Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews
Bond – James Bond – re-imagined
Almost two years ago I read and reviewed Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews, a novel about Jack Kennedy, later President of the United States, set in Europe as the world headed to war.
Francine Mathews has now turned her attention to the story of Ian Fleming, famous as the creator if the James Bond series of mystery novels. I re-read the whole series a couple of summers ago and recommend them for readers of all ages – they are such good stories and such a marvelous portrayal of the time in which they take place. And yes, he may be the ultimate playboy but in the original stories the action all takes place “under the covers”.
Too Bad to Die supposes that Ian Fleming was in the Middle East at the same time as the “Big Three” – Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill for the Tehran Conference, which took place in the Soviet Embassy in Tehran, Iran from 28 November – 1 December 1943. The leaders spent this time negotiating a plan to open a second front against Nazi Germany in an effort to end the war as quickly as possible.
It is true that the conference took place, it is also possible that there was a plot to assassinate the “Big Three” and it is this rumour that Francine Mathews has taken and run with, writing a very suspenseful novel that very much pays homage to Ian Fleming and James Bond.
Ian Lancaster Fleming was a naval intelligence officer during the Second World War, and may well have been involved in some of the real operations described in this novel, such as “the man who never was”. His childhood is also much as described in this novel, his father killed in the First World War.
Casino Royale was the first Bond novel, published in 1952, although it was the last to be made into a film – and the last I was prepared to view – with the horrendous torture scene that Francine Mathews has used in her own novel.
Too Bad to Die is a novel that will make you want to go on to read books about the real history of the time and the people involved – the relationships between the members of the delegations are full of intrigue. Francine Mathews has done a brilliant job of weaving truth – or near truth – with fiction. Churchill and Roosevelt met with the Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek in Cairo few days before the Tehran Conference. Francine Mathews also weaves into her novel the fascinating character of Chaing Kai-shek’s wife, Soong May-Ling, who was rumored to have had an encounter with a prominent American. Along with Churchill’s daughter and daughter-in-law, and the fictional women in this novel we truly have a novel worthy of Ian Fleming himself.