The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2008, 12:00am

The Moneypenny Diaries: Final Fling

by Kate Westbrook

John Murray, HK$228

A slender woman with her bed-head hair piled atop gives off a smouldering gaze while cocking a gun. The reddish metallic sheen on this cover of The Moneypenny Diaries further alludes to an air of sophistication. Finally, the subtitle, Final Fling, offers a hint of flirtation suggesting that Miss Moneypenny's diaries aren't all business.

Miss Jane Moneypenny of James Bond fame is presumed to be the woman on the cover: smart, sharp and, in lime green houndstooth, stylish. The long-serving secretary to M, Moneypenny is fiercely loyal to the Office but she has broken one rule. Throughout her long career at the Secret Intelligence Service, she has kept a diary detailing the lives of her colleagues and her suspicions of an office mole.

These diaries form the premise of Samantha Weinberg's latest in a series of novels written in the same journal-entry style, this one in the persona of Kate Westbrook. The books detail Moneypenny's years in the SIS and entries include office gossip about who fraternises with whom, along with the charms of 007. At the same time, this is not intended to be a book version of a woman's magazine. Most of the entries concern Moneypenny's observations on matters of top-level security, namely the missions undertaken by the Office.

The diaries, which Moneypenny kept before, during and after her work with the SIS, have been given to Kate Westbrook, Moneypenny's niece, following her death. In many ways, the two women have similar personalities. Both are determined, independent and meticulous researchers. Kate has taken the death of her aunt hard and the arrival of her diaries a decade later reveals her aunt's hidden life.

Kate is focused on understanding her aunt's secrets and suspicions regarding the SIS.

The book's narrative is tilted in Moneypenny's favour and there is more of her story in London, Jamaica and Scotland than there is of Kate's life, in which she is obsessed with figuring out the mysteries and ensuring publication of the diaries.

The language used by the gutsy, refined and headstrong Moneypenny to describe her suspicions points to an intelligent woman, while her flirtations with 007 demonstrate sauciness.

While the diary entries are often entrenched in James Bond lore, Kate's narrative is thoroughly modern. With Kate's voice, the book becomes less of a throwback to the past and a 'girl's take' on Ian Fleming's famous creation.

Certainly, Weinberg has written chick-lit, but it is stylish and enjoyable to read.