Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

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  • DavidJonesDavidJones BermondseyPosts: 221MI6 Agent
    Interesting reviews - keep them coming!
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 333MI6 Agent
    SeaFire (1994)



    As John Gardner’s tenure as official Bond author drew towards a close, his penultimate original novel, 1994’s SeaFire, moved 007 onto surer ground. Gone were the labyrinthine plots and hectic mazes of deception that characterised the last few Gardner tales; here Gardner provides a clear and thorough plotline, marking a definite improvement over his past few ventures into the world of Bond.


    James Bond is despatched to investigate the mysterious shipping magnate Sir Max Tarn, uncovering a global scheme to cause catastrophic natural disasters and bring about the return of the Third Reich. With a billionaire industrialist foe seeking control of a valuable resource, an alluring heroine, and high stakes, the author manages to assemble a respectable concoction of Bond ingredients. Chief among these is the memorable presence of the sinister Max Tarn: “He…clasped Bond’s hand in a grip as tight as a hangman’s noose…an undertow of bleak, unbalanced evil…” With an implicit hint of insanity resting beneath the charismatic façade, similar Nazi-themed backstories, and even similar names, Bond’s nemesis immediately puts the reader in mind of Christopher Walken’s intense portrayal of Max Zorin in 1985’s A View to A Kill, and comes across as a more developed threat than many of the other adversaries Gardner invents for Bond to confront.


    Elsewhere, the construction of Gardner’s action sequences sees a definite improvement. Two scenes in particular- the vicious fight to the death aboard a sabotaged submarine, and the final pursuit involving high-tech Powerchute vehicles- bear close parallels with similar escapades in the later Eon Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and it is difficult to believe this is merely a coincidence; perhaps the film-makers noted the increased cinematic potential of Gardner’s action in this particular adventure? At any rate, the author’s prose in these sections is polished and vivid: “the blade of the knife slid home, like pushing a spade into soft ground…the sea…catching him with dozens of hands bent on pulling him down…” Gardner’s description of the submarine confrontation succeeds in evoking Bond’s frantic desperation and despair, especially with the addition of a striking dramatic moment where our trapped hero experiences a surreal nightmare: “ He dreamed of diving for pearls…a terrible ghost from the past appeared…Tracy di Vicenzo, lying dead…” Garner devotes more attention to Bond’s inner thoughts than usual, and this tactic pays off, allowing the reader to gain a sense of a haunted and disaffected protagonist, riven by melancholy and wary of his budding relationship with appealing Swiss agent Fredericka Von Grusse. This is a more sensitive portrait of James Bond than most in Gardner’s canon, one fraught with emotional intrigue, and for this the author is to be commended.


    In conclusion, SeaFire is ultimately among the stronger of Gardner’s Bond novels. With a colourful enemy, a thrilling denouement and some interesting characterisation of 007, Gardner manages to get Bond’s adventures back on track, resulting in one of his more enjoyable contributions to the crowded continuation saga.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 333MI6 Agent
    For Special Services (1982)



    A year after John Gardner made his 007 debut with the generally well-received Licence Renewed, he returned to plough the same literary furrow with 1982’s For Special Services. While the author emerges with some credit here, For Special Services is most definitely a mixed bag of an adventure.


    The plot involves James Bond’s covert investigations into the mysterious Markus Bismaquer, as he begins to suspect that the secretive industrialist is using his wealth to fund a revived faction of SPECTRE, hidden away deep within the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. So far, so cliché. Yet Gardner injects a vein of almost satirical eccentricity into proceedings that instantly lifts the entire tale above the workmanlike. Whereas Licence Renewed stuck rigidly, for the most part, to Fleming’s original formula, here the whole adventure tends towards the brink of parody. The weird happenings at Bismaquer’s desert ranch could be argued to be in keeping with Fleming’s later stylings, such as the surreal darkness of Blofeld’s Garden of Death in You Only Live Twice, but if this was Gardner’s intention then it doesn’t quite work. Rather, the outrageous circumstances in which Bond becomes embroiled during the course of his American sojourn are conveyed with a lighthearted flourish through matter-of-fact prose, lending it a coolly comedic tone not unlike Roger Moore’s contemporary exploits on the big screen in Moonraker and Octopussy.


    For example, billionaire industrialist Markus Bismaquer’s global empire is based, not on gold or oil, but on the noticeably less valuable commodity of ice-cream. SPECTRE’s schemes are ultimately revealed to centre on drugging supplies of ice cream and using this to brainwash others into carrying out their evil plans. I’m not sure what to make of the ice cream brainwashing plot. On the one hand, its certainly memorable. On the other, its utterly ludicrous. Even more ridiculous is the fact that SPECTRE decide to test the brainwashing chemical on James Bond. Why the organisation would want their greatest enemy, rather than some random henchman, to play such a key role in aiding their plan isn’t really explained. The scenes in which a hypnotised Bond must infiltrate a secret US Army base are mildly confusing at best and laughable at worst. It’s a shame that Gardner chose to stake the credibility of the story on such a risible plot point, as much of the rest of the novel remains exciting and intriguing. There are a few strong action sequences, the excellent opening plane hijack and the tense hotel fight being early highlights. A welcome element of character insight is introduced as Bond wrestles with his own paranoias over whether SPECTRE have truly returned, but this conflict is swiftly abandoned when the villainous cabal’s presence becomes obvious. It’s a little disappointing, as a greater emphasis on character over plot would have helped this adventure considerably. As it stands, For Special Services boasts some well-crafted action and suspense, hobbled by an absurd, contrived plot. Close, but no cigar.
  • SpectreOfDefeatSpectreOfDefeat Posts: 333MI6 Agent
    Diverting into non-fiction briefly, we have


    The Making of GoldenEye by Guy Pearce (1995)


    This relatively slight coffee-table book, released to coincide with the premiere of the seventeenth Eon James Bond adventure, does exactly what it says on the tin; provide a straight-down-the-barrel factual history of the production of GoldenEye, from the earliest script drafts to the final rounds of publicity promotion. While there isn’t much to be found here in the way of shocking revelations, or on-set gossip, if you’re looking for a decently detailed account of the film’s conception and development, this will probably do the trick.

    The book mostly consists of a series of interviews with key cast and crew personnel, such as Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Martin Campbell, Pierce Brosnan, Isabella Scorupco, and Sean Bean, amongst others. Highlights include Pierce Brosnan’s filming diary, which manages to be extremely comprehensive and insightful, with contributions from Martin Campbell on the tribulations of directing, and a lengthy chapter on the special effects used during the tank chase. There are also a number of behind-the-scenes photographs, some of which appear to be exclusive to this book, although other are disappointingly only printed in black-and-white. The narrative also suffers in places from being written a little too much like a press release, smoothly gilding over some behind-the-scenes problems while taking the time to throw jibes at rival action films such as True Lies. Overall, though, if you’re in the market for a veritable smorgasbord of trivia about GoldenEye, as well as a fascinating and straightforward account of its production, the Making of GoldenEye is an easy recommendation.
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