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on 27 June 2011
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.

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.

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. For Special Services (James Bond 2) was even better!
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on 17 November 2015
Top notch story, loved every page, I will be buying more John Gardner Bond books!
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on 6 August 2012
Licence Renewed is the first James Bond novel by John Gardner after he took over as continuation writer for the series in the early 1980s. It's very different from the works of Ian Fleming and previous continuation writer Kingsley Amis who did a passable attempt at replicating Fleming's style.

Gardner begins with an attempt to bring Bond and his world up to date (to the eighties) involving the introduction of new characters, vehicles and explicitly changing some of Bond's characteristics. Then Bond heads to Scotland to investigate a nuclear physicist's suspicious dealings with a known terrorist.

Considering this as part of the wider series, it seems that Gardner has made a conscious decision not to base his writing on Fleming's. There's much less of the character of Bond - one of the highlights of the original novels - and more made of the action and gadgetry, much like the movie version of James Bond. A few aspects are nodded to gently, but they feel out of place. It's not a Bond novel that fits with what's gone before, and could easily have been about a new character rather than continuing the brand.

That aside, the book is a reasonable adventure in its own right. The action is fast paced (once the opening exposition is dealt with) and the plot is well thought through and executed. There are a few too many of the typical James Bond clichés - generally it seems closer to a movie plot.

Overall though Gardner's writing is better than I remembered from reading some of his later Bond novels as a teenager. I'll definitely be including the rest in my re-read of the series.
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on 24 October 2009
A lot of credit is given to Ian Fleming, creator and original writer of the famed super-spy of literary and cinematic espionage, but not much retrospective praise is lauded upon John Gardner, who wrote more James Bond novels than Fleming did between 1981 and 1996, and is in this reader's opinion, a superior writer.

Penning a continuation 007 novel must be just as daunting as any mission the world's least secret agent tackles himself, but Gardner wasn't completely without experience when he was asked to write the second Bond continuation novel (after "Colonel Sun", by Kingsley Amis a.k.a Robert Markham in 1969). He was into middle-age and a had wealth of published and acclaimed novels in his own right, most notably the Moriarty books, a trilogy of novels composed from the perspective of Sherlock Holmes's formidable nemesis.

On a strictly aesthetic level, Gardner had a much more relaxed style of writing. His Bond novels are still brimming with action, but there is a richer vocabulary there, a greater understanding of how language works, and a reader can languorously unwind in the certainty that they are in the company of a master storyteller.
"Licence Renewed" brings James Bond firmly into the 80s, but as per Gardner's original vision, the character hasn't aged much - despite a few grey hairs, perhaps placing him in his early forties - but has lived through the seventies and is a subject of the sociological advancements of that tumultuous decade.

Bond is faced with a worthy adversary in the shape of Scottish laird Dr Anton Murik, and his love interest is Lavender Peacock, but I will not give too much away. Needless to say, it sees Bond in Scotland, away from the more exotic nirvana of, say, the Bahamas, and the action is mostly set at Murik's castle, a menacing tower of bleakness. It's a terrific start to Gardner's series, a fine novel in its own right, and a thoroughly entertaining read.
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on 18 April 2014
Since purchasing a Kindle a year ago I've decided to revisit all the Bond novels in order, and so it was with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation when I reached the start of Gardner's first contribution to the series; would it be good as I remembered, or would I have been better leaving it alone and remembering it through rose-tinted glasses? The answer was definitely the former; a solidly plotted story that follows the required formula and yet manages to remain original too - it has all the Bond criteria yet also has an identity of it's own rather than been a rehash of a Fleming outing. It has received criticism in some quarters for it's plodding pace to begin with, but I think it adds to the building of the tension and atmosphere. There are often many times that disbelief must be suspended, and occasions that don't make sense (even if it's to infiltrate the enemy, would the main protagonist really believe that Bond was a mercenary with bad gambling debts, desperate for a job, after just handing over thousands of pounds worth of pearls that he's just "found"?). But these are forgiven as the more ambitious the story, the more author has to take liberties with reality.

The characters are in true Fleming style, as are the locations. My only personal gripe is that it's now very dated. After re-reading the Fleming originals, I found the 50s and 60s settings added to the charm of the stories, but somehow it doesn't quite work with Gardner's books of the 80s (a bit like comparing the flair and charm of 60s Avengers to the browns and creams and Cortinas of 70s New Avengers). Of course, this isn't the author's fault - it's a product of the time it was written in.

Overall, Gardner's first foray Bond works well and I'm looking forward to reviewing "For Special Services".
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on 27 July 2004
Licence Renwed is the first Bond novel by John Gardner and it is nice to see Bond is back after a 13 year gap since Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis.
This is a very good attempt by Gardner on a Bond novel, it was hard to take over from Fleming. The basic plot is that Bond is sent to investigate a certain Dr Anton Murik whoose project is to Blackmail major foreign powers with the threat of nuclear meltdown in six nuclear power plants around the world.
This novel is more like the films than Fleming's Bond novels, but it moves at a fast pace and is a good attempt at updating the series.
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on 13 October 2012
Not since 1968 had their been a new James Bond book, and that was "Colonel Sun" written by Kingsley Amis under the moniker Richard Markham.
Glidrose (the company that owns the rights to the Character James Bond) finally got round to seeking out authors to continue the series, one of the reasons being that it was a good way to hold onto the copyright of the character.
John Gardner was chosen and this is the first book in the 'new' series of James Bond novels.
You have to remember that this book was published in 1981 and just as Fleming's original novels reflected the life and times of the 1950's Gardner's books reflect the 1980's.
The plot is a fairly straight forward one with the books villain Anton Murik threatening the World by planning to cause meltdowns in nuclear power plants around the globe.
Whilst not as fanciful as some of Fleming's books this is a decent thriller.
A word too on Orion Books Ltd's re-issues of these novels. I think they are particularly classy and when complete the set will love splendid upon the shelves of any James Bond fan.
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on 8 February 2013
Impossible to read withouth seeing it in your minds eye.
I really have little to add to earlier reviewers except to confirm that the cons here are few, and relatively minor (a tendency to overelaboration in the descriptions, a rather dippy schoolgirl love interest), and that the pros easily outstrip them: The nightime car chase, the race to prevent an assasination in the Med, and the Finale aboard an airplane are all cinematic in scope, and made me feel like I was reading the novelization of a new Bond Movie (which may be damning with faint praise, but is not intended that way).

All told, a great Reboot of the franchise, and one which was as enjoyable in January 2013 as it was when I read it as a schoolkid back in the 80s. Licence Renewed (James Bond 1)
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2013
In 1981, over a decade since the last official novel John Gardner was invited to revive Bond in book form. He wrote a total 16 books featuring James Bond, M, Moneypenny and a host of villains, henchmen, girls, cars and gadgets. Orion Paperbacks reissued the complete series last year and six titles were available as bargains in The Works.

License Renewed is unashamed in plundering the story elements that made Fleming’s books best sellers. We have a megalomaniac villain bent on revenge against the world in the form of crazy nuclear scientist Anton Murik. We have a henchman called Caber who reminded me a little too much of Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers sequels. We have a zanily named Bond girl in the form of Lavender Peacock. We have gadgets (more a feature of the films than the original books it has to be noted) in the form of a suped up and weaponised Saab automobile and other spy gear – all grounded in reality Gardner notes in his acknowledgements.

The story moves from a fixed horse race at Ascot to a castle in Scotland, a torture scene, a fashion show in Perpignan, France, and a finale on an aircraft above the Mediterranean. Elements of the story are reminiscent of Goldfinger, Casino Royale, View to a Kill and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Some effort is made by Gardner to frame the story in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1980s mainly by revising Bond’s taste in cars, perfume and fashion, but the elements that work best are timeless and his style certainly harks back to Fleming’s.

Thankfully absent is the off-hand racism of the original stories, although the sexism is still present, but it is not quite as jarring – if Bond didn’t get his leg over at least once in the story you’d think something was seriously amiss. He’s not that much of a new man despite cutting down on his drinking and switching to smoking low tar cigarettes. The worst of it is a female Q nicknamed Q’ute who takes Bond home to show off her gadgets – all very silly.
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on 25 October 2011
With the exception of Kingsley Amis (Colonel Sun), the late great John Gardner is the best of the Bond continuation authors by a country mile. The efforts of Benson, Deaver and Faulks do not bare comparison with his work. Of the twelve Bond books he wrote, the initial five-" Licence Renewed" being the first - were by fare and away the best. When he started the project he had an enthusiasm that was to wain later on.
When Licence Renewed was published, the excitement in the literary world was palpable and he didn't let them down. He brought us a Bond fit for the times and suited and booted for the '80s. The smoking was dramatically reduced. Bond, like the author, had finally got the memo from the NHS. and the drinking moderated. The Bentley had been replaced by a Saab 900 turbo and our hero was gracefully aged but the sex, violence and snobbery were left fully in tact.
In short the reboot was credible and creditable and our new James was soon thrust into action against the evil Anton Merik in a story that held all the key ingredients that we had come to love and expect from a Bond adventure.
Although the plot itself is not the finest, ''Licence Renewed" sets the stage for the new series in fine style and is a must for all Bond aficionados.
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