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Topic: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Following on from my well received series reviewing Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, I am about to embark on reviews of the continuation novels, particularly those by John Gardner.

I am searching for a copy of John Pearson's "Authorised Biography" which should really be reviewed prior to the 1981 updatings by Gardner. If I find a copy I will eventually include my opinions here.

I am starting the series with Sebastian Faulks' DEVIL MAY CARE.

There is method in my madness. Faulks based Devil May Care in 1967 (the drugs bust and arrest of The Rolling Stones is mentioned by Bond's housekeeper) so in terms of continuity it actually takes place between The Man With The Golden Gun and Colonel Sun. (I still don't quite know where the Octopussy adventures fit in a potential "timeframe"!)

Additionally Faulks claims to be "writing as Ian Fleming" so in many respects I probably ought to include Devil May Care with my earlier reviews. I haven't because, unlike Robert Markham / Kingsley Amis in 1968, there are simply too many years between Fleming and Faulks for it to be interpreted as a direct sequel. I am also not convinced about Faulks authorial claim on the jacket!

The other reviews will be read in chronological publication order. I won't be dwelling too much on timeframes and inconsistency with continuity because I think that may damage my overall impression of a novel. If, however, any of the novels particularly focus on a continuation storyline (e.g. For Special Services) I will certainly comment on its relevance and acceptability.

I gave contentious [to some] ratings for Fleming's novels and I will do so again here. I will try to give effective and honest statements, but I am not a tremendous fan of Gardner. Therefore my ratings are based purely on the quality of Gardner's output, without comparison to Fleming.

To attempt to judge by comparison would falsely deflate all of Gardner's work as I consider almost all of it to be inferior to Fleming. This does not apply to Faulks, who is shameless in his attempts to write as The Master.

Hope you enjoy the reviews.

Chris.

To catch up on my Ian Fleming reviews, follow this link....

http://www.ajb007.co.uk/topic/33508/bond-novel-reviews/

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Hey, Chrisno . . . as far as I know, you can still pick up Pearson's Bond biography in bookstores in the UK.  I got mine from a bookstore in the Cotswolds two years ago while visiting family.

Cheers!

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Thanks for the advice re: John Pearson everyone who has contacted me. It now puts me in something of a quandry regarding my review schedule....
However as promised....
Devil May Care to follow asap.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

DEVIL MAY CARE
22/1/2010

DMC is disappointing.

Apparently, Sebastian Faulks decided to write DMC the Ian Fleming way: six weeks of solid writing, completing two thousand words every day. If Faulks was expecting praise for that effort, I’d gladly give it to him, but only if the finished product was remotely akin to Fleming’s body of work. Faulks’ 400 or so pages don’t begin to touch anything like the best of Fleming’s adventures. This is disappointing because Faulks himself is an exceptional and insightful author. Quite what he is hoping to achieve by producing such a dull piece of work is beyond me. He claims to be “writing as Ian Fleming.” My inclination is that he’s impersonating the rather tired unimaginative version who wrote TMWTGG, as DMC has as uninspired a narrative as Fleming’s final opus.

So what of the story? DMC has the semblance of a plot, involving a crooked millionaire pharmaceuticals manufacturer who is plotting to start a war between Britain and Russia. The premise isn’t too bad, resembling Drax's intentions in MR, but the execution of it lacks conviction. There is a lot of talk and hardly any worthwhile action. When the violence does come, it is of the short-sharp-shock variety and passes with none of the panache and vigour Fleming gave us. The most effective action takes place in the opening chapter, where the seedy underbelly of Paris is beautifully evoked. It’s pretty much downhill from there.

What always made Fleming’s writing good was his regular refusal to abandon his lead character; even when others are helping 007, Fleming rigidly stuck to describing a mission from Bond’s point of view. This allows the reader to experience the tension and the fear from Bond’s position. As DMC reaches its climax, Faulks effectively tells us there won’t be a nuclear war because Bond’s allies have obtained all the information and managed to tell London. This rather removes the tension from Bond’s battle on the Comet aeroplane, which was something of a diversion from the main attack anyway. Two strikes are better than one, you might say, but it stinks of poor authorial craftsmanship. We also learn there is now a mole inside the enemy camp; what a pity they didn’t try to procure him earlier! It’s a bit of a cop out.

Faulks has made life hard for himself by including so many unnecessary characters, people like Felix Leither, Rene Mathis and J.D. Silver. The trouble is, they are superfluous to the plot. They may add some local colour, but they don’t really help Bond resolve his mission. All they do is provide a series of loose ends to tie up. Faulks realises this himself, for one of his characters tells us that loose ends abound in espionage.

He’s equally bad when it comes to his main protagonists. Like Fleming, he doesn’t describe much about Bond, choosing instead to offer a series of semi-reflective paragraphs interspersed into the story. We get the impression of a rather tired, aging agent, who has just about had enough of the special services and looks at himself “with a distaste he made no attempt to soften.”  Faulks tries to evoke memories of GF, OHMSS and YOLT, but he’s staggeringly incompetent. Worse, he has our hero flitting about Paris, when any good Bond scholar would tell you Bond hates Paris (re FAVTAK 1960). There’s no real feeling for James Bond in the writing and despite using several “experts” on 007’s history he commits several errors of continuity.

The character of the heroine Scarlett Papava is unbelievable. Saddled with a name that is both the colour and the strain of the opium plant, you sense Faulk’s is playing silly word games. It gets worse when her “sister” is called Poppy. It’s a clumsy interpretation, nothing like Fleming’s women; indeed she is almost too seductive and resourceful. It is soon very obvious she is a spy and Faulks telegraphs her appearance as 004. The MacGuffin of Scarlett’s “twin” is equally preposterous and here Faulks shares one of John Gardner’s traits: M doesn’t tell Bond everything he needs to know, effectively putting both his agents at greater risk. If she really is a field agent, it beggars belief she doesn’t show it more often given the scrapes she and Bond get into. She’s a better actress than she is a spy. Hence this excessively long courtship is possibly the dullest in Bond literary history.

Even shallower are Faulks’ villians. Dr Julius Gorner (I don’t like the name, it isn’t anywhere near sinister enough) is clearly based on a variety of Bond villains and is provided with an Achilles heel – a deformed hand – an ape’s paw. Sadly that’s as menacing as Gorner gets. He skulks around Marseilles, he’s asexual, he’s a Nazi and a Soviet turncoat and he offers drug addicted women to be raped by drug addicted slaves, but this hasn’t made him memorable. Even an elaborate scheme to cheat at tennis merely makes him appear like a spoilt brat.

Chagrin is a psychopathic murderer who is hardly fleshed out at all. His name reflects his disposition. Gorner offers a few lines to explain his bodyguard’s tendencies in a manner familiar to Bond readers from GF, where Goldfinger has to talk for Oddjob as the man is mute. Chagrin is actually a human experiment (re AVTAK 1987) and suffers from an enhanced pain threshold (re TWINE 1999). He’s also a dab hand at Chinese torture (re CS, 1968).

Bond’s chief ally is Darius Alizadeh, our man in Persia, and Faulks draws a better character here, giving him a proper back story and some good dialogue. Faulks has clearly based Darius on some of Fleming’s more colourful creations, like Kerim Bey, Tanaka and Colombo. He uses him to explain much of the politics of the time and this is an excellent device. This is probably the best section of the novel, but having set up his scenario involving heroin, nuclear bombs and a Soviet Ekranoplan boat, Faulks fails to deliver the required goods. There’s no pace to the story and, like CR, it reaches a climax with over 50 pages remaining. The last two chapters feel like excessive padding.

It isn’t a very good novel and doesn’t grasp the essentials of Ian Fleming: the attention to detail, to things and people and happenings, to senses and smells and thoughts, above all he paid attention to Bond’s realisations and there just isn’t enough of that in DMC. When it’s there, Faulks does okay, but too often he forsakes it for shoddy action or dull dialogue. If a reader is unfamiliar with the literary James Bond, they may find DMC a pleasant enough read, but I would like to think they might see through the lazy literary game being played here. Faulks has all the ingredients, but he hasn’t put the flesh on the plate and the whole thing, other than a few tit-bits, is a fairly indigestible mess.

3 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

With you on that one, Chris...

"Blood & Ashes"...AVAILABLE on Amazon.co.uk: Get 'Jaded': Blood & Ashes: The Debut Oscar Jade Thriller
"I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
"Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Taking a brief pause while I wait for delivery of my copy of Pearson's Autobiography... really looking forward to this one and everyone else's thoughts once I've posted the review...
Watch this space>>>>

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Still waiting....
In the meantime, I've proceeded with Christopher Wood's movie adaptations.
Here follows James Bond,The Spy Who Loved Me

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JAMES BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
3/2/2010

Christopher Wood is a screenwriter and novelist whose major claim to fame is penning the two most financially successful Bond films of the 1970s. His other credits include such inglorious titles as the “Confessions...” series of sex comedies and their associated novels; for the latter he used the pseudonym Timothy Lea. Wood made his association with director Lewis Gilbert the year before they embarked on The Spy Who Loved Me. The two made the odd geisha movie Seven Nights in Japan which was clearly jumping on the bandwagon of Ai No Corrida. It’s no where near as sensational, quite dull really. Gilbert doesn’t mention it much; perhaps the director is slightly ashamed of it.

However, it is worth highlighting that Wood had a stable career before his involvement with Bond, both in films and novels, because it helps to establish he is not a jobbing writer, but a fairly prolific author, even if his output is regarded as being low brow. What his screenplays show, and the novelizations reinforce, is that Wood has a good line in playful comedy, with a particular word for innuendo, and he is able to construct a feasible narrative.

Wood himself is on record as regarding the end product of a Bond film as very much a team effort. Firstly, the story wasn’t his own, being suggested by other authors and then championed by Broccoli and Gilbert; Wood was employed to fashion a shooting script. Once his final draft was delivered, it was then picked apart, some scenes were cut, others added and re-scripted, stunts were included, character names change and dialogue was re-written. For those who decry some of the more outrageous elements of TSWLM, it is worth reading the novel to appreciate exactly what Wood originally envisaged. 

James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me starts with an idyllic love scene between two Russians. Neither is named, but the chapter is reminiscent of Fleming’s opening of FRWL; the Black Sea setting, the naked sweating bodies in the humidity of summer, the inability to converse, the hard muscled bodies. Later we learn the woman is Anya Amasova, a Major for the Russian secret service SMERSH, and she was being assessed by her superiors for her sexual prowess. She’s described as “a proud girl... not promiscuous” although there is clearly a sensuous side to her which conflicts with ever mindful Soviet efficiency: when called away, the telephone receiver hangs “like a bomb waiting to be dropped.”

General Nikitin is a loathsome Head of SMERSH. Like Rosa Klebb [to Tatiana] before him, he displays a distasteful sexual interest in Anya. It is suggested he also doesn’t wash and wears a wig. His hands are “like burrowing animals,” he has bad false teeth and is jealous of Bond’s reputed success with women. This is not the genial General Gogol of the KGB we eventually meet on screen. 

Anya herself is “natural and unforced... there was not the coldness and remoteness [Bond] expected from Russian spies.” She comes across as resourceful and quick thinking, although apparently she has never directly killed anyone. She is exceptionally beautiful and purposeful: “she moved across the room as if it was a vassal state to be crossed to defeat an enemy.”

I like Wood’s interpretation of Anya. It feels very close to Barbara Bach’s on screen personage. Better still, Anya reads like a well rounded romantic heroine; Wood emphasises the gradual change in her attitude to Bond as she falls in love with him; the fact that their relationship is chaste adds to the tension, as Bond equally desires her. When she learns Bond was responsible for the death of her Russian lover, the response in her is sudden. Anya’s shock is reflected in her passivity: unused to raw emotion, all she can do is squeeze the offending memo into a tiny ball.

Anya may be a believable heroine, but by the novel’s end she is still a damsel in distress. The other [very slight] female characters are drawn in a similar old fashioned manner and here Wood’s (or Lea’s) past gets the better of him. We have selections like “over lush trollops,” “little Rusky filly” and “the aristocratic grace of a pure bred saluki.” There are also plenty of ingenuous references to sex.

Wood does provide us with two sterling villains in Stromberg and Jaws, both of who he describes at some length. Sigmund Stromberg [not Karl] has a background similar to Goldfinger’s and he is equally barking mad. Wood paints him as being quite revolting with “cold watery eyes... a sphincter mouth” and a “web like fold of skin” between his thumbs and fingers. There isn’t much for Stromberg to do or say; Wood misses two opportunities to expand his role, initially during Bond’s visit to Atlantis and later during a confrontation aboard the Lepardus [not the Liparus]. Fleming would never have left such yawning gaps.

The treatment of Jaws is vastly different to the jokey movie giant. There is a real sense of horror surrounding the henchman. He’s been mistreated from childhood and abused by authority figures. Unfortunately, Wood doesn’t hide his protagonist from us for very long; he simply drops his name into a sentence: “...he started screaming and Jaws pulled him down...” This is disappointing as Wood creates a great deal of mystery around this steel toothed killer. He really does seem to “have come from the Stygian, unexplored depths of the ocean.”

In fact, there is an overwhelming sense of dread and evil hanging over the proceedings. At the climax, Bond likens the exploding tanker to “Hell by Hieronymous Bosch” and after Bond kills a duo of SMERSH interrogators he imagines “streams of homeless vermin... leave their bodies” abandoning their sinking ship as Stromberg later abandons his. Wood draws time and again on the theme: a pilot who ferries Bond to his likely death won’t shake 007’s hand, he’s “something not to be touched;” later Bond muses on “spices, jasmine, detritus, corruption, history, danger and death;” ejection from a torpedo hatch is likened to a “chrysalis of death;” and the windows of a mountain hut are “sunk back in the walls like old man’s eyes” watching the impending assassination.

Perhaps the redeeming feature of JB,TSWLM isn’t with Wood’s phraseology, which is mostly competent, though never exceptional, but in his portrait of the central character. This Bond has thoughts and feelings and is a good update of Fleming’s hero. He isn’t squeamish (he kills one assassin in cold blood), he reflects on life during a plane journey, he eats scrambled eggs, he dislikes technology (“one day soon there would be a computer doing his job”) and we learn of both Bond’s awareness and his vulnerability.

When we first meet him, he is cursing his misfortune at the roulette wheel and wondering whether he’s walked into a murderous honey trap. This Bond reacts to situations in a palpably real manner: when in danger “the electricity of fear ran up his spine,” during vicious torture “the roman candle of pain... burns out his soul” and when confronting a murderer he admires the man’s dedication to duty. Bond even refuses to use the hotel taxis because they are a den of spies and security proofs his own room. It is nothing like Roger Moore’s suave and sophisticated adventurer.

Wood provides several clever gadgets for his Bond, including a typewriter that conceals a Walther PPK, a shoulder holster in the lining of his jacket, a rocket firing ski stick and a pencil torch. Yes, we do have the Lotus Esprit, but there is no Q and none of these knick knacks overwhelm the earthiness of the piece. The novel isn’t sensational. The huge sets we witness on screen come across as very believable on the page and most of the action passes by in a very traditional and often quite a nasty fashion.

Overall, I think Christopher Wood has done a thorough job here. It isn’t a great novel, but it does add some glamour to the Bond canon and manages to fit quite easily into a “Fleming-Eon” time frame. Wood references Fleming more than the movies and I think it’s because he understands what made the original Bond novels so good. He partially succeeds and while JB,TSWLM is lumbered with its screen history, there are snippets of excellent writing which make you wish for a longer, more in depth and even more fulfilling narrative.

6 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/images/interview_christopher_wood4.jpg

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Thanks
ajb007/martini

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

My copy had the original movie poster art on the cover...always loved that poster  ajb007/heart

"Blood & Ashes"...AVAILABLE on Amazon.co.uk: Get 'Jaded': Blood & Ashes: The Debut Oscar Jade Thriller
"I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
"Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

JAMES BOND AND MOONRAKER
6/2/2010

Like the film on which it is based James Bond And Moonraker is a virtual re-run of The Spy Who Loved Me, Christopher Wood’s previous Bond adaptation. The novel provides the thrills and set pieces as expected but, like the film, lacks the detail of its predecessor. This is a straight forward rendering of the screenplay and while there are subtle differences, the overall impression is James Bond as a sort of modern court jester, joking and seducing his way through the novel. He gets into some nasty scrapes and Wood describes them all fairly well, but any real sense of danger is dissipated by the characters’ mirth-some dialogue.   

As such Bond is hardly described at all. He has a “thin, hard smile” and his lovemaking is “cold.” One of his many conquests says he “was no ordinary man” and amazingly his “reputation precedes him” – someone even calls him “Mr James Bond, 007, Licence to Kill.” We learn most about Bond’s apprehensions when he spends four days traversing the Amazoco in the Q-Craft. This is one of the better sequences in the book and Wood invokes the tension in the environment “hemmed in and closed off... by the oppressive surroundings.” He does similar work when Bond considers Venice’s winding canals “enclosed and claustrophobic.” These are some of the best passages in the novel, but there is precious little like it.

The story starts with the hijacking of a space shuttle and Wood displays some of the techniques we are familiar with from Ian Fleming; men reflect on their lives before they are taken away in a single violent second. Bond’s introduction is as careless as in the film, but Wood’s description of 007’s terror as he falls through the air without a parachute is suitably invigorating: “suspended in mid-air, his heart fell faster than his body.”

This strong start is obliterated by a swift interview scene that encapsulates the jokey banter of the film. Bond learns very little about his assignment; in fact everything he learns about the villain Hugo Drax he obtains from the helicopter pilot Trudi Parker. These chapters are crammed with innuendo and I started to feel distinctly uneasy. Was I reading James Bond or a Timothy Lea sex comedy? In fairness, Wood may not have been taking proceedings too seriously (this is after all the one where 007 gets shot into space) but it is disappointing after the sterling efforts he made with JB,TSWLM.

There’s little Wood can do about the space station finale, but he does try and keep Bond’s feet on the ground as much as possible. M’s briefing takes place in the Operations Room, Jaws’ role is reduced, the gondola chase smarter, the time frame more realistic and most of the earth-bound action is believable. But for every “hornet swarm of hot lead” there is a quip and pun to defuse the suspense. Wood also skips over important details like the clearing of the Venice laboratory, the creation of the space station and the building of six Moonraker launch facilities. It’s a frustrating mixture and I sense the author’s hands were tied; he was more deft in JB,TSWLM

Bond’s women suffer equally. While Anya Amasova was a comprehensive heroine, the three ladies featured in JBAMR are functional at best. Trudi is clearly the most wanton, being as “Venus rose off Paphos... her smile challenged sunlight... the blonde hair shone like spun silk... she moved beautifully as if she was about to launch into a dance.” She gives herself quickly and willingly to Bond, as does Manuela, a barely described Brazilian beauty. The titillatingly named Holly Goodhead is a NASA trained CIA agent whose “face had a stern wariness about it that was at odds with her feminine curves.” Bond later remarks while they’re floating about in zero gravity on space shuttles: “When I think of all the girls I know who would be useless on this trip.” Holly is eminently capable but she lacks a strong personality.

Wood partially redeems himself with the portrayal of Drax, who is described as having a “refined vulgarity.” He is a big bear of a man, with red hair and botched plastic surgery (a nod to the source novel). Bond likens him to “an underwater object that has accumulated weed and vegetation.” Always in control, he speaks with a “contented purr” and has “an inability to surrender completely to the spirit of the music” when reciting Chopin. His jibes at Bond and his English mentality are as funny on the page as they are on the screen. Wood points out that there is nothing he enjoys more than “to see the English pick up a dose of humble pie.” Unfortunately the despotic aspects of Drax do not come across so well and his portrait feels unfinished. He’s almost too refined and not vulgar enough.

Wood hardly bothers to inject Drax with any sense of menace. The threat he poses is represented through the poisonous pollens of the orchidaceae negra, which once induced sterility but now harbour death. Bond observes the black and red tipped flower from afar: “Behind its sheen of surface beauty there was evil... the shape suggested a praying mantis... within the heart there was a tiny foetal face crushed so tight that it seemed to cry out in pain and despair.” This is a fine piece of writing, but there just isn’t enough of it in JBAMR. The novel is a good representation of an enjoyable movie, but as far as the literary James Bond goes, it’s a bit of a dud.

3 from 10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

http://www.pandora.ca/pictures18/243328.jpg

Oops, wrong one! ajb007/biggrin I mean:

http://www.bookitinc.com/pictures208/974324.jpg

Wow, it these two get such low ratings goodness only knows what the likes of John Gardner are gonna get!

I liked MR as I recall, though I suppose what they slightly lack is that journalistic travelogue vibe Fleming brought. On the plus side, I like the fact that Wood has wood for the ladies, his soft porn actually works whereas with Gardner and his successors I felt they were doing it by numbers and had no real zest for it. Moreover, I liked the observations made by Bond, in particular how Trudi Parker was dicriminated against because she was attractive, it was assumed by many she'd be a bimbo when she could pilot an aircraft. This is the stuff of Fleming whereas Faulks seemed incapable of it.

Last edited by Napoleon Plural (7th Feb 2010 16:33)

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

I'd give you that.
However fair Wood's treatment of Trudi and Holly, he's saddled the unfortunate Manuela with a very bimbo-ish role. There isn't actually a lot of sexy stuff in JB&M, although there is plenty of fun innuendo (much like the movie). He's more sensually aware in JB,TSWLM and I think he gives the sex a very Flemingesque touch in that one.
We can debate Gardner's pornographic efforts when I get there!

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

"James Bond glided away from Holly so he could admire her naked body."

was a line of unabashed lechery from the outer space bonking scene that provoked much consternation to me and a mate as nine-year-olds.

But that said, Spy had a nastier, more authentic edge. Sadistic. It signposted to the young reader that he is going off piste, into dangerous adult territory. Frankly, you just wouldn't imagine the current Bond establishment sanctioning that.

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

JAMES BOND, THE AUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY
14/2/2010

John Pearson’s James Bond, The Authorised Biography stands alone in the Bond canon as a ‘non-fiction’ work. I use the word reluctantly; James Bond is of course a fictional creation. However, Pearson, who had already written a biography of Ian Fleming, uses a distinctly original approach to his opus. Perhaps more so than any other continuation novel, it tells us about James Bond’s life.

JB,TAB isn’t interested in villians and evil plots. In fact the cast of characters are mostly the British espionage network. M features prominently, as does Fleming and Maddox, a rather extravagant pre-war operative, who Bond models himself upon. The approach, while being original, isn’t entirely successful, but it does offer tantalising glimpses inside the world of the spy. Whether these are real or imaginary episodes is hardly the point, Pearson is constructing a life history of a fictional hero and how he does it is thoroughly enjoyable.

As a long time Fleming and Bond fan, I am somewhat surprised this novel is frequently overlooked. I was hardly aware of it myself until a year or so ago and the reactions I have read are generally dismissive. I would disagree. JB,TAB draws a line underneath the Fleming-Amis series and by the end hints at a possible (unfulfilled) continuation. That both this and CS are routinely ignored by later chroniclers is surprising given that they both attempt to remain faithful to the world weariness of Fleming’s Bond and illicit a sense of the fantastical, both about 007 and the world he inhabits.

Pearson is the nominal narrator of the story. Intrigued by a letter from a German woman who read his “‘official’ life story of Ian Fleming,” Pearson has [apparently] dug too deep into the history of the “‘real’ James Bond” and is being hounded by Urquhart, a top executive at M.I.6. The result is a commission to present the true history of Agent 007. As such the novel follows a less familiar path than most biographies; the writer seeks out his subject and engages in a long almost one-to-one dialogue. We do have a childhood portrait, the deconstructing of the hero and an attempt to analyse the subject through their deeds, good or bad. It’s a fictional character study of intriguing depth and some sensitivity. The downside is that Pearson has researched two people here: Bond the hero and Fleming the writer, for at times he evokes both an authorial style and a heroic persona we are equally familiar with. 

At the very beginning Pearson is reflecting on airline food (“a four course plastic meal, a triumph of space age packaging”) and ruminating on how he reached this point. He writes of himself as an intrigued dedicated journalist and paints the mystery of 007 very well. He’s so convincing that at times I almost had to pinch myself to remind me Bond isn’t real.

We meet James Bond in Bermuda where he is convalescing and romancing his old flame, Honey Rider, who is now a rich widow. Bond however is still a man “in the shadows... There was something guarded and withdrawn... He had the look of someone who had suffered and was wary of the pain’s return.” Bond is living the fictional character’s life and not the other way around. Pearson intimates that Bond “seemed curiously unreal... almost as if he felt it necessary to act a role” and notices “a touch of parody... Bond acting out Bond.” This is a clever device as it allows the reader to make both the literary connection and the cinematic one. Pearson’s Bond laughs at the movie adventures and is disappointed Sean Connery was chosen to play him. There are several hints that the novels describe Bond as Fleming wished him to be, not as he is.

However by the time we reach those far off climes the novel has wobbled somewhat and begins to feel rather truncated. Pearson doesn’t consider retelling the Bond adventures we know and love, an understandable move, but this means we have to accept them all as being ‘accurate.’ We learn MR is a complete fabrication, but most of the stories are dismissed as faithful interpretations. Pearson is generous in filling in many of the gaps in Bond’s early life and subsequent career, but he allows his subject to escape interrogation regarding the later more familiar years of his existence.

James Bond is a Scotsman and has inherited his father’s melancholy “a shut in, brooding quality” which hangs over most of his later decisions, friendships and affairs. The description of his school and teenage years rings true to many elements of 007 Fleming introduced. Pearson intertwines the threads of Bond’s behaviour as an agent with the “solitary, brooding, unforgiving youth” and his unfortunate formative years. Pearson goes on at length to clarify Fleming’s writings from Bond’s point of view. There is a sense of fantasy versus reality; as Bond explains why he climbed the Aiguilles Rouges, “to lay the ghost’s of his parents.” Pearson is cleverly embellishing the mystique of his subject.

Later he creates a whole different stratum for the story, allowing a teenage Bond to become involved with the brothel madam Marthe de Brandt. The corrupting Marthe is a most un-Fleming creation; Bond is already quite a free spirit and his seduction and willingness to be the “talk of Paris” and “the kept poodle of a notorious tart” seem unlikely. It serves as an improbable arc of Bond’s character development. As such it sits uncomfortably with the rest of his life history. So, Bond was a youthful cause celebre; he is even forced by the spy Maddox to commit a crime of passion. That none of this early scandal affects his suitability to become a secret agent is strange enough, yet Pearson never allows Bond to explain why he allowed Marthe to consume his life so thoroughly.

Later we spend a long time learning how Bond allowed Tiffany Case into and out of his life, suggesting he “has an instinct for female lame ducks... there was a challenge... her vulnerability... some reflection of his mother.” Marthe also has much of his mother’s idiosyncrasies, yet we learn nothing of the effect she had on him except one line: “never let a woman rule you.” He appears more ready to forgive Maddox than Marthe.

Indeed Maddox is possibly the most villainous slouch in the novel. Bond seems to idolise this manipulative little man, who finds the young imp “insufferable, arrogant and ill educated.” Yet they forge a strange father-son relationship, not unlike the one Bond later shares with M or the mountaineer Oberhauser. Bond is betrayed twice by Maddox but remains strangely ambivalent to his friend’s misdemeanours. He appears more upset by the commercial intrusions Ian Fleming has procured his life.

Pearson increases Fleming’s actual influence with the Secret Service and develops a supposed early fleeting friendship with James Bond. They meet in Kitzbuhel before the war, work in Naval Intelligence together and then bump into each other sporadically for years. It is Bond’s literary creator who recommends reversing the ruse from Montague’s The Man Who Never Was to conceal Bond’s existence. While this all works well in a tongue in a cheek manner, it gives a peculiar slant to Fleming’s own life story, making him almost as fictional as his creation. 

As the novel exits the Second World War and enters the Cold War, the very point it should become interesting, allowing us to read what really happened during Bond’s career, it actually becomes less interesting. Pearson spends much of the time creating small adventures either not mentioned by or elaborated on from the books. In general these are well described, oblique affairs. The best of them occurs in pre-war France. Entitled the ‘Luminous Reader’ it relates how Bond “saved the bank at Monte Carlo,” although when the card sharp Esposito remarks that the casino director isn’t doing his job, I was in full agreement; Pearson has somewhat telegraphed the result of the scam.

The chapter entitled ‘Scandal’ where Bond is sacked from the service for fouling up a diplomatic mission after the war feels contrived. While an interesting little story in its own right, it isn’t adding anything more to Bond’s personality; he’s still essentially a slacker looking for the good life. The only security and conformity he has known was in the Navy and Naval Intelligence, where his cold, hard, calculating mind is trained, instinctive and effectual. Several times Pearson mentions how “at the point of crisis Bond’s mind was [always] quite clear, and... working out the odds.”

The most peculiar tale of many is a union smashing escapade on Jamaica involving a beautiful deaf mute called the Goddess Kull, “a gentle, silent girl with golden skin.” It smells very LALD, is rather tawdry and semi-pornographic. It lacks some of the finesse of Fleming’s handling. Pearson’s better reflecting on a kill Bond is struggling to make: “It would have been better to have known nothing, for knowledge causes pity.” There is a pensive gloominess to many of the adventures in JB,TAB, as if Pearson is telling us our hero is tainted by the death which surrounds him: acting the part, but not living it.

His affliction stems from Oberhauser (the Austrian killed in OP) who tells Bond not to blame himself or accept the burden of guilt. Accordingly, Bond perfects “a conscious plan for living... to live entirely for the moment and enjoy the pleasures of his calling... no more remorse or regret... he would turn himself into a lethal instrument.” This neatly transposes the passage ending CR where Bond compares espionage to Cowboys and Indians, with the inevitability of death for the loser.
 
Perhaps the major failing of the piece is Pearson’s treatment of Bond’s love life. While I expected a few liaisons to be mentioned, the sheer volume of them is startling. There truly is a girl in every port for this sailor. Pearson’s injudicious attitude to Bond’s women, including Honey, who turns out to be a gold-digger of the grandest scale, rather brands Bond the misogynist dinosaur M accuses him of being in the movie GE. Worse, while concentrating at length on the doomed affair with Vesper and his co-habitation with Tiffany, he glosses over Bond’s wife. Tracy and Bond’s relationship is given no more depth here than in OHMSS. Bond is rather annoyed with Fleming for avoiding the subject, he “clearly felt Fleming failed to do justice to his love for Tracy” notes Pearson; yet this author is culpable too.

Similarly the revenge mission to Japan (surely a defining moment of his life?), his KGB torture and rehabilitation are skimmed over, as if the author has lost interest. Maybe he wanted to keep the semblance of mythic heroics intact. Pearson ends his ‘biography’ in the present. Irma Bunt has been conducting genetic experiments in Australia and M, who it turns out is still a health fanatic and has even taken up naturism (heaven’s above! – has Mike Myer’s read this?), wants 007 back on the team. The last chapter feels rushed all round, like many of Fleming’s own codas, but Pearson keeps one eye on the ball with a final line that neatly paraphrases CR: “Well, that’s that,” says Honey, “The bastard’s gone.”   

So Pearson’s done all right here. At times he’s tried to do too much. He has the ingredients for short stories and even novels here, but he’s crammed them all into the time frame of James Bond’s life as we know it. Some add to the telling (‘Luminous Reader’ particularly) others detract from it. There’s almost too much going on in James Bond’s life; at times I expect him merely to be working up the rungs of promotion, biding his time and efficiently fulfilling his duties. The ‘biography’ is perhaps too sensational, and given the format Pearson employs to tell his subject’s ‘life story’ I think he’s over-egged the ingredients.

What JB,TAB really reads like is the fantasy world Ian Fleming would have inhabited, given the chance, all the danger, excitement, fast living and beautiful women. Pearson, who worked with Fleming at the Times, recognises this too: “No one should waste their talents and life like this” the ‘fictional’ Fleming tells the ‘non-fictional’ Bond who was “missing London, missing the old life, and the excitement.” Ultimately that probably explains why Bond returns to service at the book’s end. Like us, like Fleming and Pearson, he simply can’t bear to be away.

7 from10

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_p4I9kL_myy0/SEw5OonxAuI/AAAAAAAAAOc/M_dWl8tg2Jk/s400/john-pearson-james-bond.jpg

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Quite a fan of Pearson's book myself...probably my favourite non-Fleming Bond book  ajb007/bond

"Blood & Ashes"...AVAILABLE on Amazon.co.uk: Get 'Jaded': Blood & Ashes: The Debut Oscar Jade Thriller
"I am not an entrant in the Shakespeare Stakes." - Ian Fleming
"Screw 'em." - Daniel Craig, The Best James Bond EverTM

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Pearson's book is so good, I feel as it parts of it have entered Bond lore, in particular the details behind the death of his parents in a mountain accident, and how he got his 00. It's as if Fleming wrote that stuff in the same detail, though he just touched on it.

The Riddle of the Sands wartime exploits are very exciting also. It all has a ring of truth.

The problem lies towards the end. It's plausible that Fleming should have fictionalised Bond's Casino Royale exploits to bamboozle the Russians, but not that he'd carry on with it or that Bond would have such extraordinary adventures. Moonraker is the only one said to be made up, (naturally as, uniquely, the villain is meant to be famous but never existed in real life). But from then on it gets a bit, 'next year Bond was involved in the Thunderball affair and helped save Miami' sort of glossed over in a truncated way. It doesn't really work and the real exciting stuff is earlier in the book. Overall, I like the writing in it, it's very more-ish. ajb007/smile

Last edited by Napoleon Plural (24th Feb 2010 10:17)

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Hahaha.... you summed up my review perfectly, Napoleon!  ajb007/martini

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Ok guys, John Gardner reviews coming up.
Remember my ratings are not a comparison to Fleming (I don't believe anything by Gardner is better than most of Fleming, TSWLM and TMWTGG being possible exceptions) merely an appraisal of Gardner's output.

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

LICENCE RENEWED
4/3/2010

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1981

When John Gardner’s first James Bond continuation novel was published in 1981 it quickly rose to number one on the bestseller list; this is more an indication of the public’s love for all things Bond rather than the novel’s own merits. While Licence Renewed is a comparative triumph, it lacks emotional depth and suspense, two of the ingredients essential to the success of any thriller. He’s competent around the action, but all Gardner’s people seem somewhat lifeless.

Two things are worth noting before commencing any critical assessment of Gardner’s 007 output. Firstly, the author made no claim to be directly inspired by either the novels or the films (he was naturally familiar with both genres). He usually steers away from obvious references to Fleming’s books. This can only be a good thing, in that it avoids having to create and then rely on a [possibly fraudulent] timeline and character history. Secondly, he claimed to have re-imagined all Bond’s previous adventures into the late sixties and early seventies, thus drawing a line under the problem of Bond’s age.

In LR, Gardner doesn’t explicitly tell us the latter, but there are hints Bond is older (“minute flecks of grey had just started to show”) and altering his lifestyle. He appears to have developed a boyish, impish charm to go with his handsome face and is adept with an occasional well aimed quip or three. Indeed it is the appearance of humour that marks out LR as a direction change for James Bond, not entirely successfully.

Early sequences in this novel definitely pay homage to the 007 of the movies: Q branch have created plenty of gadgets for Bond to use, he drives a fancydan customised Saab 900, Ann Reilly a.k.a Q’ute is an early conquest, her bedroom is a pastiche of the elaborate sets from 1960s spy movies, Bond gently teases Moneypenny and humours M. There is even a cryptic reference to “paperbacks with guns and girls on the cover.” I enjoyed this early banter, which has a tongue firmly in cheek; Gardner isn’t taking his subject too seriously and is really poking gentle fun at the films.

Other than an obvious reference to Bond’s wife, there isn’t much on display of Fleming’s world. The horse racing scam from DAF is recreated effectively and much of TB is rehashed. Several segments, including the climax on board a Starlifter transport plane, resemble elements from GF. Otherwise, Gardner has done well to remove almost all trace of repetition from his novel. What he lacks is style and panache.

There is a lot going on in LR and it takes and awfully long time to get us there. Bond is chasing after Anton Murik, the Laird of Murcaldy and a brilliant nuclear physicist, who has contact with the terrorist Franco. The secret service is called in to keep a close watch. Bond infiltrates the Liard’s castle and clan, makes and enemy of the henchman Caber and a friend of the beautiful ward, Lavender Peacock. He also uncovers Murik’s scheme, a ransom threat against six nuclear power stations. It is only at this point, halfway through the book, that Bond finally sees some action. The slow progress is further weighed down by Gardner’s insistence on explaining the finer points of gunsmiths, the adaptations to Bond’s car, the tricks of a pickpocket. There is a wealth of information here, but all this detail takes away the basic element of suspense and smothers the characters.

While Bond is given a customary glossy nondescript once-over, Gardner’s villain and heroine suffer from an equally galling lack of attention. Murik is something grotesque. He reminded me of an ugly dwarf, being just over five feet tall with a white beard and hair and “possessed with the movements of a grounded bird.” Despite having “dark slate eyes, the colour of cooling lava” there is precious little menace from this nasty little man. Even when called upon to be fierce, Gardner describes Murik as “a bulldog and bird all at the same time” which sounds frightful rather than frightening.

Lavender Peacock has “the nervous tension of a young woman unused and straining at the leash.” She isn’t an innocent, but displays a rather unlikely naivety regarding her circumstances. It baffles the reader (but not Bond who accepts the situation with little or no question) that a mid-twenties single woman of the early 1980s would abide the behaviour of her guardian. I saw oblique references to Lady Diana Spencer in the cosseted and claustrophobic upbringing. Bond’s eventual seduction of Lavender, who likes to be called Dilly (ugh! One of Gardner’s worst jokes) is no more satisfying than his brief fling with Q’ute, a mere few sentences packed with innuendo.

There is an old fashioned manner to everything at Castle Murcaldy, from butlers to formal dinner parties to Highland Games. Gardner overwhelms us with his portrait of life at the fiefdom, when the only point of interest is Murik’s plot; the rebuffing of Mary Jane Maskin, a poor man’s Fiona Volpe, and the besting of Caber, a stereotypical Scots giant not unlike Jaws or Oddjob both feel unnecessary interludes.

Gardner does his best work in the middle portion of the novel. Bond’s escape is thwarted and the story finally comes to life. The chases and fights come thick and fast, particularly through the streets of Perpignan, where Bond confronts Franco. There is pace and urgency in these scenes. This is Gardner at his best (“the metal jerking in his hand like a trapped snake”) yet it also shows up his deficiencies. There is a torture sequence that more than adequately relates events but fails to add any descriptive flair. For instance, we are told “the swab was damp, cool the hint of its smell reaching his nostrils,” but we don’t know what the smell is! Similes like “a thousand bats winged their way around his brain in confusion” offer no route to the sense of anguish Bond experiences. Gardner chooses to tell us what occurs, not show us.

The climax is drawn out for a further fifty pages and Gardner again commits an error when transferring his attention temporarily to M and Tanner and then to the terrorist groups. While these infringements are minor, it does suggest an indifference towards Bond’s ability to translate events to the reader. We don’t need to know what occurs around the globe because Bond, or Murik, has already told us the likely consequences. It’s a lazy, repetitive technique.

Having said all that, the redeeming feature of LR is that it does read well, is generally quite entertaining and has a splendid modern – and still relevant – plot. Gardner has hit the ground running with a solid adventure yarn, which, if not comparable to Fleming, certainly at times evokes his memory. I enjoyed it, despite some misgivings; for me, Gardner is winning the fight with this one.

7 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (4th Sep 2010 15:18)

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Last edited by Napoleon Plural (6th Mar 2010 17:50)

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

I take it you disagreed with my review then?

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Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

A visual depiction of Licence Renewed, though I will replace it with the real one in due course. Well written but 8/10? It reminds me of Empire's review of DAD - two thirds slagging but three stars cos you can't officially diss a Bond film.

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017