Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

So was he contractually obliged to knock them out? And how much did he get paid for each novel?

Mentioning the year each novel was released in your reviews might help provide a useful context, ChrisNo1.

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

chrisno1 wrote:
Ricardo C. wrote:

You should read about Gardner's history with Bond at the author's website. It's really just a long explanation about how Gardner didn't even want to write Bond and he thought the series was terrible in the first place. Gee, I wonder why his novels were so bad.

While not having read those thoughts for a long time (I thought theyw ere published somewhere?) I am aware of Gardner's reluctance to continue with Bond. He was ill in 1984/85 and felt compelled by Gildrose to write 2 novels when he really wasn't interested. Equally he championed TMFB, but got negative feedback and created that dastardly confection DIF, almost to spite his publisher! What I fail to understand is why he continued to write these novels when he wasn't interested in the product (money? reputation?) Surely he should have been in a position to just say "No!"

It must have been the money. He thought James Bond was crap and even told Kingsley Amis so.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Thanks for the tip, Napoleon... a bit late now mind! ajb007/lol
I'm not a Gardner expert. I don't think I'd be able to conjecturize each text in relation to his personal life even if I tried...


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Not his personal life, but what was going on in the world at the time in terms of international politics. That Royal Family story would have been pre-Diana I take it? Had it been around the time of It's a Royal Knockout, the villain might have garnered some support...  ajb007/biggrin

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Some of his novels, Nobody Lives Forever and Scorpius had interesting ideas, but never came to fruition.  An author who actually cared about what he was writing would have been able to do a lot more with those novels than Gardner.  The money must have been pretty good to keep churning out the same story over and over again.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews


Here is the Gardner on Bond article I have been refering to; revealing and not quite surprising.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews




The central villain of Seafire is the mad, neo-Nazi multi-millionaire Maximillian Tarn. While Tarn is hardly the most original of characters (think Von Gloda from Icebreaker crossed with Tamil Rahani from Role of Honour), is saddled with a familiar hidden history (think Yevgeny Yskovich from The Man from Barbarossa) and isn’t given the most original of plots (think industrial disaster from Licence Renewed crossed with the Rise of the Fourth Reich from Icebreaker and numerous other non-Bond related fiction) he does inhabit one of the most straightforward of John Gardner’s novels.

Seafire starts with a violent act of piracy aboard a cruise liner, thwarted by 007. This in itself is a change for Gardner who usually begins his tales with a red herring of a murder, so I had high hopes at the out set. Gardner’s Bond is now in charge of a special intelligence division called the ‘Double Zeros’ which operates under an umbrella committee called Micro Globe One. Basically this is an update of Fleming’s wonderfully realised and rather unlikely S.I.S.

I enjoyed the early scenes. Bond is relaxing into the soft life with his live-in-lover, Swiss agent Flicka von Grusse, who has the “distracting habit of wandering around indoors clad in the flimsiest of garments” and their banter, while still bordering on the shallow, does read at times as if they really are a bickering romantic couple. Bond is also wary of his new role. Throughout he shows a “dislike of committees that wasted time” and his assertion that they are “notoriously leaky” has a ring of truth to it.

Very quickly we are introduced to a clear plot line; the villain is identified; the likely causes and effects outlined; Bond’s mission is explained. This old fashioned method of storytelling serves Gardner well. In keeping the story simple, he should be able to develop his set pieces and his characters better.

And yet he fails to do so. The frustration is in the detail. There isn’t much of it. Gardner seems to have given up investing his cast with anything other than spurious personas. There are lots of clever inventions here: a pair of twin female assassins, a drug addled black girl, a dumb giant German, a wily English traitor; yet none of them is given anything remote interesting to say, nor are they described in any detail. The dialogue particularly is long winded and often it seems to fill up the page without telling us anything significant about the people or the plot.

Gardner’s saving grace has sometimes been his fine eye for locations, but he hardly pauses to describe them here. A brief travelogue of Seville is his most successful piece, where flamenco dancers form “a carousel of singing and dancing... a counter rhythm with castanets and stamping feet... the throbbing, colourful and exciting art... clapping, stylised, spontaneous.” Later on San Juan is “cooled by the gentle trade winds, guarded and nurtured... but prey to pirates... the problems of drugs, poverty and violence.” Yet much of the rest of Seafire is ordinary and uninvolving.

Certainly Bond gallivants around Europe and Puerto Rico and gets involved in some nasty scrapes, but the episodic manner first developed for Nobody Lives Forever does Gardner no favours. Between jaunts to Cambridge, Seville, Athens and Munich, Bond is fated to report back to Micro Globe One and in these chapters Seafire is less of a thriller and more of a dull expose of political infighting.

The modicum of good, imaginative action sequences raises the temperature in fits and starts. The motorcycle chase and gunfight through Seville is particularly fine (“three bullets caught him in the face...Flicka’s mouth frozen open in a scream of anger... a dreadful carving of horror”) and its culmination in a ruined amphitheatre (“the womb of the Roman Empire”) suggests Bond is acting out his gladiatorial instincts. There is also a fine piece of suspense as Bond infiltrates a lawyer’s office in Wasserburg, which has parallels to several scenes in the movie series.

Towards the climax, Bond is trapped inside an old German U-Boat and has to enact a sudden daring escape through the trunk hatch. This extended sequence is excellent. Gardner cranks up the atmosphere “the wallowing rocking motion had a hypnotic effect... the mutter of talk...the journey seemed to take endless minutes... hours became days; every nerve and sinew became alert, nervously jumpy with anxiety.” Bond starts to hallucinate about his wife, Tracy, and her image “a blurred picture, lying dead, her face buried in the ruins of a steering wheel” metamorphosis into that of Flicka von Grusse.

For here Gardner has attempted to construct a love story for James Bond. And it is Seafire’s Achilles’ heel. Because while he invests much time on these two lovers, who copulate with frequency and trade one liners like a couple of stand-ups, there isn’t any warmth in their relationship. Flicka is a non-entity of a heroine. She is an exceptional secret agent herself and Gardner’s problem is giving her anything significant to do. Several times she’s merely a foil, at other times she stands idle and silent as Bond plays out his role as head of the ‘Double Zeros.’ In fact Flicka is excluded from most of the action scenes; Bond fights the odds alone. There isn’t anything tangible that binds her to Bond. As much as he pines that “if anything happened to Flicka it would be his fault alone,” we simply don’t care very much about this heroine.

Gardner recognises this, firstly by insisting Bond has developed a personal vendetta against Tarn. This never seems likely. Even a government minister queries it: “I thought that went against all the tenets of your service.” Bond’s reply that “times are changing” is hopelessly derivative. Later Gardner constructs a neat passage where Flicka admits she would be lost without Bond and had “never loved with this kind of intensity.” However even this rings slightly hollow. A more likely precedent is Flicka’s maudlin assertion that “someone just walked over my grave.” Our heroine doesn’t die, but life becomes particularly brutal for her.

Seafire ends in a bit of a rush. It’s not a long novel, but there is no care and attention to the final two chapters. Flicka and that good old lag Felix Leiter are both in trouble, Bond still has to confront Tarn and three innocent scientists need rescuing. It’s all resolved with the minimum of fuss and the least possible elaboration. Gardner’s missed a trick here. Pruning some of the excessive speech ridden scenes mid-book [indeed, cutting the scenes out all together] and focussing more on the climax, particularly a Power-Chute flight over Puerto Rico, would have created a far more rewarding conclusion. As it stands, at the very moment Seafire becomes interesting, it also become spectacularly swift and rather faint.

The gloss and lustre Gardner created in some of his earliest 007 novels has completely vanished from these wishy-washy depictions and I felt hugely let down. Seafire isn’t all that bad, but Gardner hasn’t tried hard enough with this one. He’s a bored writer, offers recurring themes and plot strands and pitches them in an overtly obvious stilted manner. He shows flashes of style, but it simply isn’t enough.

For all the good stuff on display, and there is a fair bit of it, Seafire reads like a first draft when nobody’s bothered to correct the mistakes.     

4 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (5th Sep 2010 01:43)


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Just a word to say how much I'm enjoying your reviews of the novels. I find I'm agreeing with most of your views, Keep up the good work

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews




Goldeneye is a no frills transposition of its movie source. John Gardner’s other adaptation, Licence to Kill, at least showed some grace and attempted to weave Bond’s literary adventures into the novelisation. He focussed on his hero and attempted to embellish his characters with something like realistic personas and backgrounds. There is nothing so detailed here; Goldeneye is a shockingly simple novel. I hesitate to use the word incompetent, but it is sorely lacking in anything to recommend it.

While the movie was fairly enjoyable, the novel does nothing to suggest it is any fun at all. It doesn’t evoke good memories of Goldeneye; in fact the book highlights some of the film’s weaknesses through the author’s own insipid writing.

Occasionally Gardner is snapped out of his furrow and writes one or two swift astute passages. He suggests the new, female M, is a slave to the balance sheet, likening her office to the “sterility of the current technocracy” and compares this nicely to Natalya’s sad post-Glasnost train journey full of “street hoodlums... unwashed bodies” and Bond’s initial impression of St. Petersburg: “decay and lack of direction... instead of surveillance teams, he now kept a wary eye out for criminals.”

It’s surprising then that the criminals concerned (Janus / Alec Trevelyan, Xenia Onatopp, Ourumov and the cheeky sidekick Valentin Zukovsky) are hardly given an inkling of thought. At one moment Janus is referred to as glibly being “not just unpleasant but bordering on evil.” Gardner can’t even decide if his eyes resemble “a lizard or a chameleon.” Zukovsky’s background, as in the film, is glossed over with a few lines of explanation. In Licence to Kill Gardner wasn’t so curt; neither was Christopher Wood in his two ‘70s adaptations.

This short-hand storytelling is frustrating when important moments, like Natalya’s night-time tirade against the world of spies, are related in a blank uninvolving manner. Left sitting on the page, with no effort by the author to involve the conscious thoughts of the character, a scene like this reads very, very flat. Even Gardner’s action sequences lack skill – at one point an orbital satellite is referred to as being simply “far away.”

The worst sin, for such a grimly unstirred novel, is the sudden focus on sexual matters. I actually raised an eyebrow when Bond’s “manhood... slid into her long and thick.” A bit crass. Oddly, given the influx of cod-porn, the author misses the fact that Xenia Onatopp is in a permanent state of arousal, waiting for the next copulation or kill, an element clearly implied in Famke Janssen’s film performance. Maybe Gardner didn’t see the rushes or maybe he didn’t care. It's too late now; Goldeneye is a bad one all round.

1 from 10

Last edited by chrisno1 (15th Sep 2010 22:12)


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

chrisno1 wrote:

I actually raised an eyebrow when Bond’s “manhood... slid into her long and thick.”

That's something I'd expect from a 13 year old virgin to write.

Thanks for the review chrisno1, I have been curious about the GE novelization.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Whos this guy Manhood? and sliding in to her long and thick what? I'll have to re-read it  ajb007/shifty

“I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I never had one.”


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

'Contrite?' Don't you mean 'concise?' Or laconic?

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Napoleon Plural wrote:

'Contrite?' Don't you mean 'concise?' Or laconic?

Ah, yes, I don't quite know what I was think of there! Duly changed to "curt"


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews



(U.S. title: Cold Fall)


Cold was not a novel I had happy memories about. It was with some surprise that upon second reading (my first was in 1996 and I have feared to touch it since) I found myself enjoying this energetic and well described adventure.

True, it repeats many of the situations familiar to devotees of 007 books, from Fleming through Amis and onto Gardner himself, but more thought has been directed to this opus and Cold is much better for it. The malaise the author got stuck in around the time of Scorpius and Win, Lose or Die has been thrown off. He finally seems to be writing because he wants to write, not because he has to write. There is flair to many of the descriptive passages and, for the first time in many years, the character of James Bond is presented in a viable manner and in a framework that involves the reader in his emotions.

Recent previous efforts tended to offer glib remarks about politics, espionage, lost love and dicing with death. This was not helped by a succession of unlikely psycho-style villians, who died with ease, and uninteresting bed mates, who tended to copulate with Bond as soon as he said ‘Hello, ___,’ [you can fill in the blank]. There simply wasn’t any emotional involvement for our hero. Things are very different here, and it is one of the reasons why I enjoyed re-reading Cold. It isn’t a perfect yarn, I’m afraid, and never scales the heights of Gardner’s earliest output, but at times it does remind us that he can write effective, efficient thrillers.

The biggest drawback, and one that befalls all of the author’s latter novels, is the piecemeal story structure: action, suspense or love scenes are interspersed with a series of over complicated briefings, culminating in a sudden revelation and a swift gore filled climax. So Cold is populated with too much talk; Bond doesn’t need to uncover or fathom out his adversaries’ plans. They are explained and presented to him by proxy. He’s only required to deliver summary justice, a fact our hero realises himself: “That’s what I’ve always been,” he sighs, “A kind of lethal errand boy. I follow orders. I use my initiative to get the job done.” His personal justification is satisfied by believing “things aren’t what they were... life’s much more dangerous now than it was in the middle of the cold war.” This sort of philosophising, however bland, has been rare in Gardner’s novels and it enlivens some often shapeless and talky chapters.

Indeed, it isn’t only Bond who considers the world has changed. One of the chief villains, Luigi Tempesta, talks of Italy sinking “under the weight of crime.” He suggests “drugs... are a destabilizer, they cost America a war... they are responsible for rising violent crime” and their effect ravages the traditional Italian lifestyle for “the young are abandoning their heritage... vanishing before our eyes, they vaporise to reappear in other parts of Europe... when this happens, our villages die and the country seems to disappear.” Luigi, a small man whose hands “express the unspoken detail behind every word,” is one of Gardner’s better creations. Nominal head of an Italian crime syndicate, he is powerful, loyal and cruel; it’s disappointing this very believable protagonist is sidelined in favour of the more traditionally bonkers renegade general, an American called Brutus Clay.

Clay hardly features in the tale. Bond and the FBI don’t take him particularly seriously and when he does appear it’s almost an afterthought, a necessary evil to tie up a couple of loose ends. Clay is a crippled third-degree burns victim, his “face made up of partly hanging flaps of skin... four misshapen holes where there had once been eyes, nose and mouth... a gaping oval which moved like the mouth of a ventriloquist’s dummy.” He talks and acts like a psychotic monster from a Hammer movie and, while I thought he was superfluous to the story, he certainly has dramatic [melodramatic?] impact, something lacking in most of Gardner’s baddies. Clay’s crazy scheme is entitled the Children of Last Days (C.O.L.D. get it?) – the ultimate in a long line of clunking acronyms from Gardner. It’s not a very believable plot, baring striking similarities to those in Scorpius and The Man from Barbarossa. Clay’s death by drowning is one of the most cursory ever for a Bond baddie: three lines of “thrashing out ineffectually with his prosthetic legs.” This monster deserved a far richer send off.

These couple of racy baddies don’t completely compensate for the stop start nature of Gardner’s storytelling. The tension swings dramatically. There are exciting suspenseful set pieces, but many readers may find the explanatory interludes a bit dreary. What makes the difference is that the nominally one dimensional story technique is built around a solid central character and, particularly in the first half of the novel, Bond is challenged by a series of conundrums which he fails to fully understand. The second half disappoints as it is no more than the set up and execution of a sort of ‘Who Dares Wins’ assault on an Italian villa. Here Bond really is a pawn to the FBI kings, to whom he has been loaned as the ubiquitous stalking horse.

The novel starts with the destruction of a Boeing 747, blown apart like “an obscene firework” at Dulles airport. When Bond arrives as part of an international investigation team, he is witness to “shock and disgust...it showed in the way they [the salvage team] walked.” Later Bond’s old flame, Sukie Tempesta the widowed millionairess from Nobody Lives Forever, is murdered when her car turns into a fireball. Called to the scene, “the tangled lump of scorched and twisted metal,” Bond begins to suffer similar traumas: “burned paint... the sickly scent of singed human flesh... the stench of death in his nostrils.” He even has to stop himself from vomiting. This is a plausible James Bond, confused by his feelings of loss and by the web of lies which is unfolding before him. 

Gardner pulls on this very real manifestation of 007 time and again. Our hero begins to suffer nightmares and hallucinations: a Venetian masquerade turns into dance macabre and, haunted by her death, he sees images of Sukie everywhere. During the second half of the novel, set three years on and neatly following directly from Seafire, Bond is grieving for his lover, Flicka von Grusse, tending everyday to her comatose body and watching, waiting, “always to say goodbye.”

Bond has only loved four women, we are told, and there is a sense of regret for his past failures (“his bad luck with women”) and also a fear of the future: “now he had to face the possible loss of her life, or a life spent looking after a vegetable... he could not see himself living out the years as a nurse.” To retain his sanity, he reverts to his old routines, breakfast and exercise, before attending to her hospital bed. But even inside the routine, “black depression... was a visible cloud.”

This is one of the few times I really empathised with Gardner’s Bond and had a sense of the man behind the mask of the license to kill. It’s a sterling piece of writing. While not infused with the intensity of Fleming’s occasional maudlin anecdotes, Gardner succeeds through an oblique detached style. The reader espies on Bond’s own bleak world. The harsh realisation that the once active and vibrant Flicka will spend her life as an invalid, contrives a bitterly selfish response: “he hoped she would die.”

Forced back into the field, Bond rekindles his affair with the delicious Beatrice di Ricci and there is a painful scene when, after spending the evening making love, Bond and Beatrice learn Flicka has died. It isn’t Bond’s sombre reaction that shocks, but Beatrice’s, “a keening requiem for a woman she never met... sobs like the stutter of a dying engine.” Rarely have Gardner’s heroines been given such weight of gravitas. The limb-some Beatrice was certainly given less erudite treatment in Win, Lose or Die

Away from Bond’s own state of mind, Gardner is tying up many of the threads that run through his other thirteen novels (I’m excluding the stand-alone movie tie-ins). There are harks back to previous adventures and two past lovers resurface. His portrait of M sees the Admiral finally retire and take on the air of a curmudgeonly uncle. Bond refers to him as “the old man” and a FBI agent suggests he “can make you feel a heel,” these two asides defining much of how Gardner has portrayed the head of the S.I.S. Here, M is much more conciliatory than normal, even calling his favourite agent James and offering him personal advice. While we all recognise the father-son relationship, Gardner oversteps the mark by eventually referring to it directly.

Where he doesn’t overstep is in two quite brilliant action sequences; first, an escape from the Villa Tempesta on jet-skis and second a dogfight between a Cobra helicopter and two HIP air bourn gunships, the latter a desperate attempt by Bond to rescue his kidnapped boss. These taut, terrifying scenes invoke much of what was good about Gardner’s earliest novels.

When Bond is forced to ditch the Cobra, he almost drowns and, in a beautifully scripted re-enactment of the torture scene in Icebreaker, Bond wavers close to death. “He saw wrecked bodies, women he had long forgotten: a girl covered head to toe in gold paint, a young Japanese woman whispering endearments, his wife of hours, shattered and bleeding... times of great pain and times of wonder... they became a beautiful whirling kaleidoscope of minutes and seconds... he was dying, he thought with incredible clarity... he heard voices and felt hands lifting him... is this how it is? Angels pull you across the Styx and into the far beyond...”

This finely textured piece genuinely exacts a visceral response; we understand and recognise exactly Bond’s personal experience. It’s a major turning point for John Gardner’s prose. The crime is that it has come so late in his career as James Bond’s biographer [my choice of word!].

So Cold is a more rewarding novel than many John Gardner’s canon. It isn’t necessarily the most accessible and suffers the same foibles which affected all his novels after Icebreaker, but it does succeed on an emotional level. For that alone Gardner deserves praise. The story’s unique three year timeframe allows the author to spin his yarn from two distinct angles, one featuring the forthright, irrefutable Bond, and the other a circumspect, almost relieved figure who finally reaches “the beginning of the end... the end of the beginning.”       

I can’t cover it in glory, Cold has a fairly nonsensical villain and master plan and suffers a grandstand conclusion that is rushed and unsatisfying; yet at the outset, the novel grips, intrigues and enthuses, because the reader identifies with the central character. John Gardner deserves a lot of credit for delivering a persona of James Bond that is instantly recognisable as human and humane. That, at the very least, gives us something to remember in his final 007 novel.

6 from 10


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

I have only read that first half COLD. You definetly enjoyed it more than I do, I thought it was one of Gardner's very worst and gives a very uneasy preview of what we are going to get with Benson.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

Ricardo C. wrote:

I have only read that first half COLD. You definetly enjoyed it more than I do, I thought it was one of Gardner's very worst and gives a very uneasy preview of what we are going to get with Benson.

Cold gets very mixed feedback across the web. I don't know if, like me, that was your first and only time reading it. I too struggled with it the first time, but I don't remember why (it was over ten years ago!). I don't claim its a great novel, but in Gardner's canon it is, for me, one of his better efforts.
Benson's reviews will follow, but I need a break! Gardner's very shallow latterly stories have quite worn my enthusiasm down! ajb007/crap


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

chrisno1 wrote:

Benson's reviews will follow, but I need a break! Gardner's very shallow latterly stories have quite worn my enthusiasm down! ajb007/crap

Yeah take all the time you need. Plenty of liquids and eight hours sleep and you may be able to function normally in a few months. ajb007/lol


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews


Over Christmas, I spent a few hours re-reading the reviews I posted regarding John Gardner’s 007 work, and despite my obstinate streak, I feel I made a few errors in my assessments for Licence Renewed and Win Lose or Die.

Licence Renewed is a solid start to Gardner’s canon, but – as was pointed out by Napoleon Plural – I rather talked the novel up while at the same time informing the reader of why it wasn’t very good. Like much of Gardner’s writing, the review is very uneven. I originally marked it an ‘8’ but did feel compelled to downgrade it to a ‘7.’ In truth, after long term reflection, it probably isn’t quite a ‘7’ either. Gardner hits top form in a few places during the narrative, but doesn’t hold the reader’s interest throughout. The story takes much too long to get going, he struggles with his female characters and the Highland Games chapter is superfluous and rather dull. The escape from the castle is great, the Perpignan episodes excellent and the Star-lifter fight tense, but, despite a relevant and [still] topical plot, the whole doesn’t quite succeed – even the torture scene feels a bit half baked. I sense much potential in Licence Renewed, but I think I marked the novel on that rather than the finished result. Interestingly, when I first read Licence Renewed in 1982, I loved it and thought it brought Bond up to date in a very effective manner. However I was a teenager then, so maybe my criticism was a little naive.

Win Lose or Die was a novel I was very critical of. I remember thinking it was confusing, rather holey plot-wise and a bit laboured in places. Thing is, compared to the hopelessly convoluted narratives of The Man From Barbarossa, Death is Forever and Never Send Flowers or the barren, uninvolving passages of Nobody Lives Forever, this one read like a detailed, cleverly constructed thriller. Yes, it has several flaws, [which Gardner novel doesn’t?] large one’s too, but it’s got one of his more accessible plots, has a cut above heroine in Beatrice di Ricci and the action, when it comes, is well executed. Gardner gives more care and attention to this product than he does with many of his other novels.

So what’s my opinion of John Gardner’s time as a ‘Bond continuation novelist’?

Well, I don’t dislike him.

The problem with assessing his canon as a whole is that the quality varies so much. When reviewing Fleming, even if I considered a novel to be below par, there was always something that drew me in. Often it was Fleming’s wonderfully erudite prose, which leant extra gravitas to characters, scenes and situations. Gardner doesn’t try hard enough in that respect. Of course I’m not expecting him to match the florid passages of Goldfinger or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but sometimes the sheer scantiness of Gardner’s writing is disappointing at best, horrific at worst. When he pays attention to his protagonists, their thoughts, foibles and plight, he’s more than competent. The aforementioned Win Lose or Die demonstrates this, as does Icebreaker and the first part of Cold. Equally laudable is the attention spent mapping the villainous personas of Chernov and Smolin in No Deals Mr Bond, Franz Sanchez in Licence to Kill and the eponymous Scorpius. But for each of these highs, there is a corresponding low: I still shudder at the thin as air portrait of Broken Claw, the non-existent personas of Onatopp and Trevelyan from that other movie tie-in Goldeneye, and the rambling soap opera casts of Role of Honour or The Man from Barbarossa.

Action wise, Gardner’s rather hit and miss. He’s brilliant in the short punchy novels like Icebreaker and For Special Services, and inspired in sections of Licence Renewed, Death is Forever and Cold. But too often the action is curtailed into a few pages of torrid violence, while the bulk of the novel is talky and static. Now, Fleming often had a ‘sit down and talk’ chapter, more than one at times – think of the philosophical discussions between Bond and Doctor No, or the Russian Generals in From Russia With Love – but he always hooked the reader, held their interest and built the tension. Gardner shows no such fortitude and his long dialogue obsessed plots end up smothering the excitement. Sea Fire demonstrates this very well, where the satisfyingly gripping fights and chases are alternated with turgid interviews back at MI6 H.Q.

Gardner’s endings also leave a lot to be desired. They are frequently rushed. Everything is resolved so swiftly. Often he requires a coda to wrap up one or two loose ends. This again separates him from Fleming, who would build to a climax and maintain the suspense, sometimes for two or three chapters, before the ultimate demise of the villain. It’s almost as if he’s having more fun constructing as confusing a plot as he possibly can, only to tidy it all up in seconds, as if all those narrative strands didn’t really matter.

And indeed sometimes I wonder if they do. Gardner’s stories are, in the main, complicated. Given an ounce of humour and the baggage of good characterisation, a conundrum-like story can be worthwhile (think Raymond Chandler), but Gardner doesn’t have Chandler’s panache. His stories are convoluted simply because he chooses to make them that way. He often starts out with an interesting and realistic premise, but buries it underneath a plethora of add on intrigues and extraneous characters. His over use of the double cross and triple cross, which was eyebrow raisingly fun in Icebreaker, becomes laboured, predictable and downright annoying to the point it actually spoils decent adventures like No Deals Mr Bond, Sea Fire and Cold. There just isn’t any need for Bond’s adventures to be this demanding. In a latter adventure, Bond reflects that he’s always been a killer, sent to do his country’s dirty work at the stroke of his boss’ pen. That feels very realistic and is how Fleming portrays his hero. While it is inevitable a story has to feature more than a single assassination, Gardner’s novels tend to show Bond more as a detective attempting to unravel a criminally dense plot.

Curiously, and rather vexing to the reader, is how Gardner always has his hero one step behind his superior. As early as Icebreaker, M is aware of more than he tells Bond. The words ‘stalking horse’ occur time and again and Bond is repeatedly thrown to the wolves with the slimmest of information to hand, only to be informed at a later date of the real purpose of his mission, often by M in the field. This was particularly galling in Role of Honour, where you wonder why the author bothered with the first three quarters of the novel at all. Gardner’s attempts at genuine intrigue are fitful. He has some great ideas, and the basic plots of Licence Renewed, For Special Services, Icebreaker, No Deals Mr Bond, Win Lose or Die, even Broken Claw, are solid, if not entirely original, but he simply doesn’t have the where with all as a writer to carry them off. 

Lastly I want to spend a few moments reflecting on sex [don’t we all?]. Fleming was a very sexy writer, albeit a slightly misogynistic one. Gardner’s attitude towards his heroines is to bring them hurtling up to date. No more Mary Goodnight’s simpering after Bond and climbing through windows – no more innocent, waiflike Honey Rider’s wading naked up beaches. Gardner’s women are all efficient, self sufficient modern girls. Most of them are companion agents, as good with a gun as Bond himself. The problem with this approach is that, firstly, it become repetitive and secondly it means either Bond’s role or the heroine’s role becomes diminished, for there are now two spies working for the good guys. Only twice is Bond’s amour not an intelligence agent (in Licence Renewed and Nobody Lives Forever) and one of them turns into a villainess a few novels on. Bond falls in love with several of these women, who in the main are novice spies and need a lot of rescuing and hugging, and these romances stretch credulity and get in the way of the plot, the revelation often occurring at times of crisis, as if Bond only thinks of the future [and reflects on his past] when he appears to have none. The copulations between hero and heroine are frequently mawkish, often embarrassing, and saddled with fraudulent dialogue. I can’t think of a single erotic moment in any of Gardner’s canon. Beatrice di Ricci, from Win Lose or Die, is far and away his sexiest creation, but even she virtually throws herself at Bond and I wasn’t entirely sure who was seducing who. It doesn’t really matter as the descriptions of their love making have all the subtlety of a kick up the backside. Sometimes it’s best for a writer not to describe a sexual liaison – imagination is a powerful thing.

So to answer my original question: Gardner isn’t without merit. His first few novels are fine and he shows promise in others, but overall, I think he over stayed his welcome. He wrote too many adventures, which diluted the standard of his prose and the tidiness of his narrative. Ideas which were fresh at the start of his tenure are repeated, sometimes more than once, and this shows a lack of genuine creativity. I’m aware that some of his books were written under duress through illness and pressure from the publishers, and while this may go part-way to explain the uneven nature of his writing, it isn’t an excuse – if you’re too sick to work; you don’t work. If Gardner had only written eight or nine novels, I feel the quality overall would be much higher. I can only hypothesise. Of the 16 novels we do have, perhaps only 5 or so are worth revisiting, which is not a great strike rate.

John Gardner has his moments, but sadly his minuses tend to lay heavily over his pluses.   

For what it’s worth, my personal list ‘from best to worst’:

1.     Icebreaker
2.    For Special Services
3.    No Deals, Mr Bond
4.    Cold
5.    Licence Renewed
6.    Seafire
7.    Scorpius
8.    Licence to Kill
9.    Win, Lose or Die
10.    Nobody Lives Forever
11.    Death is Forever
12.    The Man from Barbarossa
13.    Broken Claw
14.    Role of Honour
15.    Never Send Flowers
16.    Goldeneye

I will commence Raymond Benson's work this month.


Re: Bond Continuation Novel Reviews

This is a great series of Gardner reviews - I'm writing for my blog on this subject-matter myself, though I have some slightly different views on John Gardner and his Bonds. Some food for thought there, nonetheless! Thanks for sharing these reviews, chrisno1!  ajb007/martini

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"The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).