Scorpius has some good elements but is largely a weak outing for Gardner’s Bond. The threat, which is domestic and therefore should be handled by ‘five’ rather than ‘six’, is a religious cult known as The Meek Ones. Members of this cult act as willing martyrs by blowing themselves up when in the vicinity of prominent UK politicians.

The head of the cult is an evil megalomaniac called Father Valentine who is actually an illegal arms dealer called Vladimir Scorpius. This seems to be a pointless piece of plotting until I realised that he needs lots of money and access to explosives for his suicide bombers.

The plot is as clunky as a pair of prostitute’s shoes and gets worse by the end of the book with Bond predictably ending up with a girl at Scorpius’s lair (in much the same way as he does in Dr No and several other film outings). There is also a minor thread to the story regarding smart credit cards which does little to enhance the overall tale beyond giving a reason behind the presence of the sexy IRS agent Harriet Horner. I am sad to say that once again the female characters often come across as clichéd objects rather than real people.

Scorpius is the literary equivalent of painting by numbers and was a great disappointment.

Win, Lose or Die is a different kettle of fish despite the publisher clumsily giving away one of the main plot points on the back cover of the book. The secret is finally revealed by Gardner on page 179, but you know it before you even get to page 1 thanks to the blurb.

The character of M is well portrayed and Bond’s legendary snobbishness (really that of Ian Fleming) towards clothing labels, food and drink is clearly evident in the mostly naval tale.

The crew of the capital ship The Invincible is demobilised in a manner reminiscent of Goldfinger, but beyond that this book is a lot more original than Scorpius and avoids a lot of the clichés of the films. Of course Bond once more falls for a girl and it’s funny to read some dialogue between the chief of staff and M discussing Bond’s weak spot (women) which in reality in all probability would lead to his dismissal as a field agent, and possibly his complete exit from MI6.

In the book Bond returns to the Navy as head of security for VIPs visiting the carrier during war games. The war games are not a major feature of the book, but Bond does find time to play Maverick when he gets to fly a Sea Harrier and Colombo after someone is murdered on board. The aerial combat scenes are well described and being an aviation enthusiast I appreciated all the technical minutiae Gardner describes. All in all Win, Lose or Die is a good read far removed from the farce of Scorpius.

License to Kill is an adaptation of the film screenplay by cameo addict Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum. There is one clear difference between the two stories and it concerns Felix Leiter. In the book Gardner stays with Fleming’s original storyline history and has Leiter wearing a prosthetic leg and arm. In the books Leiter is mauled by a shark in Live and Let Die in a scene missing from the film adaptation and inserted into the screenplay of License to Kill complete with the note that Felix ‘disagreed with something that ate him’. In Gardner’s book it is a case of ‘lightning strikes twice’ and Leiter’s stumps are chewed down some more. If it wasn’t such a gory image I could have laughed at the great pains Gardner has gone to explain away the digression from Fleming’s Bond mythos.

There are other tweaks – mainly explanations of some of the film’s plotting shortcuts and technical corrections – for instance Gardner makes it clear that the rockets featured towards the end of the film are not Stingers because if they were they would not have missed the side-wheelie lorry or low-flying aircraft due to their advanced guidance systems. Gardner also seems at pains to play down some of the more over-the-top action sequences – for example there is no wheelie through the flames by Bond in the truck cab.

Despite Gardner’s pains to be true to Fleming, he does little to tie the book in with his own series. Q’ute is nowhere to be seen and instead Bond’s uncle at the hotel is Q and there is no mention of Beatrice the ‘bond girl’ from Win, Lose or Die. The book is a good adaptation of the film, but does little to add any depth to the story and I much preferred watching the film again afterwards. I especially enjoyed Benicio Del Toro’s performance as the henchman Dario and Carey Lowell’s turn as the slightly less weak than usual shotgun-toting Bond girl Pam Bouvier.