Half Chinese half Native American Brokenclaw is the latest villain on a conveyor belt of larger than life characters dreamt up by John Gardner as an adversary for his incarnation of James Bond.

This book has somewhat of an American naval bent but as usual ends up with Bond working undercover with a female sidekick at the villain’s secret lair. Interestingly there are no cars (hard to do on water), no gadgets and none of the now predictable double-crossing by female characters eager to slip between the silk sheets with Bond.

Brokenclaw actually feels more like one of Fleming’s books than most of Gardner’s outings and features a torture scene, perhaps owing a little to the film ‘A Man Called Horse’, that would not feel out of place in one of the original books.

That said some of Gardner’s attempts at wordplay and humour fall flat and it still feels like he was working to a checklist of plot points used in his previous books. Only the Chinese and native American elements of the tale differentiate it from his previous novels.

From the ridiculous to the almost sublime – The Man From Barbarossa – is one of Gardner’s best books imho. It features a great twisting plot and most of the action is based in Russia around the time the communist regime was being dismantled. So when Sebastian Faulks said he had chosen Russia as his location for his Bond outing “Devil May Care” because Bond had never been there, he was perhaps limiting this assertion to Fleming’s Bond.

This book also manages to cover the barbarism of the Nazi regime in Germany during WWII with particular focus on the treatment of Jews. The ‘Scales of Justice’ are a terrorist organisation for hire who kidnap a man they suspect of being a Nazi war criminal hiding in America. They put this man on trial in a complex attempt to undermine the new Russian regime.

Bond and the reader are kept in the dark about all the facts surrounding the terrorist group until very late in the book and it is this atmosphere of uncertainty and mystery that kept me hooked.

There is a smattering of real-world gadgetry and tradecraft and even when the usual global threat is unveiled it all seems very believable for a change. It felt to me that Gardner had done some hard slog in terms of researching the story and grounding it within a context of real world political events and for this he should be applauded. If you only read on of Gardner’s Bond books then make it this one.

Or this one – Death is Forever – which in some ways is just as good as The Man From Barbarossa. On the back of this rather good book it says ‘The Cold War is Over’, but you wouldn’t know it from the story that unfolds inside. Set in Berlin, Paris, Venice and Calais it includes a team of deep cover ‘allied’ spies called the Cabal up against the fanatical remains of the East German Secret Service and treacherous double agents among their ranks.

Bond, like the lovelorn sap he is, falls in love again, meets a barking mad villain and saves the world from his maniacal plans; oh and along the way he gets a few gadgets too. So it does in some respects follow a usual pattern that I have criticised above and in previous posts.

However, what I like so much about this book, apart from the atmospheric European locations (frankly I was getting sick of Bond always operating in America), was the cloak and dagger manoeuvrings of the various characters and the twisting plot in which we don’t know who to trust and Bond quite rightly takes the stance of not trusting any of the blighters.

Spider sandwiches and poor quips usually reserved for the films can be forgiven as this book contains some genuinely great Bond moments. So that’s two books in a row that I really enjoyed – perhaps I’m going soft in my old age, or perhaps Gardner has finally hit his stride. I guess we’ll find out when I read Never Send Flowers – the next in the series.