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Singular Spies: James Bond 007 And Alex Rider MI6

Aug 4, 2010 (All Things Considered)

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In our series Thrilled to Death, suspense writers talk with us about their work, and then recommend the books they love.

Author Anthony Horowitz loves nothing more than when a young fan asks him to sign a battered copy of a book in his Alex Rider series — young adult fiction featuring a skateboard-riding teen spy. The series' ninth and final novel, Scorpia Rising, will be published in April 2011.

The series is full of suspense and can even be a bit spooky for its young readers. Finding the balance between too scary and not scary enough is one of Horowitz's biggest challenges. He says the suspense comes from the reader knowing more than the character they're reading about. There is violence in his stories, but it is always followed by a happy resolution and the good guy winning. As the series continues, the books become more demanding — Horowitz says he hopes that his readers have grown with him.

Horowitz talks with NPR's Michele Norris about the appeal of gadgets, his sons' cameos in the Alex Rider series, and why it's important for a children's author to end with hope.

You can hear their conversation by clicking the "Listen" link at the top of the page. Below, read Horowitz's recommendation of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger.


Recommended Thriller: 'Goldfinger' by Ian Fleming

By Anthony Horowitz

I've never made a secret of how much I admire Ian Fleming. When I created Alex Rider, my 14-year-old spy, Bond was a large part of my inspiration — so it's only natural that I should have chosen my favorite Bond novel as my favorite thriller — and that's Goldfinger (also, incidentally, my favorite Bond movie.) In the welter of gadgets and girls, Conneries and Moores, chases and special effects, people have forgotten just how well written these books are. But when author Anthony Burgess drew up his list of the 100 greatest novels ever written, Goldfinger was on it, deservedly so.

Goldfinger is not perfect. The main plot, which Fleming delightfully refers to as the "Crime de la Crime," isn't actually introduced until chapter 16 and there's a huge flaw at the heart of it all. Why does Goldfinger let Bond live when he's so obviously dangerous? Hiring him as a sort of personal assistant-cum-secretary is patently absurd. But you can forgive almost anything when there are so many pleasures to be found between the covers.

Where to begin? First of all it has two of Fleming's most iconic villains — Goldfinger, the squat, ginger-haired master criminal of the title, and, of course, his accomplice, the bowler-hatted Oddjob. It has the best set pieces; the game of Canasta in which Bond exposes Goldfinger as a cheat, the round of golf at Royal St Marks which turns into a mortal duel, the wonderful torture scene with the rotating saw (it was an industrial laser in the movie), and the fantastic climax at Fort Knox. It has Pussy Galore and with a name like that what more do you need to know about her? And it has one of the most memorable deaths in all of crime fiction, the girl painted gold and left to suffocate.

And of course, it has Bond himself, tired and cynical after a dirty assignment at the start of the book. The sequence at Miami airport as he watches the sun set and considers the vicissitudes of fate is writing of the highest order. A few years ago, the Fleming estate commissioned Sebastian Faulks to recreate Bond, but for me he never caught the terse, laconic style of the originals — "snobbery with violence" as one critic memorably termed it — and as Jeffery Deaver prepares to write the next, I fear I look forward with a certain sense of dread.

But if these new realizations drive a modern audience back to the original books, they will have done their job. We may be shocked by their old-fashioned attitudes — the casual anti-Semitism, the misogyny, the unhealthy lifestyle. But the power of the story-telling has never diminished. I read the books and re-read them. And I enjoy them every time.

Thrilled to Death is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with help from Gabe O'Conner, Chelsea Jones and Miriam Krule.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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