11.20.2015

John Gardner's James Bond


RANKING the CONTINUATION BOND 
NOVELS by JOHN GARDNER


Between 1981 and 1996, John Gardner wrote 16 Bond novels: 14 originals and 2 novelizations of the films (License to Kill and Goldeneye, neither covered here). Not a bad haul. These were the first new Bond adventures to appear in print since the publication of Colonel Sun in 1968.

Gardner
died in 2007. He told the full story of how he came to write Bond's adventures here. He seemed mostly positive about his time in the driver's seat (while somewhat exasperated at the amount of backseat drivers he had to accommodate) though not happy with how Glidrose characterized his tenure after it had finished: 

"The only thing that I remain in any way bitter about is the canard invented by Glidrose who had supported me since the first book that the public were not ready for the changes I had made. This is a gross distortion of the facts and was said many times as I know from the tapes of BBC radio shows plugging the first Benson book."

The changes he made weren't very severe. Here is a list of some of the salient features of Gardner's Bond:

- Bond is given flecks of grey around his temples to denote the passage of time. (The time issue gets a little tricky in the last few books, as we'll see.) I liked this more mature Bond. It feels like a reasonable approximation of where the character from Fleming's books would be in the 1980s: not a teetotaler but no more nine-martini-and-half-bottle-of-champagne-before-Seconal routine, off the benzedrine and the cigarettes for the most part, an older man's self control and knowledge of himself, his accidie dissolved, and (something Gardner insisted on) more operational know-how, "the reality of correct tradecraft and modern gee-whiz technology."

- To that end, Gardner's Bond spends a lot of time screwing and unscrewing apparatuses into phones, learning code words, and identifying himself not as "Bond, James Bond" but as "Predator," his field designation. 

- The 00 section is mothballed, though (at least until 1994's SeaFire) this doesn't change the fundamentals at MI6. Bond gets his orders from M, Moneypenny is M's secretary, and Bill Tanner is his Chief of Staff. All three of them play greater roles in the Bond books than they did under Fleming. (Though Moneypenny fades away after Nobody Lives Forever.) Possibly because...

- Q Branch still exists, but Gardner was forbidden to use the character of Q. So, he invented Ann Reilly, known as "Q'ute." Two or three times of this would have been fine, but literally everytime the character appears she is introduced as "Ann Reilly from Q Branch, known around the firm as Q'ute." Sometimes twice in the same novel, which seems unforgivable to me. She appears in every book, mainly to give Bond some explosives or a new briefcase fitted with compartments undetectable by airport scanners. He and Q'ute tumble into bed in License Renewed but not in any of the other books. 

- Instead of the Walther PPK, Bond carries an ASP 9mm with Glaser slugs - "pre-fragmented bullets, each containing hundreds of number 12 shot suspended in liquid Teflon" - though in a couple of the books, he carries a Heckler and Koch 9mm. He also gets a telescopic steel baton (first seen in Nobody Lives Forever) which has since become standard issue police gear. And he uses knives a lot. Outside of equipment to make phone lines secure or send a beacon, there's little gadgetry.

- Bond's auto of choice for the first few of the books is the Saab 900Turbo:


I've always liked Saabs, so that change suited me fine. He has it tricked out with all sorts of special features - not quite the submersible Lotus of The Spy Who Loved Me but a definite nod to the gadget-cars of the films. (Loads more on Saab and tricked-out-car research here.) A Ruger .44 Super Redhawk ("the big gun") is kept (illegally) in a hidden glove compartment. Starting with Role of Honor, the Silver Beast (as Bond refers to the Saab) is replaced with a Bentley Mulsanne Turbo ("the big car"), and the Redhawk finds a new home in it.

- Bond is usually dressed in some variation of "casual slacks, with his favorite soft leather moccasins and a sea island cotton shirt, (with) a battledress-style Oscar Jacobson Alcantara jacket." That sea island cotton must be a favorite, as he goes out of his way to mention it in every book. I'm almost positive this (minus the moccasins) is the same outfit Fleming put him in from time to time. Bond-attire-philes, please correct me if mistaken.

- Also mentioned in every book? Coffee and sandwiches. Someone (often Bill Tanner) is always coming in with coffee and sandwiches. 

- Chronometer-wise, Bond splits his time between the Rolex Oyster and the Omega Seamaster. I neglected to write down specifics besides those, my apologies - I suspect the answer can be found here or here but I was unable to confirm at press time.

- One last thing: Gardner's Bond is played by Timothy Dalton. This may have been only in my head, but it felt like appropriate casting.  


I enjoyed all but three of the Gardner Bonds. Most of them start better than they finish. There's a sameness to many of the ladies and many of the villains, but I'm sympathetic to the charge that this sort of sameness is endemic to the "Bond genre" in general. Maybe so. I'll get into specifics below. A more pressing problem, though, is the amount of improbable double/triple agents and plans-within-plans and faked deaths, etc. By the time you get to 1991's The Man from Barbarossa, you know any character introduced is not who they say they are, and if she's a woman, her story will unfold with the same beats as the female characters of the last book and the book before it. I was happy to see the pattern change a little at the very end.

Okay, so let's get to the books. I won't bore you with reproducing each and every aspect of the criteria I used -

though I'm quite pleased with how my spreadsheets came out;
you can examine these yourself at the Dog Star Omnibus Exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, opening sometime in 2063.   

All categories were graded on a 000 to 007 basis. (Ex: the Locations column for Icebreaker netted a 007; the "Too many cooks?" column for No Deals, Mr. Bond, a -007.) The highest score was 34.5. The lowest was -14. Let us begin. 

14.
(1992)

Plot: Bond partners with CIA agent Elizabeth "Easy" St. John to round up the surviving members of "Cabal", a Cold War-era intelligence network that has gone into hiding to avoid being hunted down by ex-Stasi man Wolfgang Weisen, aka "The Poison Dwarf." Bond and Easy travel from Berlin to Paris to Venice before a final showdown in the soon-to-be-opened Chunnel between Calais and Kent.

Although coming in last, pointswise, mainly for its high concentration of the worst Gardner tropes (too many characters, too many covers/ double-crosses, completely improbable love story between Bond and Easy, etc.) I actually enjoyed this more than the next several entries. This is an example of the nick-here-nick-there approach; no one cut is fatal, but the sum of them all is. 

Well, perhaps one of them is fatal: Easy. She doesn't work, from first to last. When she and Bond declare their love for one another completely out of the blue in the last 50 pages, I groaned. I'd be more forgiving if it wasn't given such a prominent place in the story.

At one point, we're told that "Bond loved Paris..." Since when? Certainly stated the exact opposite in "From A View to A Kill." Is this an example of mature Bond re-evaluating things? He's also more ruthless here than in any other of the Gardners. Elsewhere, he's playful, such as when Bond discusses thriller writers with one of the Cabal members and mocks the tendency of "overpraised English writers" to describe people simply by likening them to celebrities. Is this a reference to Ian Fleming, who did such things on occasion? (Not the least of which with Bond, whose likeness to Hoagy Carmichael is remarked upon several times.) Still later, Gardner describes someone as sounding like Marlon Brando from The Godfather. So, was he being cheeky about himself/ his own reviews?

Look - does anyone get attacked by fiddleback spiders? Why, yes indeed! Bond and Easy are memorably fed burgers stuffed with hatching poisonous spiders. He mentions this in his report to M, and the report is promptly sealed "until the year 2500." Not sure why, but that detail amused me. 

13. 
(1991)

"The Kraken of Communism sleeps, but it will awake again. Stronger and more rarefied from the succor we in the West have given it."  - M (being all flowery)

Plot: A man believed to be Josif Voronstov, the "butcher of Babi Yar" in Nazi-occupied Ukraine, is kidnapped in New Jersey by a group calling itself The Scales of Justice. Meanwhile, in Florida, the real Voronstov is snatched by the Mossad and French Secret Service. And maybe the KGB, too. All three agencies are thrown together at Moscow's request to pose as a TV crew filming a mock show-trial of Voronstov's crimes. The Scales of Justice also want to supply Iraq with nuclear weapons ahead of Operation Desert Storm. Bond bangs his way into things and later receives the Order of Lenin.

Gardner claimed this was his favorite of his Bond books. It was very much my least favorite. Gardner seemed very defensive about criticism of this novel, blaming bad reactions to it on people expecting "just more of the formula." People might not have liked it because it deviates from the formula; more likely they didn't like it because it's a huge mess that hinges on characters shrugging off increasingly improbable things. And just when the plot is juggling over a dozen characters, a dozen more are added. 

At one point, Bond recalls something he heard back in spy school - "Tradecraft for the sake of tradecraft eventually becomes a nervous tic." The same thing probably applies to plotting. I mean, at one point, a character's long-believed-dead parents appear, disguised as two other people, pretending to be still other people, with several layers of hidden agenda. It's tedious and overcomplicated. Bond often allows himself to be led along, sure, but as the ruses pile up, it becomes harder and harder to suspend disbelief. The Henry-Gale-from-Lost problem times twenty.

The excellent Iron-Curtain-peeled-back setting is squandered. No sooner does Bond arrive in Moscow than he's whisked away to a retread of the setting of Icebreaker, just considerably less developed. I do like his finally getting the Order of Lenin, though.   

12.
(1990)

The Plot: Bond crosses paths with Lee "Brokenclaw" Fu-Chu, a half-Chinese, half-Blackfoot mountain of a man who is working with the Chinese secret service to steal submarine-detecting technology, as well as on "Operation: Jericho," a complicated computer scheme to bring down Wall Street involving a rock band called Ice Age. With the help of CIA agents Ed Rushia and Chi-Chi-Sue and undercover sex slave Wanda Hing, Bond poses as one of the Chinese buyers and ends up in the Chelan Mountains in a greased-up mano-y-mano called the O-kee-Pa Ritual with Brokenclaw.

This one's fairly ridiculous from start-to-finish. I kept thinking while reading, though, that if this were a movie and the right person was cast as Brokenclaw, it might be fantastically entertaining. It might make a good jumping off point for a crazier-side-of-Bond film, or it might just be terrible. I can't tell any more.

Way too much M and Tanner in this one (and coffee and sandwiches) and zigzagging around. Bond doesn't have an opportunity to really do much. And the O-kee-pa ceremony (no relation, Phish-heads) is a bit odd. Odder than the maze of death in The Man with the Golden Gun? Or Blofeld's museum of revenge in SPECTRE? Probably not. 

11. 
(1993)

"Never trust Greeks bearing gifts, nor Five coming for help." 

The Plot: The murder of an MI5 agent in Switzerland is believed to be one of several murders committed by one individual. Bond teams with Swiss Intelligence agent and soon-to-be-steady-ladyfriend Freddie "Flicka" von GrĂ¼sse to sort it out, eventually settling on ex-actor and eccentric recluse David Dragonpol as their main suspect. They visit Schlosse Drache, Dragonpol's ancestral home on the Rhine, then Milan, then Euro Disney to thwart his scheme to murder Yasser Arafat and Princess Di.

This one is a mess. The most unforgivable of its many gaffes involves giving the murdered MI5 agent a serial killer brother, dwelling on it as a minor plot point for many chapters, then jettisoning it completely. None of the Dragonpol stuff makes a lick of sense, eitheer.

At one point Bond - reacting to yet another plan where he's to be used as a tethered goat - says "If you'll forgive the expression, sir, balls." M shrugs it off. M is a guy who snaps at Bond for saying "bloody," like a strict schoolmaster. It's unlikely he'd shrug off more direct flippancy like this, though maybe it's a reflection of their having walked this road too many times before. Elsewhere, Bond thinks "She could call him 'dicknose', and he wouldn't care."

EuroDisney is described quite well, as is Dragonpol's History of Theater museum. And Bodo, the Swiss cop who likes to eat, is fun, even if he's more than a little reminiscent of some of those 80s/90s Euro-cop shows I see sometimes up there on the what-the-hell-are-these channels on cable. Felix Leitner makes an uncredited appearance as well. (Probably because of the events of License to Kill. Not that the two continuities ever matched up to begin with.)


First appearance of Flicka, who's probably the best of the female characters in Gardner's Bond cycle. In an unprecedented move, she appears in two consecutive Bond books, the next being:

10.
(1994)

The Plot: After helping to thwart an armed robbery on their cruise vacation, Bond and Flicka are sent to Cambridge to introduce themselves to Max Tarn, your typical wannabe fuehrer with a crazy false-flag plan to bring the world to its knees. Bond travels around and reports to his bosses a lot, and everyone eats coffee and sandwiches. With Flicka's and Felix Leiter's lives on the line, Bond must hang-glide into Tarn's Puerto Rican compound with a team of SAS and blow the place all to hell.

Another messy affair, albeit one that starts promisingly. There's some nice scenery - visits to Israel, Madrid, Cambridge, Wasserberg, Puerto Rico - but it's all perfunctory. The ending is pure Thunderball, right down to Felix Leiter, with a little on On Her Majesty's Secret Service thrown in. But the problem is not the ending. Mainly it jumps off the cliff when it's revealed that the two toughs who kidnap Bond and Flicka in the beginning of the novel - who are repeatedly described as linebackers - are actually Anna and Cathy, two beautiful model-like bodyguards of Tarn's wife (who of course are actually working for Tarn). It is absolutely absurd to think Bond cannot distinguish - even if they are brilliantly disguised - the difference between two model-like women and two huge dudes. It's unbelievable to me that this made it in the book. In no universe in all the universes does this even knock on the door of making sense.

They turn out to be non-factors, anyway, as do all of Tarn's people. Most of the book is Bond (head of the re-organized, atrociously named "Two Zeroes") trying to wrest permission to do things from MicroGlobe One, the new Committee that has collectively replaced M. I understand they wanted to reflect new post-Cold-War reality and all, but it made for a slog. I think this trope was well-played out even in 1994. 

In contemplating Tarn's Fourth Reich visions (a bit of a tired theme for the franchise by this point) Bond explicitly references things he's seen on television or in newsreels, not personal experience. Which makes sense. Fleming never provided a date of birth for Bond, but it's commonly accepted the character was around 42 at the end of The Man with the Golden Gun (1964). So he'd be 72 for the events of SeaFire, which must have seemed too old, so they revised his service record on the sly. 

Timothy Dalton is, as of this writing, 71 years old. Hmm... 

9. 
(1989)

"Entire areas of towns, cities, and even the countryside can be monitored worldwide. No person is safe from the listeners, for eavesdropping has become part of life, necessary because of that other horror with which all countries and peoples are forced to cohabit - terrorism, in its many faces and forms.

The Plot: Bond is lent out to the Royal Navy ahead of land/sea wargames aboard the HMS Invincible that will be personally observed by the leaders of the UK, USA, and USSR. This unprecedented event (codenamed "Stewards Meeting") has been targeted by BAST, a terrorist network following in SPECTRE's footsteps headed by Bassam Baradj. When BAST succeeds in infiltrating the Invincible and holds Gorbachev, Bush the First, and Margaret Thatcher hostage (for 600 billion dollars, American), Bond must use both his Sea Harrier training and all his operational know-how to set things right. 

This novel establishes that Commander Bond (since promoted to Captain) took part in the Falkland Islands war. A recent episode of Blunt Talk flashed back to Harry Blunt (Patrick Stewart)'s service during that conflict. So I now want to see Timothy Dalton guest-star on Blunt Talk.

The wargames are a little over-complicated, as are the cameos of Bush, Maggie, and Gorbachev, though I like that Felix Leitner passes on a "hello" via the POTUS. I'll give this one a lot of credit for accurately predicting global surveillance (I assume what's being described here is ECHELON, though Win, Lose or Die is not listed among the "pop culture references" at its wiki) and Al-Qaeda. 

As with the above, too many improbable covers, faked deaths, and double/triple agents undermine this one. Clover Pennington is never a believable character and the whole evil-WRENs thing has the wrong tone to it for my money. Beatrice Maria di Ricci will return in Cold Fall.  

8.
(1987)

"You live in a country of miracles, Norman. Me, I'd rather be going back across the water to the good life - click of the willow against a villain's head; the roar of the riot, the smell of tear gas; the scent of new-mown grass snakes."

The Plot: Bond assists in a Baltic Sea extraction of two women who have completed an assignment in East Germany. Years later, the same women - and other members of their behind-the-Iron-Curtain-team, codenamed Cream Cake - are being targeted for death. Bond suspects Stasi man Colonel Maxim Smolin, but is there more than meets the eye? And how does SMERSH fit into this? Things come to a head - as they sometimes do in James Bond's life - in a Most Dangerous Game scenario in a remote corner of the Kowloon province in Hong Kong.

I love the title, but apparently I'm in a minority. Granted it illuminates nothing in the plot, but is that a dealbreaker? Gardner hated it. His original was Tomorrow Always Comes. Which strikes me as equally vague but not as catchy. Anyway, the Gardner books sold better in the US, so the US side of the publishing had significant sway over titles, and they preferred first Oh No, Mr. Bond! then Bond Fights Back! which are both terrible, especially for this book. I guess No Deals, Mr. Bond was a compromise. 

This is a decent spy story needlessly compromised by the same double/triple crosses et al. as all the above. Three things, though: 1) Kingsley Amis is named as an example of "elevated reading material," which may have been Gardner needling Amis for the latter's looking down on his work, 2) the Soviets, Bond is told, have their Irish embassy on "Orwell Road, with a forest of communications hardware on top of it." And 3) Bond hates the Mona Lisa out of some deep reaction to his own line of work. Blackfriar (aka General Chernov of SMERSH)'s smile reminds him of it. 

Extra points for Bond's in-cold-blood killing of the final turncoat. Dalton killed it in that scene! 


7.
(1982)

The Plot: Bond teams up with CIA agent Cedar Leiter, daughter of his old pal Felix, to investigate Markus Bismaquer, an ice cream tycoon suspected of reviving SPECTRE. Posing as a dealer in rare prints, Bond approaches Bismaquer and ends up in an impromptu Grand Prix with Luxor, one of Bismaquer's henchmen. He wins of course, and bangs Bismaquer's wife, Nena, who turns out to be the daughter of his old arch-enemy Blofeld. (Needle scratch!) Bond is drugged and hypnotized into believing he's "General James Banker," a key member of the SPECTRE team assembled to infiltrate NORAD and take control of key US defense satellites. Things end memorably in a metal cage of pythons.

Many people consider this the best of the lot, but it took awhile to get going for me. The daughters of Blofeld and Felix thing is silly but mostly harmless. I say mostly because at the end of the book Bond receives written permission from Felix to bang his daughter, which seemed a little... off. But, he also receives a personalized Colt .38 pistol for his part in thwarting SPECTRE, which was a nice nod to Ian Fleming's receiving the same from William Donovan for his part in establishing the OSS in WW2. 

The "ice cream tycoon" business is either awesome or a severe misstep, take your pick. It does make me want to see a version of Diamonds Are Forever where Ben and Jerry play Messrs. Wint and Kidd, though.

Look - is anyone eaten by pythons? Absolutely! It's not SPECTRE without the ever-present death by exotic animal for failure. 

6. 
(1996)

"'Conjunction' became more than a password as their lips met."

The Plot: The action is split into two parts: (1990) Bond is sent to DC to investigate a terrorist attack on an airline that may have killed his former lover the Principessa Sukie Tempesta. Turns out, though, her death was only faked! Until the day after when she's found dead in her car. Bond travels to Tuscany, where the Tempestas (a crime family vying for increased market share in America) hold court. They send him to Spokane, WA after telling him a renegade General (Clay) who may or may not be the military head of COLD (Children Of the Last Days), a terrorist army that is responsible for Sukie's murder. (1994) After the events of SeaFire, Bond returns to London to care for Flicka. He receives a bizarre communique from another ex-lover, Beatrice from Win, Lose, or Die, that sends him to Switzerland, where he picks up the Tempesta/ COLD trail.

Although the plot threads of this one are rather tired (gangsters and renegade generals, more faked-deaths-within-deaths-within-double-crosses, etc.) the dual-era format works to its advantage. My main complaint is M's kidnapping. It's not the most exciting or original plot twist, for one, but more importantly, why is M still even doing the sort of let-me-go-to-Bond-personally legwork that sets him up for the kidnapping in the first place? The man is 185 years old, and he's flying tailgunner in a fighter jet?

Sukie comes off badly, but she came off badly in Nobody Lives Forever (her first appearance) as well, so I guess that's consistent. Beatrice comes across better here than in Win, Lose, or Die

Extra points for all the Fleming-esque detail and opinion about the AH-1W Cobra and its Cold War history. 


5. 
(1988)

The Plot: Vladimir Scorpius, off-the-grid global scoundrel, has resurfaced as Father Valentine, leader of The Meek Ones, a Manson Family-like cult that is staging bombings and assassinations. When James Bond's name is found in the pocket of one of the cult's victims, M pairs him with Harriet Horner, undercover IRS agent, and Sgt. Pearlman, on loan from the military, to investigate. Their search eventually leads to Scorpius Island off the coast of South Carolina, and the White House. 

This one starts off way better than it ends, mainly because the villain fails to live up to his build-up. But it very much speaks to present-day terrorism concerns: Examples include: 

"Do you really believe that a man would hire out people, willing to die at his say-so, as human bombs? (...) A whole way of life and freedom ending. (...) There is no protection - except by draconian security, the banning of all public meetings, the closing of cinemas, opera houses, concert halls, theaters and restaurants." 

It was nice - if a bit disconcerting - to be reminded of a saner age. 

The love story is as per usual unconvincing.

Look - does anyone die in a pit of water moccasins? Absolutely. Extra points. 

4. 
(1984)

The Plot: After Bond receives an inheritance when a distant relative dies, M concocts a plan to try and trap Jay Autem Holy, one of the world's foremost computer programmers who faked his own death but may be conspiring with "Rolling Joe" Zwingli, yet another renegade U.S. general, on some unknown (but nefarious) project. Under a trumped-up dismissal from MI6, Bond goes to Monte Carlo to learn the ins and outs of computer programming (emphasis on ins and outs) with Holy's ex, Percy Proud. After impressing Holy and infiltrating his organization, Bond is offered a job working for a newly-reconstituted SPECTRE, this time run by electronics tycoon Tamil Rahani. Bond is found out and forced at gunpoint into a blimp over Switzerland, where Holy, Zwingli, and Rahani intend to play their final chess piece: feeding a secret code to all defense systems that disarms all the Western powers.

This is a good one, despite its very similar trajectory and ending to License Renewed. It's got a few things in common with the film A View to a Kill, as well. I enjoyed the Bond Joins SPECTRE gimmick, as well as Bond's relationship with Freddie the socialite, who introduces him to Holy. It's suggested she is a contact Bond has built up on his own initiative and over many years, knowing her rolodex (to use the era-appropriate term) would be of use in the future. She's described as older than Bond, but I imagined her played by Mary Steenburgen. Who's younger than Timothy Dalton, but I imagined her as Stepbrothers-era Mary Steenburgen. 

The wargames, floppy disks, and microcomputers are all very 80s, of course, but hey, can't fault it for that. Also, as with Scorpius above, it's all quite prescient. Everything Bond predicts about the computers of the future came to pass. 

3. 
(1983)

The Plot: Bond is returning from training exercises in the Arctic Circle when he stops in on an intermittent lover, Finnish secret service agent Paula Vacker, in Helsinki. This leads him into a shadowy plot involving another would-be Fuehrer (ex-SS officer Arnee Tudeer, now known as Von Gloda), SMERSH (now known as "Department V"), the Mossad, and the CIA. He's assigned to Team Icebreaker, whose members instantly and relentlessly double and triple cross one another. Can Bond escape the Secret Arctic Circle Nazi Base ahead of both the elements and his old enemies in SMERSH?

All of the double-and-triple-crossing really undermines this one, but the setting is so fun it softens the blow. Also, as this was only Gardner's 3rd Bond novel, a lot of his go-to tropes weren't quite as overused as they would be in the years to come. Rivke Ingber, the Mossad agent assigned to Icebreaker, is particularly unbelievable. 

Bond here is all business. Here are three paragraphs to show what I mean:

"The bullet lifted the Russian from his feet, catching him just below the throat, almost ripping head from body. His heels scraped the ice as he slid back, turning as he hit the ground, sliding a good one and a half meters after he had fallen.

"But Bond saw none of that. The moment he fired, his right hand slammed the door closed. The Redhawk went back into his compartment, and the key was fully twisted in the ignition.

"The Saab burst into life, and Bond's hand moved with calm, expert confidence - pushing the button to close the compartment housing the Redhawk, sliding the stick into first, clipping on his inertia reel seatbelt, taking off the brake, and smoothly moving away as his fingers adjusted the hot air controls and the rear window heater."

That's an 80s movie action movie sequence if I ever read one.


2.
(1981)

"This is where we say fare ye weel - For auld lang syne, Bond. Now git ye doon that ramp and practice flying wi'out wings." - Caber, overdoing it a wee tad.

The Plot: Bond is assigned to investigate the self-styled (some believe) Laird of Mulcady, Dr. Anton Murik, a onetime brilliant nuclear physicist and two-time megalomaniac who is believed to be working with international terrorist "Franco" on some undisclosed scheme involving US and Western European nuclear reactors. Bond manages to get himself hired by Murik after besting his bodyguard, Caber, in a trial by wrestling, but his cover is blown when he tries to escape in the Silver Beast. He and Lavender Peacock, the rightful heir to the Murik family fortune, are taken hostage. Can they escape in time to save the world from Murik's master plan?

Of course they can/ do.


This one benefits from being first. If it was, say, the tenth of Gardner's Bond adventures, I doubt it'd rank so highly. It's a pretty good introduction to the new way of doing things, though, and the sequences in Scotland and Perpignan (which seems like a perfect Bond movie destination; I wonder why it's never been used?) are very effective.

And finally:

1. 
(1986)

"Trust no one."

The Plot: Taking a driving holiday across Europe, ostensibly to visit his old pal Steve Quinn (head of Rome Station) and to retrieve his housekeeper May from a Swiss health clinic where she is recovering from an illness, Bond is warned (eventually) by M that Tamil Rahani, dying from wounds suffered at the end of Role of Honour, has put a price on Bond's head. Every assassin in Europe is vying for his head. He survives several odd incidents on the way to Rome but thinks little of it until running into the improbable Sukie Tempesta and her equally-improbable bodyguard Nannie Norrich. When May and Moneypenney are kidnapped by a double-crossing Steve Quinn, Bond must make his way to SPECTRE Island to rescue them and rid the world of Rahani once and for all.

This is the only Gardner book I remember reading back in the day. Somewhere around the same time as when I read Misery, in the same study hall period. I didn't remember too much about it, so this time around was almost like reading an entirely different book. How does it hold up?

Well, as you can see from where it landed in the charts, pretty well. But there are many ridiculous aspects to it, first and foremost its similarities to The Pink Panther Strike Back.
It's a movie I love, so who cares, just saying - clearly the plot and pacing have much in common with the Peter Sellers movie from 1976. (Bond does not, however, pole vault repeatedly into a moat.)

Other problems: wouldn't MI6's background check on Sukie Tempesta reveal at least some of the many background details we later learn about her? (Not to mention in Cold Fall)? The answer is yes, of course it would have. And the whole idea of Tahani planting someone near Bond to make sure he stayed alive while trying to kill him every other minute is, despite being used repeatedly in other Bonds up to and including the one in theaters now, absurd. If the book wasn't such fun reading, these things would be enough for me to subtract serious points. Luckily, we're talking about a cross-continent shoot-em-up that features, among other things, Bond vs. a hammerhead shark and a vampire bat, as well as fisticuffs with an ex-Nazi-sadist in an Austrian castle. And one of the more violent endings in all Bond. 

Great fun. I also liked this, as it seemed a very Fleming-esque observation: 

"Salzburg was crowded - a large number of United States citizens were out to see Europe before they died, and an equally large number of Europeans were out to see Europe before it completely changed into Main Street Common Market, with the same plastic food everywhere and identical dull souvenirs from Taiwan on sale in all the major historic cities."

Cross-reference to Peter Cook's monologue-warning at the end of the original Bedazzled, as well as the changed landscape of Europe since the mid-1980s, never mind the 1960s, and I wish someone had made a film of this back in the day. It wouldn't be the same story now, with the Iron Curtain gone and everyone in the European Union. 

~

I think the Gardner books are an acceptable middle age for the character, with Colonel Sun being the hinge between it and the Fleming era. Really, what needs to happen is a post-Gardner-continuity Last Adventure(s) of Bond, where he's turned full-grey and behind M's desk. M even asks Bond (in Cold Fall, or SeaFire, I forget which) if he'd consider taking over his job in the event of M's death, but like the films, the immediate successor to M is a woman. (Unnamed - Bond is en route to meet her in the closing pages of Gardner's last book, but we don't get to meet her.)

Gardner himself expressed some regret in the way Benson and the others handled the character after his departure. 

"If you don't at least try to take a new and different path and a truly creative approach in writing the Bonds they simply become flat, dull and unattractive and I am sad that nobody has seen fit to really follow in the footsteps of what I tried to do. (...) I took on the task to improve, not to stay firmly within the painted lines of the original, and in the end I had to acknowledge that I'd done all I was capable of doing. Yet the Bonds were a splendid experience: I met some terrific people, I was able to stretch my imagination, and I got to write my own books in between the Bonds.

I haven't read any of the post-Gardners yet. They're next on the list. But I appreciate the Gardner era for what it was, and I enjoyed most of these quite a bit.

52 comments:

  1. I'll have to come back and re-read this. I'm currently going through "Icebreaker" again since finishing "Trigger Mortis" and seeing "SPECTRE" twice this week. It's Bonditis all over again.
    I have to say that I really liked the first three Gardners when I read them upon their release.
    Bond's watch in the Gardner books? It was never pinpointed beyond being a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which pretty much covers almost all models in the Rolex catalogue. 'Oyster' refers to the water-resistance of the cases, 'Perpetual' refers to the automatic movements. Although, much has been discussed and pondered on wristwatch forums about Fleming giving Bond an Explorer model, despite not referring to it by name in any of his books. Fleming himself owned one and therefore, the assumption has always been that this is the model that Bond wore. Based also on Fleming's scant description of Bond's watch as having "large phosphorous numerals" on the dial. The Explorer and some early Submariners had luminous numerals on the dial, but my theory is that Bond wore the Explorer. Some have suggested that he wore the Submariner, since that's the watch that wound up in the early Connery films, but Fleming being a stickler for details, I get the impression he would have mentioned the rotating dive bezel on the Submariner if he had equipped Bond with that watch. In the end, though, this is all theoretical.
    As for Omegas, Gardner probably did show Bond wearing the Seamaster in his novelisation of "Goldeneye" because that's the watch that Brosnan wore in the film. Haven't read this book since the late 1990s.

    My favourite three Gardners are probably "For Special Services" (despite the creepy/sleazy 'gift of a daughter' bit) because I liked the return of SPECTRE with the villain twist, "Icebreaker", because Bond has never teamed up with other agents in the past, and "Licence Renewed", because it came along at a low-point in the film franchise's history and saved 007 from becoming a childhood memory in my life. If the films being churned out were average to bad, at least the books kept Bond relevant for me.
    So I'll always have a soft spot for John Gardner. And I liked the couple of Liquidator books of his that I read back in the early '80s.

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    1. Much appreciated on the extra watch info. I believe you're right about the Gardner Omega connection being only in the "Goldeneye" novelization. I also keep seeing the SPECTRE Omega ads on my walk to and from the train, and I think I've got the Seamaster on the brain.

      Sounds like we are aligned more or less on Gardner - glad to hear it! I'm looking forward to the Bensons - and Trigger Mortis and all other points on this Bond line. All stops, ticket stamped.

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  2. I was put in mind of something by you having mentioned how many times the nickname "Q'ute" is explained: is this sort of thing a trope of men's adventure books? You know, the series like "The Destroyer" and "Mack Bolan"?

    My assumption is that it is, and that those series exist under mandates by their publishers that each book in the series be treated as though it is the first one. Because, for some readers, it will be. That would certainly have been true in the seventies and eighties, when -- and, again, I'm assuming -- books in general sold in greater numbers, and paperbacks specifically were more widely available. You'd go to grocery stores or pharmacies or gas stations or where-have-you, and there would be a whole row of Destroyer and Executioner novels staring back at you, and if you were a MAN, maybe you'd pick one of them up and buy it and give it a read. You didn't care that it was #72 in the series.

    During the time when that market existed, James Bond was kind of a perfect fit for it. So it may be that in some respects, Gardner was following his publisher's mandates and trying to make the novels all be accessible to potential readers no matter who was reading it. In other words, it might be that they all cared about the casual reader more than they cared about the devoted reader.

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    1. You're almost certainly right on this. I can see that being a mandate of some kind, of perhaps even the bargain struck in order to use Q Branch at all, I'm not sure.

      Introducing her and her nickname twice in one book, though - that might have been taking it too far!

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    2. Absolutely. You wonder if that might not be an editorial slipup -- or perhaps a thing Gardner simply conditioned himself to do as a result of the theoretical mandates.

      Or maybe he was just a sloppy writer. Any of those things might be true.

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  3. I got into reading the Gardner novels for the same reason I got into reading the Fleming novels: I was a fan of the movies, and I was a devoted reader of novelizations. Reading novelizations lead to reading novels, in some cases; I mean, yeah, I picked up "Goldfinger" for much the same reason I picked up the book version of "Back to the Future," but you certainly can't say that "Goldfinger" is a novelization.

    It scratched much the same itch, though, which seems to have been some sort of compulsive desire to enjoy the world of James Bond in multiple ways. Naturally, a line of novels by another author would have appealed to that same instinct. So I bought them all and read them all, and mostly enjoyed them.

    They didn't stick with me too well, though. I've remembered them vaguely but fondly over the years, so I enjoyed getting a bit of a refresher course through your eyes. It sounds to me as if you more or less enjoyed the same ones I remember enjoying, with a few exceptions.

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  4. "Death Is Forever" -- I remember liking this one, but I only read it once, and none of the details sound familiar. Even the implication that James Bond pooped out a bunch of (hopefully dead) spiders rings no bells, and given how terrified of spiders I am, you'd think that would have stuck with me.

    My peak-Gardner-enjoyment time was probably 1987-1989, though. I can't remember when I read my first one, but I suspect it was around '87. The first one I bought in hardback was almost certainly "Brokenclaw," which I didn't like even back then. I kept buying and reading the books dutifully for the remainder of Gardner's tenure, but lost a lot of interest in them. I suspect I probably failed to actually pay much attention to them, which would certainly explain why I remember nothing about this one.

    I do remember liking it, though. I'm guessing that what was actually the case was simply that I liked it more than I'd liked the few which preceded it, and that's not saying much.

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    1. If I'd read these out of order - or more spaced out, perhaps, that is to say if I'd spaced them out more, not if I'd taken a handful of 'ludes and read them or something - I think I'd have been more positive on Death Is Forever. What really sunk that one for me (besides Easy) was just the repetition of so many other things (the double/triple crosses, faked deaths, etc.). That really wore thin for me as I made my way through the later Gardners.

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    2. p.s. I assumed the decision to seal the fiddleback spiders file until the year 2500 was done by someone named "Burnette" at MI6 HQ.

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    3. That's my cousin, who is commonly referred to at headquarters as "B" and whose primary responsibilities consist of suppressing any and all disturbing stories related to spiders, black holes, and tomatoes. Also, he's tasked with eating as many buffalo wings as possible. You know, for research.

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    4. This has a great deal of comedic potential.

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    5. "Now, pay attention 007," B said; or so Bond thought, muffled as the words were by the food still in the man's mouth. "Traditionally, it's the Germans and the Polish who make the advancements in sausages. But these American chaps are getting their foot in the door, and we'd best be prepared."

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    6. "Who is this madman?" Bond wondered. He shrugged. "Quite right, B. Now, I need the telex on the radioactive spider SMERSH has been using in -"
      "Oh no we don't! Files sealed. Til 2500."
      "But without it, England is vulnerable to -"
      B licked the sauce from his fingers and shook his head violently. Bond weighed his options...

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    7. I'm tempted to just keep right on going with that. We'd have a wonderfully dreadful novel on our hands in no time flat!

      The villainous organization would be F.L.A.V.O.R. (Forthright Laborers AdVancing Overnight Revolution), or some such nonsense. Communism by means of dipping sauce!

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  5. "The Man from Barbarossa" -- I was relieved that you claimed this one as your least-favorite Gardner Bond novel, because my memory of it is of not liking it much at all.

    It came out at around the time when I was first figuring out that books and movies and tv shows could be of inferior quality as a result of the way in which they were made. I wonder if everyone experiences dawning revelations of that sort. Maybe not; I tend to assume that most people are sharper and more knowledgeable than I am, so maybe everyone else was much faster on the uptake than I when it came to figuring out that writers and directors doing a bad job was an actual thing that happened.

    My point being that "The Man from Barbarossa" was almost certainly one of the first books that I disliked with a cognizance that I'd disliked it because I felt the author had done a poor job.

    Interesting that Gardner liked this one the most among his Bond books. It reminds me of Stephen King's assertion that "Lisey's Story" is his favorite of his own books. I mean, like: why? How? Huh?

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    1. I know - are they just being contrarian? Or perhaps it's the child no one else loves, so their paternal protection kicks in, or something.

      Whatever the cause, though, yeah, Barbarossa is a mess. For quantifiable reasons, too, i.e. you've got too many damn characters in this scene, too many red herrings, too many coincidences and disbeliefs, etc.

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    2. I've written just enough fiction -- by which I mean I've written enough fragments which are unlikely to ever be finished -- to grasp the notion that for an author, a novel or story must exist on two levels at once: there's the book they imagine, and the book they actually write. The one they imagine is by far the more magnetic of the two, I suspect, and it's that that they are probably really speaking about instead of the actual writing. When and if they read what they actually wrote, I suspect they read it very differently than you or I would.

      So it makes a sort of sense to me. Still...HUH?!?

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  6. "Brokenclaw" -- That's a ridiculous title, isn't it? Just Flemingian enough to pass muster, but too silly to withstand actual scrutiny.

    Do I misremember, or does Bond spend some time in this novel hanging from hooks in a sort of vision-quest scenario? Or is that the villain? Both?

    This is definitely the first Bond novel I remember disliking. I thought it was just silly, and I think I remember being vaguely offended on the behalf of both the Chinese and the Blackfoot peoples.

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    1. Your memory is correct. Oh-kee-pah!

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    2. I wondered if that was what that meant. Weird. But given the travelogue and cultural-exploration-from-an-imperalist's-point-of-view tendencies of the Fleming Bond books, it's not a bad idea to have done a Bond novel that explores Native American ideas and settings. It didn't work, but you can forgive the impulse.

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    3. I agree. A Native American Bond villain (not to be sterotypical, but one who has amassed great wealth, perhaps at his or her nation's expense, from a casino and partnership with organized crime, SPECTRE, etc.) has potential. I also like the idea of, say, a Navajo Felix Leiter of some kind. Anyway - it sure ain't Brokenclaw.

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    4. p.s. My counter-scenario would seem to work at cross purposes with the Bond-tail-end-of-imperialism tendencies you mentioned. But now I'm thinking this is fertile ground. Both of them, actually - this is a good idea!

      My immediate impulse is to want to name it something goddamn awful, such as "Kimosabe, KimoDEAD" or even worse "Broken Treaties." Or maybe "Where the Fugawee, Mr. Bond?" as a nod to "The Sopranos" episode. But, thankfully, I've learned to suppress such impulses, just in case I ever get the call from Ian Fleming Publications.

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    5. Hmm. You're onto something here, but it occurs to me that since the Native American experience is so thoroughly a product of American culture, there's almost no room for the Bond-as-avatar-of-imperialism dynamic to get in.

      Barry Nelson's Bond, maybe...

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  7. "Never Send Flowers" -- I've got positive memories of this one. The EuroDisney setting of part of the plot made an impression on me, and I wonder how the publisher was able to get approval from Disney to do that. Now that I think of it, does a book even need to get permission for something like that? I know a movie would have to, but maybe books are different legally.

    I was a fan of Flicka. I liked her, and I liked the fact that Bond had a recurring girlfriend who was important to the plots of the books for a while. That was the sort of thing the movies -- and books, for that matter -- hadn't done up to that point, and it made sense to give it a try. I think that "Spectre" is setting the movies up to do something similar, but -- and I'm going purely off of a very vague memory here -- I think Gardner did a better job of making that possible than the new movie's writers did.

    I like the title "Never Send Flowers." Or at least I did until typing this very sentence, during which I realized that it is a very silly title that probably means nothing.

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    1. Flicka was good! It felt right to give Bond a multi-book fellow-spy girlfriend, I agree.

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  8. "SeaFire" -- Good lord, that bit with the linebacker-sized women sounds like an even-more-embarrassing version of Bambi and Thumper. I don't remember that AT ALL, and I wonder if I somehow just glossed over it because I wasn't paying attention.

    I do remember a bit about MicroGlobe One and Two Zeroes. I liked all of that, actually. But that was twenty-one years ago, and I probably enjoyed it only because it seemed fresh.

    Today, not so much. I understand that in the real world, there is a lot of conversation to be had about whether spy agencies should exist, and what form they should take if they do, and what their limits should be. I don't care about any of that within the context of a Bond novel or movie, because the LAST thing I'm looking for in a Bond story is hard-hitting political content. I'm happy for there to be realism, especially in the context of characterizations; but I just don't want or need my Bond stories to try to justify real-world spy practices. Good lord, how boring.

    This didn't keep "Spectre" from doing it, of course, despite the fact that "Skyfall" had done it a mere one film before. And I wonder if the next movie in the series won't feature some equivalent of MicroGlobe One. If so, I'm going to put my head in my hands and heave a very large sigh.

    As for "SeaFire," I remember liking it, but that have been purely because I liked Flicka.

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    1. Gaa - the more I think about SPECTRE, the more aghast I am at how much of a mess it is. It retroactively works against the others, too, much like the Michael-Scott-less seasons of "The Office." I hate when that happens.

      But yes, exactly - I don't mind a nod to real world concerns, but I don't need to be bogged down in them. It'd be like if an episode of 24 kept stopping so Jack could eat or go to the bathroom. Don't need it!

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    2. Yeah, sorry to keep harping on "Spectre." I just can't help it!

      That 24 analogy is terrific. I did always want there to be a three-or-four episode arc where you'd just see Jack snoozing in a chair ever time it went to a split-screen, though. That's my sense of humor for you.

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  9. "Win, Lose or Die" -- It's cheesy, but I love that title.

    I liked the book, too, but from what I remember the execution never lives up to the concept. Bond having to save and protect the literal leaders of the free world is a pretty great idea, but from what I remember, the villain never amounts to anything. I also remember thinking that the book tried to be too serious, and failed; whereas it might have been better off just being an exercise in eighties-style silliness. The Bond-novel equivalent of a Schwarzenegger movie, in other words.

    But I'm going off a very faulty memory here, so I may be talking gibberish.

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  10. "No Deals, Mr. Bond" -- Man, I always LOVED that title. I guess it is kind of arch and self-aware, but so what?

    I can't even imagine a world in which the title "Oh No, Mr. Bond!" would be used as anything but a parody. That's dreadful.

    "Tomorrow Never Comes" seems like the setup for a Pierce Brosnan pun; and since these are all Timothy Dalton novels, that doesn't seem at all appropriate.

    All I remember of this novel is the Most Dangerous Game scenario. But I enjoyed that aspect of it quite a bit.

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  11. "For Special Services" -- This was probably my favorite of the books when I was a lad. The fact that Bond is romancing a good friend's daughter never bothered me, but I wasn't then the sophisticate that I am now. Now, that seems creepy at best; and are you kidding when you say that Felix essentially gives James a permission slip at the end? Because if not, oy vey...

    Also, do I remember correctly that Blofeld Jr. turns out only to have one breast?

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    1. Yes - I meant to mention the one-breast thing. I was particularly proud of this plot summary of mine. I enjoy trying to improve on the ones I see out there, or to present a more McMolo-lens on things. I failed here, tho, and should have added "one-breasted" to my description of Nena.

      This one's fun - it definitely feels like a Bond movie of its era, well, not counting "FYEO" - but it just took too long to get going for me.

      And yes, Felix's permission slip at the end floored me. Felix is taking this Bond-devotion thing too far...

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    2. The implications are simply too profound for me to contend with.

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  12. "Cold Fall" -- Which, I know from my own research, was titled "COLD" in Britain.

    None of what you describe rings a bell with me at all, except for James caring for the ill Flicka. But it sounds like it's at least an interesting deviation from the format, and I do remember liking the book reasonably well.

    Does it read as if Gardner knew this was his last book with the character? I'd be curious to know if he intended it as a wrapup in any way.

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    1. Indeed it does read that way, at least to me. And it's even dedicated (with thanks) to Glidrose.

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  13. "Scorpius" -- The television series Farscape included a villain named Scorpius, and while I loved both the show and the character, I always sort of resented them because I felt like they'd knicked the name from the John Gardner novel.

    This is one of the Gardner books I enjoyed the most, and the cult angle of it all fascinated me. I still think that would be interesting ground for the movies to explore eventually, and if you include the terrorist angle as well then you might really be cooking with gas there.

    Too bad the novel doesn't end as well as it begins. My inability to recall details about these books is seeming less and less like solely a problem with my memory...

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  14. "Look - does anyone die in a pit of water moccasins? Absolutely. Extra points."

    This running gag made me laugh every time you used it; I kept meaning to mention that during this comments, and somehow forgot it.

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    1. Happy to hear that!

      I believe I noted all of Bond's fisticuffs with non-humans, not counting German shepherds of SeaFire and maybe one or two other places. Dog vs, Bond seemed not exotic enough to note. Technically, he fights some wolves in Brokenclaw, but I didn't count those because all they end up doing is licking his genitals.

      Through his pants, of course.

      Wait, why the HELL did I not include that??

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    2. A better question might revolve around why Gardner did.

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  15. "Role of Honor" -- This was always one of my least favorite Gardner 007s, for no reason I can recall.

    I wonder about something. The Bond movies of this era were legally unable to use SPECTRE thanks to the Kevin McClory lawsuit. I wonder why the novels were able to use them.

    Actually, I wonder quite a bit about the relationship between the movies and the continuation books. Does EON own the rights to all the books by default? If not, could Glidrose sell the movie rights to the Gardner books to some other production company or studio? Would EON have a sort of first-right-of-refusal on that?

    I seem to recall somebody in an official capacity once saying that the movies would NEVER adapt any of the continuation novels. Seems like a bit of a shame. I know they want to preserve the illusion that it's all based purely on Fleming, but surely nobody can actually still be fooled into believing that.

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    1. I have many questions on this topic, as well.

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  16. "Icebreaker" -- Here's another one I liked a lot. Man, that action sequence you quoted is ridiculous. I think it might be Sylvester Stallone playing Bond in that scene, not Timmy D.

    I remember liking all the Mossad stuff. I suspect this was the first time I'd ever heard of the Mossad, and in fact, I'm pretty sure I assumed they were a fictitious organization invented by Gardner. Instead, obviously, they are a real-life bunch of badasses with somewhat questionable ethics. Makes me think of "Munich," which is a flippin' GREAT movie.

    It might all be a bit too dated now, but I always thought "Icebreaker" would have made a fine Bond movie. If not the plot, then at least the title and setting.

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    1. I agree - I really wish they would make this one a movie, actually. This and "Nobody Lives Forever."

      I kind of love those 3 paragraphs! Bond's got things to do; he knows the guy he just killed is toast. No time for a quip or even a glance over his shoulder. If I was his editor, I'd request removing "calm, expert confidence," as I don't think it's needed, but the rest of it, I approve.

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    2. It makes a sort of sense. The Bond movies of the era had conditioned people to accept Bond as (more or less) a superhero who could do damn near anything. So why shouldn't the novels follow suit to some degree? I'm sure it made perfect sense to readers of the day.

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  17. "License Renewed" -- Why "license" with an s was okay for this novel whereas it had to be with a c for "Licence to Kill" is a mystery to me, although I appreciate the movie getting it right from an English point of view.

    This was never one of my favorite Gardners, though I suspect I'd enjoy it more today.

    Lavender Peacock is simply unacceptable as a Bond-girl name. No, John; take that back and try again.

    I do recall enjoying the Scottish setting a bit, though. The over-the-top dialect didn't cross my eyes none, possibly due to the fact that when I first read this novel, I was still reading Star Trek novels frequently. Many of them contained horrid Scots dialect from a certain (sartain?) engineer, so I guess I was just used to it.

    In the unlikely event that I ever write a novel set in Scotland, I pledge NOT to do that.

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    1. Agreed so so much on Lavender Peacock.

      I wonder how that Scots dialect stuff comes off to different people around the UK. Irvine Welsh should be hired to rewrite all of Caber's lines for this, on the sly.

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  18. "Nobody Lives Forever" -- I previously said that "For Special Services" was my favorite of the Gardner novels, but I think it might actually have been this one. The Bond-as-hunted-man aspect of things, especially when applied to a global chase, is irresistible. I remember liking Sukie a lot, too, although when I reread it I betcha all I'm going to be able to think of is Bill Compton hollering "Sookie!" on True Blood. And that's unfortunate; nobody should have that in their head.

    That passage you quoted really does sound like Fleming. I wasn't a keen enough reader back in the late eighties (or the early nineties) to really be good at noticing whether one author was doing a good job of sounding like another or not; this will be one of my principal enjoyments -- or frustrations, as the case may be -- when I get around to rereading all these books.

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    1. I had that "Sookie!" growl in my head for days, working on this.

      As for Sukie Tempesta, she doesn't transition well to "Cold Fall."

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  19. Final note: the two novelizations Gardner wrote ("Licence to Kill" and "GoldenEye") were pretty good, from what I recall. The former more so than the latter; my memory of it is that "Licence to Kill" felt more or less like a genuine Bond novel, whereas "GoldenEye" felt like a mere novelization, albeit a better-than-average one. I wonder if the female M referred to in "Cold Fire" was intended to be the same one from the movies. Seems possible; Gardner probably would have written those two books back to back, based on when they were both released.

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    1. I agree - they're quite good. He even adds back Felix's injuries from "Live and Let Die" in "License to Kill." Which is to say, he subtracts from Felix's bodily person. Addition by subtraction!

      Thanks as always for the wealth of comments! I think with Gardner, it's like Kiss - it's best just to get and read all of them.

      Looking forward to the Bensons and all subsequent terrain.

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    2. Once you get the Bensons under your belt, you'll officially be one up on me; I've only read two of them plus the novelizations. I enjoyed those reasonably well, though.

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