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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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 Grüsse 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:
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...
"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.
"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!
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.
"'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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.