Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood

Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood
by Joshua Gay (host of Selling Secrets Podcast)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐½


Initially released in the UK and Australia in September 2022, Kim Sherwood’s Double-O expanded universe novel is now available in the United States via publisher William Morrow, a subsidiary of Harper Collins.

Double or Nothing is the first continuation novel to explore the world and characters outside of James Bond since Samantha Weinberg’s The Moneypenny Diaries.

Written by author Kim Sherwood, whose only other novel prior to Double or Nothing was an award-winning literary novel titled Testament, which focused on a multi-generational Jewish family affected by the Holocaust.

So, how does a young author who’s never written a thriller before get to write a James Bond universe novel?

In short? A lifelong passion for the series, a bloody good agent, and a family connection to the films.

In my interview with Kim for Selling Secrets Podcast last year, Kim spoke at length about her passion for the spy genre, including both the literary and cinematic James Bond franchise which she’s loved since a young age.

After already being a Bond fan, she then found out that her grandfather, the actor George Baker, had starred in two Bond films; in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) as Sir Hilary Bray, and in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) as Captain Benson.

This revelation spurred on her passion even more and when she first met her agent, she said her ultimate goal would be to write a James Bond novel.

Fast forward several years to when her agent was asked to present a new author to Ian Fleming Publications, they immediately thought of Kim Sherwood.

The story of Double or Nothing centres around a diverse new trio of Double-O agents – Johanna Harwood 003, Sid Bashir 009, and Joseph Dryden 004.

Think of this novel more like a James Bond expanded universe story, rather than a continuation novel that follows Bond himself.

The three lead characters are all young and eager to prove themselves in the absence of 007, and all report to the new M: Miss Moneypenny, who finally got a well-overdue promotion and is now heading up the Double-O section.

Johanna Harwood 003 is a tenacious and ruthless agent, who had a previous relationship with Bond, and is hell-bent on tracking him down and ensuring he is safe.

To make things complicated, Harwood was once engaged to Sid Bashir 009, but when Bond went missing, Bashir called off their engagement.

Bashir feels guilty and responsible for Bond’s disappearance and is equally as eager as Harwood to locate 007 and redeem himself. He is also a unique agent with his Muslim heritage proving useful in certain situations where he needs to blend in.

Their two stories revolve around tracking down Bond and thwarting the nefarious private military company (PMC) Rattenfänger.

Joseph Dryden 004 is an British-Jamaican agent who is an ex-special forces soldier with a disability. Injured in combat, he partially lost his hearing and has now been kitted out with a state of the art hearing aid from Q-Branch which allows him to interface with MI6’s quantum computer, called Q.

He is also the first openly homosexual Double-O in Bond canon, and this plays a pivotal part in his story, where he has to rekindle a relationship with an old flame who is now the head of security for the mysterious tech billionaire Sir Bertram Paradise who serves as the novel’s central villain.

From that description of the three central characters, I’m already envisioning complaints from the angry right-wing anti “woke” brigade.

A female Double-O?” They’ll say aghast.
A Muslim Double-O?” They’ll cry out in horror.
A disabled, gay and black Double-O?” They’ll gasp whilst clutching their pearls.
It’s political correctness gone mad!” They’ll chant.

In reality, diversity is key to a spy agency like MI6 in the 21st Century and this novel leans heavily into that, with each character stronger for it.

This certainly doesn’t feel like a typical spy thriller with a straight white male protagonist who shags his way across the globe.

On the note of it not feeling like a typical thriller, the way Sherwood writes Double or Nothing is a bit different to what Bond readers might expect. This is evident in the way Sherwood structures her sentences, which is quite different to what thriller readers might be used to.

Whereas authors like Ian Fleming, Anthony Horowitz or Matthew Reilly write short, punchy sentences, Sherwood’s tend to be longer, more free-flowing and descriptive.

Likewise when it comes to the story itself, most thrillers are heavily plot-driven, whereas here, it’s the characters who push the majority of the story forward.

This means that the typical plotting and action does take a while to get going, but once it hits its stride, especially in the third act, it’s an enthralling novel with a couple of twists that I definitely didn’t see coming.

The one part of Double or Nothing that I wasn’t a massive fan of were the villains. Where the Double-O agents feel like well fleshed-out characters who inhibit this new world, the villains felt a bit flat and one-dimensional. Bertram Paradise is basically a modern iteration of Hugo Drax. Likewise the leader of Rattenfänger fell a bit flat, especially considering when we have real-life mirroring fiction with villains such as Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Russian Wagner Group PMC.

Unlike my fiancée, I’m someone who doesn’t read much in the way of “literature”, so reading Double or Nothing did take some adjusting to, but once I had wrapped my head around Sherwood’s writing style, I found it a breath of fresh air in a genre that can often feel “samey”.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Double or Nothing. Is it a perfect James Bond novel? Perhaps not, but it’s a great starting point in what will be the Sherwood-verse trilogy of Double-O novels. I look forward to what comes next.

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