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Licence to Kill (James Bond)
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on 4 May 2017
By far the worst of the Bond novels I've read. This is John Gardner's attempt to novelise the film Licence to Kill, and, for some reason, to reconcile its events with those from early books from which the film takes some of its elements. This does not work as a novel.

The fundamental problem I think is that Licence to Kill was written specifically to be a film, and the whole plot, every scene and every action are designed for that medium, and they don't translate. There are plot elements that while glossed over in the film feel completely out of place and unrealistic in the book, and the progression of scenes comes across as false and episodic in written narrative.

The biggest problem though is that the visuals don't translate. The film is designed to be seen, and this becomes endless description that doesn't benefit the plot, or action - which is hard enough to follow in written form at the best of time, not least when it's not even been intended to be presented in this way.

This is one of the last of Gardner's output that I have read, and I was probably right the first time I read through them to give this a miss. Just watch the film instead - much better and much quicker.
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on 27 July 2012
1989's Licence to Kill was the 1st Bond novelisation since Christopher Wood's James Bond, the Spy Who Loved ME and James Bond and Moonraker (Film-Script Adaptation), which had little or nothing to do with the source texts. Having run out of Fleming titles to develop to feature length, unused elements of the novels were incorporated into an original screenplay that built upon Dalton's acclaimed and authentic portrayal in The Living Daylights. As the incumbent 007 author, a reluctant Gardner was approached by Cubby Brocoli to unite the literary and film series.

Score: 6/10. The plot sees Bond disavowed by his own service when he seeks personal revenge against Sanchez, the drug lord who maims his old comrade (the newly married) Felix Leiter. 007 teams up with ex-US Navy pilot Pam, chasing Sanchez and his smuggling confederate Krest from the Florida Keys to the (Mexico City-like) corrupt Isthmus City. Ahead of its time on celluloid, post Daniel Craig it's refreshingly naturalistic.

The sheer mundane nastiness of Sanchez's operation drops Bond into the 'real world' more convincingly than some of Gardner's spyworld yarns. The fast and well subplotted narrative plays to the writer's strengths of exciting action, technical detail and evocative locales (eg warehouse, Wave Krest, sniper sequence and high speed finale). Gardner makes the most of Major Boothroyd/Q's 1st appearance in his books (he's usually 'offscreen', supplanted by his deputy Q'ute!) and Bond's standard 80s Boldman alias gets a nod.

However Gardner's frustration is obvious, undermining the script: 007 muses that "he must look like a movie stuntman" and repeatedly criticises the misrepresentation of Stinger missiles. Only Krest's name and boat are borrowed from Fleming's The Hildebrand Rarity. The rerun of the shark tank scene from Live and Let Die made for a great film scene but awkward literary canonicity: poor Gardner was reduced to nibbling off Leiter's prosthetic limbs. In fairness he was working from ever changing pre-shooting scripts, so your favourite line or scene may be absent. Pam's characterisation and description are especially hesitant, but he goes to great lengths to clear up logistics: his then recent research of the Florida Keys for Nobody Lives For Ever (James Bond) pays particular dividends. While dialogue wasn't among Gardner's strengths, here the script is to blame for Bond's "me hearties", "inordinately" and "booze", plus a lot of Moore-ish quips that mercifully didn't reach the screen.

Given Leiter's tragedy and the noirish tone of the early novels, it's a shame there's none of the Spillane-esque vengeance that Dalton conveyed on screen. Bond just seems miffed. Otherwise he's every bit the glib, thinking man's spy the author latterly depicted, with his pick of a parade of randy crumpet. Having not seen 007 smoke since Nobody Lives For Ever, he now claims he's down to 5 a day but refrains here, and is reluctantly issued with a Walther P.38K. Increasingly teetotal, he unforgivably consumes a "virgin colada" and claims he's "never really been that heavy on the drink. Good wines, yes." Understandable words for a recovering alcoholic writer but not our hero!

With 7 original 007 novels under his belt and another 7 (plus Goldeneye) to go, Licence to Kill (unknowingly) brought the first half of Gardner's contribution to a satisfactory if not earthshattering end. His 80s bestsellers had begun by remaining largely faithful to Bond's character and Fleming's plot structure. As the cold war ended, a greater departure would reinvigorate the series: Win, Lose or Die (James Bond).
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on 29 May 2010
As you probably already know, this book is a novelisation of the 1989 Bond film of the same name, as opposed to an original novel by John Gardner. I've always been slightly wary of novelisations, as they often stick so closely to the film they are based on that you end up asking yourself "Why did I waste days reading that when I could have just watched the movie in two hours?". A good novelisation, however, takes advantage of the fact that it is not tied down by a two-hour running time, and essaentially becomes a more detailed and satisfying version of the film.

Gardner's Licence To Kill falls ino the latter category, as it adds a lot more depth and background to to the film's plot and goes to great lengths to fill in some of the movie's plot holes. The one, glaring flaw is Gardner's strange decision to place this book in the same line of continuity as his, and Ian Fleming's, previous Bond novels. Because some of the events and characters in the film were taken from Fleming's books in the first place, the choice to position this book as a follow-on from Fleming's seems ill-advised, and forces the reader to suspend a significant amount of disbelief as Bond apparently relives events that have already happened to him.

For example, Felix Leiter is attacked by a shark for a second time since Fleming's "Live and Let Die", in a chapter called "Lightning Sometimes Does Strike Twice". The shark does nothing except bite off his false limbs, which makes Bond's motivation for revenge seem a little thin when compared to the film, in which Felix had not suffered a previous shark attack and lost his real leg. Also, the character of Milton Krest, who appeared and was killed off in Fleming's "The Hildebrand Rarity", is resurrected here with no explanation or reference to his previous appearance.

Despite this, Licence to Kill is a decent Bond adventure that, in spite of it's flaws, I recommend if a) you enjoyed the film and b)you are good at suspending your disbelief. A good read overall.
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on 16 October 2015
What starts as a joyous celebration - the wedding of his old friend Felix Leiter - becomes a nightmare which takes James Bond on a path of revenge against the evil billionaire drug lord Franz Sanchez. 007 is prepared to ignore Secret Service orders and even sacrifice his licence to kill to avenge his enemies. This novelisation (the first of two by the then-current James Bond writer, John Gardner, who also had fourteen original 007 novels to his name) sticks fairly close to the film screenplay (by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum) but pads out certain elements and gives us a little more backstory to characters like Pam, the CIA pilot and Heller, the ex-CIA security chief. One amusing aspect is that to make this fit into the official timeline, it made explaining Felix’s injuries (the sequence where he’s attacked by the shark came from “Live & Let Die”) more difficult than it should have been - “how could the same thing happen to a man?” asks Bond a few times and even the chapter is called “Lightning Sometimes Strikes Twice”. Gardner’s Bond is more amusing than Timothy Dalton made him (though all of the films one-liners make an appearance) but not quite as tough, interestingly and he seems to recoil in horror at a few things. I enjoyed it, it had a good pace, and it was good fun - even if it cut short the fuel tanker sequence, which was so gloriously mounted in the film. If you’re a Bond fan in general, or of this particular film (much under-rated, in my opinion), then you’ll enjoy this novelisation. Recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 August 2012
John Gardner was the first author to write Bond books following the death of Ian Fleming, with the exception of Kingsley Amis, who published Colonel Sun under the pseudonym Robert Markham back in the 1960s.

Gardner is responsible for ten or so Bond novels which are original stories, which vary from the brilliant and Fleming-like 'Role of Honour' to the yawnsome 'The Man from Barbarossa'. It was with uncertainty that I started reading Licence To Kill - firstly because I have only vague memories of the film starring Timothy Dalton, and secondly because Gardner's canon of Bond works has been so hit and miss. Unfortunately I was right to be uncertain, as this is certainly the weakest Gardner book that I have read.

Maybe because this is essentially 'the novel of the film', the book justs seem to be a series of setpieces with little hanging between them, and the characterisation that is so evident in Fleming's novels and some of the other Gardner novels is just completely absent. Bond is reduced to a two-dimensional character with few plus points (and even fewer novels), and the storyline is just completely unconvincing. There are blatant rip-offs of scenes from other books (Felix Leiter versus a shark, anybody?), and I really struggled to reach the end of the book, let alone find it enjoyable.

If you want a decent Bond novel, then buy some of the other reissued Gardner stories (Role of Honour, Scorpius and Licence Renewed are all great stories almost up to Fleming's standards), or, even better, if you haven't read the original canon, do so. But avoid this at all costs - it's not worthy of having the name 'Bond' on the cover.
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on 17 June 2015
This is just a narrative of the film of the same name. Its doesn't read or flow like any of John Gardner Bond books of the same series and just feels out of touch and cheesy.

It reminds you of the difference between the films and books of that time and to be honest is a huge disappointment.
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on 9 January 2016
An exciting read for 007. Captures the action from the film well and has equally great characterisation. Licence to Kill is recommended!
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on 28 April 2015
Very good if I love bond you'll love this only missing one thing that the original books had but you'll have to read to find out
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on 27 July 2013
If you have seen the film the book is the same, it's a quick read not as good as a Flemming original
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on 13 October 2012
This book by John Gardner is a novelisation of the second (and last) of the Timothy Dalton James Bond films.
As such it really isn't worth reading. In the days when novelisations were popular there was no video tapes, no DVD's, no blu-rays. If you wanted to see the film you did at a cinema. If you wanted to re-live it your read a novelisation. These types of books were already on the wane when Licence To Kill came out and it's clearly a book to cash in on the franchise.
Personally I would rather watch the movie than read this poor adaptation again.
On the plus side Orion have re-issued it to blend in with their other John Gardner James Bond novels so at the very least it looks superb on the shelf. It's just a shame it won't be getting taken down to read very often.
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