Book Review: THUNDERBOOK (John Rain)

What is there left to say about James Bond 007? The world’s most legendary spy has been written about for almost sixty years since Ian Fleming’s 1950’s/60’s novels exploded onto the cinema screen in 1962’s Dr. No, analysing every facet of the character’s escapades, his place in the wider scope of history, through to the technique behind his many movies. 

Thunderbook, however, might be the first text to freely take the piss out of each and every one of Bond’s (to date) 24 missions.

John Rain has become something of a hit on Twitter, thanks to his often very funny observations of politics and popular culture (not to mention harassing Nigel Farage & Donald Trump every chance he gets, for which he should probably get the CBE he jokingly has in his Twitter name), but in part due to producing SMERSH Pod over the past few years, of which Thunderbook is essentially an adaptation. SMERSH Pod began as an exclusively Bondian show in which John—a genuine 007 mega fan—would speak to someone who either isn’t arsed about Bond or hasn’t seen many of the movies, before evolving beyond it to cover particularly classic action pictures worth lampooning.

What made SMERSH Pod stand out is how affectionally it invokes the ludicrousness of the James Bond movie saga, a series which even I—as a similar lifelong uber fan—can admit sometimes takes itself too seriously for its own good. Thunderbook recycles many of the best observations and jokes from SMERSH Pod and throws plenty of new material in the pot as Rain works chronologically through every Bond movie from Dr. No through to 2015’s Spectre and recites the plot in a fair amount of detail, wryly finding aspects to mock or question along the way; he finds an array of brilliant recurring gags, whether focusing on Bond’s perversion, poor M having often to end films witnessing him having sex, or old Q’s weird big hands.

The joy is that Rain clearly loves this series and lampoons it with a genuine grace as someone who has watched these pictures many times and adores them, while still having the space and distance to recognise the comedy in Roger Moore looking more like a SAGA holidaymaker in A View to a Kill or Daniel Craig’s morose depression in Quantum of Solace. He peppers the text with a host of references to other aspects of popular culture, particularly from British TV or life from the 1970’s and 80’s, which will raise plenty of laughs for anyone (like me) raised during those periods (in part). It feels redoubtably British throughout, and you sense only an amused Brit would really be able to observe the Bond series from this particular angle.

While Rain’s mission is primarily to entertain and amuse throughout these recaps, he shows his critical chops by peppering details and facts about Bond’s production at opportune times, particularly for the films he appreciates the most, whether its Ken Adam’s epic production design or lamenting the loss of a genius like Maurice Binder; detail that may not be news to hardened Bond fans but will certainly educate more casual ones, and I would be lying if I didn’t learn a few things along the way myself. In this sense, Thunderbook is both a laugh out loud piss take of Bond and a potted history in places, informing nicely while it entertains.

For Bond fans capable of seeing the daftness of the whole enterprise, and you’d hope that’s many, Thunderbook is simply unmissable. We can only hope John Rain Will Return for No Time to Die in a revised edition and finish James Bond off. Now that would raise an eyebrow, wouldn’t it?


Thunderbook is available in all good bookshops and online from Polaris Publishing from Thursday November 7th.

For more on John Rain, and indeed on Thunderbook itself, check out my conversation with him on the first episode of the We Made This podcast, Movie People, coming later this month.

Author of books: Myth-Building in Modern Media / Star Trek, History and Us | Writer of words on film/TV/culture | Rotten Tomatoes approved critic: Twitter: @ajblackwriter | Podcast chief: @wmadethis | Occasionally go outside.

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