While Gardner's 80s books had included many bestsellers, by 1994 a mixed bag of more experimental Bond novels was reaching a much narrower audience. Having already written as many Bond books as Fleming, Gardner returned to a tried and tested formula of 007 chasing super villain (straight out of Goldfinger or Gardner's own For Special Services (James Bond 2)
), while bringing into full effect the changes in Bond's personal and professional life hinted at in the previous book (Never Send Flowers
Score: 5/10. Bond is given command of the new Two Zeroes department, an agency born out of the Morland Special ashes of the old Double-0 Section. It's answerable to Microglobe One, a government intelligence committee of which M and SIS are only a part. Partnered once more with Flicka von Grusse (now a member of Two Zeroes and his first live-in partner since Tiffany Case), Bond's first target is Sir Maxwell Tarn: a multi-billionaire whose extensive business and charitable activities hide something more sinister.
It's a promising start with a new Double-0 Section and 007 back in his "blunt instrument" role of international trouble shooter, foiling a high seas robbery. The villain -a German born, naturalised British, too good to be true billionaire whose philanthropy belies a deadly ambition- should certainly ring bells. If only it weren't so badly written.
Instead of the Two Zeroes, Bond spends most of his time with Microglobe One which turns out to be yet another of Gardner's boring, longwinded and dangerously incompetent 1990s committees. If it's meant to be satire, it's in the wrong book: every time 007 gets going, he's called back to the committee for a row, killing the pace dead. Recursive plotting abounds: Bond is captured or arrested just to be released; he goes to save characters who then die and the villain escapes time after time. Mistakes creep in too: a character returns from The Man from Barbarossa (James Bond)
and Gardner gets the name wrong!
The characterisation and dialogue are woeful. A downbeat and lethargic tone sees the original M ill in bed and on the verge of retirement. Previous villains' schemes had been farfetched but this one -creating an environmental disaster that Tarn only hopes he can repair, and then lead a new Nazi party with the blessing of a grateful planet- is just plain stupid. Flicka (returning from Never Send Flowers) formerly a well characterised, intelligent and sexy presence, here is demoted from partner to damsel in distress, and sadly proves that tying down Bond removes the thrill of any potential seduction. 007 is Gardner's 90s version (rather than the more faithful 1980s depiction): tea drinking, blazer wearing; oddly well versed in poetry; and with an annoying habit of referring to any woman as "my dear" and any bad guy as "friend" whoever.
Episodic and jerky, at least the settings of Cambridge (Gardner's alma mater), Seville, Tel Aviv, Bavaria and Puerto Rico showcase the writer's flair for location. It's lifted by the welcome return of an old comrade, the sporadic action, the tense scenes on the U-boat and an energetic showdown. But ultimately it's a pedestrian affair and a shadow of what both Bond and Gardner could achieve. By now his heart just didn't seem to be in it.