and he’s said to have acquired it pretty easily. He volunteered under age in the war and had the distinction of fighting for both sides – for the Nazis initially, and then for the Russians at the battle of Stalingrad. This happened to quite a few people in the Baltic states, as you know, according to which country was occupying theirs and compelled them to fight. The odd thing with Gorner is that he seems to have changed sides of his own free will – according to who he thought was the likely victor.’

"Heroin was first legally marketed by the German company Bayer as a cough cure"

‘A soldier of fortune,’ said Bond. He found his interest piqued.

‘Yes. But his real passion is business. He studied a year at Harvard Business School, but left because he found it insufficiently stimulating. He began a small pharmaceutical business in Estonia, then opened a factory near Paris. You’d think it would be the other way round, having the office in Paris and the cheap labour in Estonia. But nothing about Dr Gorner is quite what you’d expect.’

‘What sort of pharmaceuticals?’ said Bond.

‘Analgesics. You know, painkillers. Then in due course they’re hoping to develop neurological medicines, for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and so on. But of course he was in a very big league there, what with Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and the other giants. Some of them have been around since the last century. But this didn’t deter our Dr Gorner. A mixture of industrial espionage, cost-cutting and strong-arm sales techniques gave him a big market presence. Then one day he discovered the poppy.’

‘The poppy?’ Bond wondered whether the yoga had addled M’s thought processes. Perhaps he’d been standing on his head – though it was hard to imagine him in a dhoti.

‘Source of the opiate class of drugs, which are widely used in hospitals as anaesthetics. All our infantrymen carry morphine in their packs. If half your leg’s been blown off by a shell you need something powerful and fast-acting. Heroin was first legally marketed by the German company Bayer as a cough cure. Recently, of course, since people have come to understand the problems of addiction, there’s been tough legislation about such things. There’s a legal trade in opium derivatives destined for medical use, and there’s an illegal one.’

‘And which is our man involved in?’

‘The former, certainly. But we suspect the latter, too, on an increasing scale. But we need to know more, much more.’

‘Is this where I come in?’

‘Yes.’ M stood up and walked over to the window.

‘In some ways what I want from you is a simple fact-finding exercise. Find Gorner. Talk to him. See what makes him tick.’

‘Sounds rather psychological,’ said Bond.

‘Indeed.’ M looked uneasy.

‘Is that what you have me down for now? I thought it was going to be my choice as to whether I returned to active operations.’

"You will have a course of breathing and relaxation techniques"

‘Well, yes, James, it is.’

Bond didn’t like it when M called him ‘James’ rather than ‘Bond’ or ‘007’. The personal note always preceded some disappointing news.

‘I want you to have some more tests with the medics and then a talk with R.’

‘The head-shrinker?’ said Bond.

‘The psychological-fitness assessor,’ M corrected him. ‘I’ve recently appointed an assistant therapist in his department. You will have a course of breathing and relaxation techniques.’

‘For heaven’s sake, sir, I – ’

‘All the double-Os are doing it,’ said M stiffly. ‘009 reported immense benefits.’

‘He would,’ said Bond.

‘Which reminds me. I’ve appointed a new double-O. To take the place of 004, who, as you know, unfortunately – ’

‘Yes. Under an East German train, I gather. And when does the new man start?’

‘Any day.’ M coughed again. ‘Anyway, they’re all doing it and I’m not going to make an exception for you.’

Bond lit a cigarette. It was pointless to argue with M when he had one of these bees in his bonnet. ‘Is there anything else I need to know about this Dr Gorner?’

‘Yes,’ said M. ‘I believe he could turn out to be a major threat to national security. That’s why the Service has been called in. The Government is panicking about the amount of illegal drugs coming into this country. There are already three-quarters of a million heroin addicts in the United States. We’re heading the same way. And the trouble is that it’s no longer just tramps and so on. It’s our best young people who are at risk. Drugs are becoming respectable. There was a leader in The TimesThe Times of all places – asking for lenience in the case of these wretched pop singers. If drugs become embedded in a nation’s culture, it quickly becomes a third-world country. They sap the will to live. Look at Laos, Thailand, Cambodia. Not exactly superpowers, are they?’

"'His left hand,' said M, sitting down again. 'It’s a monkey’s paw.'"

‘It reminds me of Kristatos and that Italian operation,’ said Bond.

‘By comparison,’ said M, ‘that was chickenfeed. Weekend smuggling. So was that little job in Mexico just before you met Goldfinger.’

‘And where do I find Gorner?’

‘The man crops up everywhere. One of his hobbies is aviation. He has two private planes. He spends a good deal of time in Paris, but I don’t think you’ll have much difficultly in recognizing him.’

‘Why’s that?’ said Bond.

‘His left hand,’ said M, sitting down again, and staring Bond squarely in the eye. ‘It’s a monkey’s paw.’

‘What?’

‘An extremely rare congenital deformity. There’s a condition known as main de singe, or monkey’s hand, which is when the thumb makes a straight line with the fingers and is termed ‘‘unopposable’’. Being in the same plane as the other digits, it can’t grip. It’s like picking up a pencil between two fingers.’ M demonstrated what he meant. ‘It can be done, but not very well. The development of the opposable thumb was an important mutation for Homo sapiens from his ancestors. But what Gorner has is something more. The whole hand is completely that of an ape. With hair up to the wrist and beyond.’

Something was stirring in Bond’s memory. ‘So it would be larger than the right hand,’ he said.

‘Presumably. It’s very rare, though not unique, I believe.’

‘Does he travel with a sidekick in a Foreign Legion hat?’

‘I’ve no idea,’ said M.

‘I think I may have come across him. In Marseille.’

‘At the docks?’ ‘Yes.’

M sighed. ‘That sounds all too feasible.’

"I don’t believe in destiny"

‘Is he about my age, strongly built, straight oily fair hair a bit too long at the back, Slavic – ’

‘Stop there,’ said M, pushing a photograph across the desk. ‘Is this the man?’

‘Yes,’ said Bond. ‘That’s him.’

‘It looks like your destiny,’ said M, with a wintry smile.

‘I don’t believe in destiny,’ said Bond.

‘It’s time you did,’ said M. ‘The best defector SIS has ever had was a colonel in Russian military intelligence. Penkovsky. One of their men spotted him in a cafe in Ankara looking depressed. That’s all. Just a look in his eye. They took it from there. It was fate.’

‘And observation,’ said Bond, stubbing out his cigarette. ‘So, does this mean I’m fully operational again?’ he said.

‘I have in mind a phased return,’ said M. ‘You do the reconnaissance. You do your course with R. Then we’ll see.’

An unpleasant thought occurred to Bond. ‘You haven’t mentioned any of this to 009, have you? Or this new man, 004? I’m not going to do the leg work for another agent, am I?’

M shifted uneasily in his chair. ‘Listen, 007. This Dr Gorner is potentially the most dangerous man the Service has yet encountered. I’m not setting you on the trail of some old dope peddler, but a man who seems intent on destroying the lives of millions and so undermining the influence of the West. I may use any number of operatives to stop him. I reserve that right.’

"Dr Gorner is potentially the most dangerous man the Service has yet encountered"

Bond felt his boss’s grey eyes boring into him. He was sincere, all right. M coughed again. ‘There is a Russian link as well,’ he said, ‘that the Government’s particularly anxious about. A cold war can be waged in many ways. I need a report on my desk in six days’ time.’

There was no point in taking the discussion any further, Bond thought. ‘Are the Deuxième in on this?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Get in touch with Mathis as soon as you arrive in Paris. Miss Moneypenny’s already booked your tickets and hotel.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Bond rose to go.

‘And, James, listen. You will be careful, won’t you? I know that drugs don’t sound like arms or even diamonds. But I have a bad feeling about this man. Very bad. He has a lot of blood on his hands already.’

Bond nodded, went out and closed the door.

Miss Moneypenny looked up from her desk. She held up a sealed brown envelope. ‘You lucky boy,’ she said. ‘Paris in the spring. I’ve found you a lovely hotel. Oh, look, you forgot to give M his chocolates.’ Bond put the red bag down on her desk. ‘You have them,’ he said.

‘You are sweet, James. Thank you. Your flight’s at six. You’ve just got time for your first session of deep-breathing and relaxation exercises. I’ve made a booking for you at two thirty. On the second floor.’

"A good spanking, perhaps. So you won’t be able to sit down for a week."

‘You wait till I get back from Paris,’ Bond said, as he headed towards the lift. ‘Then I’ll give you cause for heavy breathing.’

‘‘‘Deep breathing’’ was the expression, James. There is a difference.'

‘Or if you insist on splitting hairs I shall have to resort to something firmer. A good spanking, perhaps. So you won’t be able to sit down for a week.’

‘Really, James, you’re all talk these days.’

The lift doors closed before Bond could come up with a reply. As he sank through the floors of the building, he remembered Larissa’s puzzled face in the hotel doorway in Rome. All talk. Perhaps Moneypenny was right.