The back blurb explains that the action in COLD takes place both before and after “Seafire” and “Never Send Flowers” which I originally thought was very odd given that “Seafire” precedes “Never Send Flowers”. However the action is in two parts – the first part “Cold Front” precedes “Seafire” and “Never Send Flowers” and the second part “Cold Conspiracy” follows “Seafire” and “Never Send Flowers”. Confusion removed.

COLD has the missing storyline I expected in “Seafire” to explain M’s retirement and Flicka’s demise. Two old flames are dredged up to provide the essential Bond girls – as two-dimensional as ever. Bond, displaying the morals of a dog, falls into bed with one before the comatose Flicka, he was hell-bent on marrying before she got injured, predictably dies of those injuries.

The dialogue is so peppered with poor attempts at double-entendres and puns it reads like a rejected Austin Powers script. I recently encountered the phrase ‘if it’s not punny, it’s not funny’ – unfortunately this axiom does not hold true in this case. The scenes of flirtation while Flicka lies dying back in England are particularly painful to read and are almost “Carry On” in their delivery and tone. Also Gardner uses the phrase ‘head down in charging bull mode’ to describe one of the FBI agents pretty much every time the guy appears.

The plot is reasonably inventive in terms of the details, but the finale, which takes place at the bad guys’ headquarters (surprise surprise), is as predictable as ever. In fact it made me wonder if Bond really needed to be involved at all – certainly he makes a difference at the end, but why was he there in the first place? It’s probably better not to dwell too long on the logic as the whole thing I fear is in danger of unravelling like a badly knitted sweater.

So that’s it. It’s a shame for Gardner not to go out on a high with his last Bond book. In general I found his books entertaining, at times inventive, on the odd occasion actually rather good, but generally quite disappointing. I’ve decided that the series is not a ‘keeper’ and a friend or charity shop is soon going to be bestowed with sixteen gifts.