Gardner’s Bond (1-3)

In 1981, over a decade since the last official novel John Gardner was invited to revive Bond in book form. He wrote a total 16 books featuring James Bond, M, Moneypenny and a host of villains, henchmen, girls, cars and gadgets. Orion Paperbacks reissued the complete series last year and six titles were available as bargains in The Works. Cannily the six titles available at discount were from the middle of the series, and consumer monkey that I am I bought the others from Amazon to make the complete set. In this post I talk about the first three books.

License Renewed is unashamed in plundering the story elements that made Fleming’s books best sellers. We have a megalomaniac villain bent on revenge against the world in the form of crazy nuclear scientist Anton Murik. We have a henchman called Caber who reminded me a little too much of Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers sequels. We have a zanily named Bond girl in the form of Lavender Peacock. We have gadgets (more a feature of the films than the original books it has to be noted) in the form of a suped up and weaponised Saab automobile and other spy gear – all grounded in reality Gardner notes in his acknowledgements.

The story moves from a fixed horse race at Ascot to a castle in Scotland, a torture scene, a fashion show in Perpignan, France, and a finale on an aircraft above the Mediterranean. Elements of the story are reminiscent of Goldfinger, Casino Royale, View to a Kill and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Some effort is made by Gardner to frame the story in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1980s mainly by revising Bond’s taste in cars, perfume and fashion, but the elements that work best are timeless and his style certainly harks back to Fleming’s.

Thankfully absent is the off-hand racism of the original stories, although the sexism is still present, but it is not quite as jarring – if Bond didn’t get his leg over at least once in the story you’d think something was seriously amiss. He’s not that much of a new man despite cutting down on his drinking and switching to smoking low tar cigarettes. The worst of it is a female Q nicknamed Q’ute who takes Bond home to show off her gadgets – all very silly.

I read half of book 2, For Special Services in one sitting while listening to Blur CD’s; I was keen to keep going on Gardner’s Bondwagon having spent years oblivious to its existence. Unfortunately I have to say I was disappointed with this book.

The appearance of Felix Leiter’s daughter, Cedar, jarred with me and I kept wondering ‘just how old is Bond exactly?’ a question all fans really should avoid like a shark infested swimming pool. The return of a Blofeld character referred to always as ‘Blofeld’ and not ‘he’ or ‘she’ made the supposed twist at the end about as surprising as the fact that Bond once again taps the wife of the supposed bag guy. There really are no prizes for guessing who the new Blofeld is, and there really should have been more an effort at a mystery.

The whole book seems to follow a pattern established in the original books and Broccoli’s films and already plundered to great effect in Licence Renewed and it felt really unoriginal this time around.

On the plus side Gardner does well on the trapeze balancing his characters’ hidden agendas and play-acting despite the quickly predicted twist and lack-lustre red-herrings, and his writing style is once again satisfying Flemingesque.

Bond once more unrealistically has every female he wafts his pheromones in a swoon and dropping their knickers at his feet. He is certainly old enough to be Cedar’s father (if not grandfather) and reality seemed to be stretched by this objectification of women beyond breaking point. Some of the ‘romantic’ moments verged on farce.

Still, for all that, it was another entertaining page-turner, and not the sort of book to over-analyse. If you liked the SPECTRE based films and the idea of doped ice-cream, killer ants, giant man-eating swamp snakes and killer satellites, you will enjoy this book.

I started reading Icebreaker hot on the heels of For Special Services intent on doing a three-book post before taking a break from Bond. Bizarrely as I was reading the book in my back garden during a rare moment of sunshine I began to hear the Bond theme playing. Admittedly this happens quite often, (usually when I’m driving a hire car) so I took little notice until some duff notes made me realise it was coming from outside of my head. The boy next door was having a trumpet lesson. Bravo to the music teacher for picking such a good tune – however more practice is required.

In Icebreaker we see Bond join a team comprised of agents from the KGB, CIA and Mossad. The team is on the trail of a neo-Nazi arms smuggler on the border between Russia and Finland. Bond doesn’t know who to trust in the team and avoids a couple of attempts on his life before the main mission gets underway, by which time the female Mossad agent has already been put out of action, but not before bedding Bond.

There are a shed load of well delivered and unpredictable revelations and twists in the tale and although Bond ends up being tortured at the villain’s lair the book does not follow the formula of the first two books, and is much better as a result.

A lot of the action, as the name might suggest, takes place in the snow and ice of Finland and Gardner does an excellent job of conjuring up the stark atmosphere of the winter wonderland. The plot is a lot more believable than the previous book and the sexism is at a minimum. Although Bond has at least one woman claiming that she loves him having only known him for what seems like five minutes, in a similar fashion to the plot in For Special Services he is being duped; his arrogance once again being his downfall. You think he would’ve learned by now, but he sticks to the ‘shag now, ask questions later’ MO.

The plot is such a tangled web that Gardner dedicates a lot of the end of the book to exposition which would make Basil Exposition proud and yet it was still a great read.

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