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on 6 November 2012
Having read Gardner's 80s Bonds many times and his 90s books a few, this was the one I couldn't remember beyond the showdown- and you'll guess that pretty soon from all the heavy hints. With the 90's output having proved such a mixed bag, how would it shape up? Around the world four influential figures (army, secret service, MP, writer) are assassinated. With nobody connecting the killings, James Bond has no reason to think that the death of an MI5 officer on leave in Switzerland is linked. Partnered with Swiss secret agent Fredericka "Flicka" Von Grusse, 007 unearths the victim's dark past and a link to a reclusive former actor in the form of a unique rose.

Score: 5/10. The opening is nicely written, if conventional; the initial premise identical to Dr.No, with Bond handed an apparently straightforward murder investigation of one of his own that turns out to be something more. However the author wanted this to be more than a stumble into a megalomaniac's world, aiming for a full blown detective story with an overt attempt to build up the 'girl's' part. Although not unlike other Gardner heroines (as much sidekick as girlfriend; funny; tough; lewd), Flicka's characterisation is strong and she's amongst Bond's most convincing love matches. In fact their dialogue is interchangeable and she gets enough page time to deserve equal billing!

However, while it has the shape of a Bond novel, it's torn between several formats: too many lulls to be a thriller, too obvious to be a whodunit. You suspect it was meant to be a Thomas Harris/Hannibal Lector, criminal genius vs. good guy battle of wits, but the mystery element (semi-hiding the villain) and pedestrian pace (highlighting a raft of coincidence) prevent this. There are a few set pieces but they're pretty unremarkable: an interactive museum, car bomb, Bond escaping from his own flat. A shame we miss his date with Charlotte Helpful, but the Swiss chapters (very Fleming) are well written with some mouth-watering food and a great character in Lempke. There's some very sexy stuff that for once has consequences for 007, and provokes one of Gardner's best ever scenes with M. Otherwise, Bond's relationship with Flicka is developed at the expense of the action, we get the least menacing encounter with a villain ever, and while the castle on the Rhine demonstrates some imagination there's nothing astounding. The ending feels like a tacked on piece of corporate publicity and the villain's scheme has bleakly ironic reverberations.

Worse, 007 is a depressing picture. Gardner's Bond in the 80s had approximated a wiser, less vice ridden agent, maybe in his late forties but with the same spirit of old. Here he feels well into his fifties: a workaday spy running up big expenses but dodging bills at home, with no passion for cards or golf or cars or anything. There's no excuse for the tea drinking, endless correcting ("Actually...") or petty snobbery ("lower class" indeed!), while the blazer and ridiculous attractiveness to every woman that he meets conjures up the worst excesses of the later Roger Moore movies.

You can't help but wonder if Gardner's move across the pond had a negative impact on the prose. The "pants/ elevator/ sidewalk" Americanisms are fine (Fleming favoured a more specific transatlantic vocabulary rich in brand awareness) but Bond's slang is terribly hollow: "cops", "shooter" (for gunman) and "crazy" (for madman) don't ring true while the term "d*ckbrain" should simply not be in his vocabulary. Even the editing is shoddy: stock phrases recur frequently ("immediate boss", "icy veins") and there's a mindless use of the conditional tense. Your enjoyment here will depend on how charming/intrusive you find Bond/ Flicka's relationship. They're so engrossed in each other they don't notice there's only enough plot here for a short story- the sort of mission Bond used to get between novels. A reasonable book but ultimately unmemorable.
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2014
I didn’t really enjoy reading Never Send Flowers and I was happy that it was a short 244 pages long.

The plot and characters were disappointing after John Gardner showed us what he is capable of in the excellent "The Man from Barbarossa" and "Death is Forever". I also made the mistake of reading the blurb on the back of the book and for the second time with this series the publisher let slip one of the major plot points.

Never Send Flowers reads like a detective book rather than a spy thriller – Bond is on the trail of a serial killer who has committed a string of high-profile assassinations as well as the murder of an MI5 asset on vacation in Switzerland. It is the murder of this ‘sister’ that brings MI6 onto the scene.

As he travels from European location to European location our plucky hero as usual meets a couple of disappointingly sexually clichéd women, at least one insane villain (who has his own castle and an unexplained supply of explosives) and ends the story going mano a mano with the villain in EuroDisney of all places.

The lowest point of the experience for me was reading about Bond’s uncharacteristic enjoyment of the theme park which is obviously a reflection of the author’s views and follows a clumsy low-ebbing section of exposition disguised as an interrogation scene – something I have come to strongly dislike about Gardner’s writing. Amongst other traits (alcoholism, misogyny, racism) James Bond is an unabashed snob (a reflection of Ian Flemings mores no doubt) and I find it incredulous to think that such a man would enjoy Mickey Mouse or riding on a Star Wars themed ride. Ridiculous.
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on 24 November 2013
Four prominent people are assassinated, but their deaths are not linked until an MI5 operative is also killed. Mi5 ask SIS to investigate and this plunges Bond in a race against time to find the culprit before they can strike again. Set in Switzerland, London, rural Germany,Milan, Athens and Paris, this is a true helter skelter ride in the post cold war setting. Fleming should have been proud.
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on 31 March 2013
We have heard the sentence before. Bond is back. Well, he is. John Gardner actually beat Ian Fleming in the end. He wrote more Bond stories than Fleming. Naturally he can never take credit for having invented the character, but nevertheless he wrote a series of great stories.
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on 2 December 1999
After a slow but credible start at bringing James Bond into the modern literary world, John Gardner hits the mark with his fifth entry - "Nobody Lives Forever". Gardner's Bond is much less the playboy than creator Ian Fleming's 007 was but Gardner still puts the fine touches into an explosive, exciting, violent, and sexy chapter in the James Bond world. The plot is rather simple: SPECTRE returns and offer 10 million Swiss francs for 007's head - just the head. Miss Moneypenny and Bond's housekeeper May are kidnapped to lure him out into the open and he begins a globe-hopping search for them all while dodging assassins from every angle. This book has all of the familiar elements of the best of the Fleming novels and then some - it ranks as high as any of the Fleming novels - while still bringing 007 out to shine for a modern reader. If the braintrust at EON/MGM had any sense, this would be the next film project. Thank you John Gardner! Mr. Fleming would be proud!
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on 8 December 1998
This book is an excellent edition to the Bond books. I loved this book because of it's startling areas (with the heads, for those of you who did read it), it's action, and it's suspense. The plot was wonderful and straightforward (not like in You Only Live Twice) and Fredricka von Grusse (Flicka)was an excellent match for Bond. I loved the ending, although I think the ending in the next book (SeaFire) is a whole lot better. After you read this book, be sure to read SeaFire (same author) because that also features Flicka. Also, read Win, Lose, or Die. Although not as good as Never Send Flowers, it packs a punch and it has much mystery and suspense to it. Once again, this book is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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on 17 April 2000
I cannot believe that any ardent J.B. fan could ever like this story. He has been changed into a clumsy, slow thinking, weak willed character and is totally outclassed by his female Swiss counterpart who regularly gives HIM orders(!) which he follows without question. Having also bought another John Gardner `007' story, `Sea Fire' at the same time as `Flowers' I have shelved reading it until my tolerance returns. Please hurry up, Raymond Benson and release your next Bond book and restore my faith the character.
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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 5 September 2015
Brilliant book.
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