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on 27 June 2011
After the solid Licence Renewed and the cracking For Special Services proved bestsellers, an emboldened Gardner took a risk: he ditched the 'secret agent chases super villain across exotic locations' formula for a twisty spy whodunnit set largely in one location (Finland). Does it work? Not quite, but it's a brave misfire and a surprisingly fun read.

Score: 7/10. After a 'pre-credits' chapter with terrorists on a dry run in Libya, we find 007 looking up an old flame while away on winter training. Called back to London in barely one piece, Bond is to provide the British contingent for a joint MI6, CIA, Mossad & KGB(!) operation against an army of neo-Nazi terrorists on the Finland/Russia border. It's a great start and was Gardner's favourite of his early Bonds. M's withholding information, no one can trust anyone and the mission starts to go badly wrong- elements that recur in his subsequent novels.

The various national agents are memorably characterised and there's plenty of fun guessing who's on whose side- another Gardner trademark. Bond himself is still the tougher, smoking and drinking, early 'Gardner version' (more like Fleming's man than we get later) very at home amid the winter sun and luxury of Reid's hotel. His best independent effort leads to the great snow plough set piece and the Saab's finest hour, showcasing Gardner's skill with technical detail. The fights are pleasingly vicious, there's plenty of gunplay (this time 007 opts for the neat H&K P7) and the torture scene is painfully vivid. The star is the arctic setting itself, as exotic as any encountered in the canon.

The problem is the balance of action to page time. Deighton/ LeCarre/ Gardner's own slow-burn spy stories play out gradually across weeks, with a murky anti-hero to keep you guessing; Bond books typically thrive on packing a lot into a very few days as the ending is never in doubt. Things really slow down here with endless meetings. Bond's fallibility is key to his popularity as a hero, making mistakes aplenty in some of his best loved adventures (Casino Royale, From Russia With Love), but the "blunt instrument" always gets to shine eventually: here he's redundant throughout, a victim of everyone else's machinations.

007 watches loyalties shift, confederates plot, enemies dine (at least the food's good) and gets rescued when he falls for scheme after scheme. The "Speedline" chapter is an opportunity missed to get 007 skiing again. For a hardcore drinking game, try having a swig every time Bond checks into a hotel or taps a phone: I lost count. The last 3rd's the weakest: the villain and his well worn (even by 1983) scheme barely feature and the ending's a drawn out charade of double and triple agents. For once, Bond's presence really makes no difference.

While the flawed/circular plot and sporadic action mean that this is not a great Bond novel, it's an oddly compelling diversion thanks to the whodunnit at its heart and above average prose. Gardner's enjoying himself, so we do: producing a book that meets Fleming's criterion of passing the time in a plane, train or hotel bar. The next book played it more traditionally: Role of Honour (James Bond).
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on 1 November 2012
John Gardner's third outing as Bond author brings us a novel that has a slightly more cinematic feel to it, in which Bond is invited to join with counterparts from foreign powers to counter a neo-nazi terrorist group.

While the plot does feel like a Roger Moore movie, there are moments, particularly at the beginning, where Gardner seems to start trying to emulate some of Ian Fleming's writing style. I'm not sure whether this comes across successfully or feels more like a parody.

For the most part the plot is plausible and the sequences in the snowy outdoors feel well written. It seems clear that the author knows here exactly what he's talking about. However there are other aspects, particularly regarding many of the guest characters, which (without spoilers) over-complicate things and make the book feel like it is taking the mickey out of the spy genre.

In many places I found the book hard going, my eyes would glaze over and my mind wander, and I would have to go back a page or two to find out what was going on. I'm afraid I still haven't found Gardner's writing up to the standard that I loved in Fleming's books.
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on 13 October 2012
But still entertaining enough.
Gardner clearly felt at this time that he was ready to make Bond his own. Consequently James Bond is absent for large parts of the book.
There are twists and turns as the CIA, KGB and Bond are all after the same thing and the whole plot gets tangled up but neatly untangled at the end.
A lovely re-issue by Orion books.
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on 28 July 2012
For me, this is probably the best of John Gardner's Bond novels. There's a few double and even triple crosses too many though, but I guess this is par for the course in spy stories.
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on 29 January 2013
I did not own a complete set of the John Gardner Bond books. All the titles are not available in the US, so a matched set from the UK was just what I needed.
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on 17 May 2015
Excellent book John Gardner has really captured how Ian Fleming wrote his Bonds but also added a little more a really excellent read.
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on 16 December 2012
This is a gripping yarn, one you can't put down. However, I feel John Gardner uses too much description of rooms, clothing etc.
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on 7 March 2013
Great read. Sent to kindle with no problem. east transaction, and with a registered account, a simple payment. many thanks.
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on 4 February 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. John Gardner really captures the style of Ian Fleming. A must for any 007 fan.
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on 10 May 2015
Uses the correct Flemning formula for a Bond story but lacks the grit and spark of a true Bond adventure
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