13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Licence Renewed (Hardcover)
Orion's 2012 reissue of Gardner's 14 continuation Bond novels & 2 novelisations is a great opportunity for fans who've only read Fleming (or maybe just Faulks or Deaver) to delve further. For those who don't know, after Fleming's death came Kingsley Amis' excellent Colonel Sun: A James Bond Adventure (1968); pulp author Christopher Wood's surprisingly good novelisations of 2 Roger Moore films and John Pearson's weird and wonderful James Bond: The Authorised Biography (1973).
In 1981, Ian Fleming's estate decided Bond needed a big literary return. Gardner was a man with as fascinating a background as Fleming: theatre critic, stage magician and WW2 service as a Royal Marines officer specialising in explosives. He'd started writing swinging 60s Bond parodies but moved towards LeCarre-esque Cold War thrillers. If you think Faulks and Deaver were given big publicity, Gardner seemed to be everywhere: articles in The TLS and photoshoots with guns and cars apparently paid off, as the book spent months atop bestseller lists. Did it deserve it?
Score: 8/10. It's solid: think Moonraker or Goldfinger for the 1980s, with Bond insinuating himself into the plans of UK based supervillain Anton Murik. The strong plot (governments held to ransom when terrorists capture Nuclear power plants) stands up well, the execution as terrifyingly plausible as Thunderball. The Saab 900 (replacing the Bentley Mark II Continental) wins you over as a serious driver's car, the gadgets making the battles interesting without being a get-out-of-jail-free. The OTT henchman, Ascot, MI5, plus books on disguise and pickpocketing are very Fleming.
Bond's updating isn't bad: in Gardner's early books he still smokes (bespoke low tar Morelands), while the Dom Perignon '55, Rolex and Sea Island cotton shirt all ring true. Despite claims to the contrary, Bond is portrayed as older (maybe late 40s?) and wiser; less cold but more full of himself; more of a professional spy than a blunt instrument. Gardner confessed later he never really cared for the character but here he takes the trouble to get right the self discipline, breakfast routine, exercise regime, love of particularity and old school manners.
It's not perfect. Gardner's a compelling storyteller but he doesn't have Fleming's raconteur voice, so longer descriptive passages can become bogged down in minutiae rather than salient detail. The plain speak dialogue and dry humour of old are lost for broader characterisation and flippancy that hit the SIS staff especially. The less said about Q'ute the better, while the emphasis on realism puts a disconcerting end to the Double 0 Section and the Walther PPK. A few elements are simply under powered: the drab opening, the insipid love interest, a villain who's a paler version of predecessors, and we spend too much time on Bond's comings and goings in the castle.
However the set pieces are great: the horse racing, night time car chase & fight on the plane were mirrored in the films. Action scenes, technology and locations are obvious strengths of Gardner's, while the prose in the later section in France is much better. Overall a strong mission statement: not a Fleming pastiche but an entertaining page turner. His next, For Special Services (James Bond 2) was even better!