John Gardner - Shastrix Books

John Gardner

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The Man From Barbarossa

The Man From Barbarossa

John Gardner

6th July 2019

An early nineties-based James Bond novel from continuation author John Gardner, this novel follows on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Bond being sent to Russia as a friend to help investigate a mysterious new terrorist group.

It’s a slightly odd product of its time. The narrative spends a fair amount of time predicting the future (though to be fair it could have been written a little after the fact) of how the political situation will unfold, which at first seems prescient but later feels sledgehammered in.

I’m not sure that Gardner really quite gets the character of Bond - the character wears a denim jacket for much of the story and I found this really hard to merge with my mental model of 007.

The plot is interesting, but falls down now for being a story that I’ve read a few times in other thrillers, and not really adding much to the basics. It doesn’t quite seem on a large enough scale for Bond until right at the end, and even then the last few chapters feel like they’ve been scribbled down in a great rush to wrap the plot up without going over a fixed word count.

So not terrible, but not one of the best.

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Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill

John Gardner

4th 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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Brokenclaw

Brokenclaw

John Gardner

25th May 2015

Bond returns in this novel from around 1990, in which continuation author John Gardner pits 007 against 'Brokenclaw' - a stereotypical Bond villain with unclear long-term plans, but quite traditional short-term plans (stolen ones he's selling to China).

There seems to be a lot that's derivative of Fleming's original stories here - so much that it almost starts to come off as parody - however it's not quite right, and there are places where Gardner's attempts to emulate Fleming feel unnaturally awkward, and in one place even seem to contradict what Fleming originally told us about the character. Fleming was basing the character on himself, so could write strongly held opinions about the mundanities of food and clothing, but Gardner clearly doesn't have the same basis for writing Bond's views, and so they come off as trite.

The plot follows the standard pattern, and it feels like Gardner is becoming disenfranchised by this point. I remember when I first read most of the Bond novels as a teenager feeling disappointed by some of them, and this one in particular stands out as one that I got from the local library then and didn't finish. There are some irritating loose threads left at the end that I can't imagine will ever be picked up on, and it just feels like a lazy novel.

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Win, Lose or Die

Win, Lose or Die

John Gardner

16th March 2014

Gardner's eighth Bond novel feels a bit like the point where he's taken things too far. Despite this, the plot is fairly strong and develops from a well formed foundation, however there's a lot that combines to spoil it.

The first problem was that the back-cover copy of my edition gives away one of the major events from the novel that really shouldn't be spoilt. I would have much preferred to have read it without this knowledge in advance.

Bond falling for a girl has become a cliché, despite the narrative's insistence that it's a rarity, but in many ways Gardner's Bond has lost much that Fleming provided the character. The narrative is punctuated by frequent asides and even a footnote which I felt broke the flow of the story and didn't fit with the character the reader is aligned with at all.

Finally there's a really weak climax that I won't spoil. Overall, a book with potential that was let down. I'd love to have read it written differently.

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Scorpius

Scorpius

John Gardner

8th December 2013

Scorpius is an interesting take on the James Bond novel. There are aspects that feel Fleming-esque, but on the whole it feels neither like something crafted by the character's creator, nor like the previous novels written by John Gardner. It's lost a lot of the more eighties aspects, and feels quite trimmed back and without extravagance.

The book is more of a secret-agent procedural novel, with a little bit of character towards the end that doesn't get followed up properly in this novel - but perhaps Gardner is taking a leaf from Fleming's book and leaving the repercussions to the next book in the series.

The plot itself feels filled with coincidence - Bond just tumbles into events by accident rather than actually going on a mission, and seems a fairly useless agent for a lot of the time. Overall, the whole novel feels like it could have been about any secret agent - it's missing the ingredient that means it could only be about James Bond.

I remember having this book as a teenager - I don't know whether I didn't read it or just completely forgot the plot, but I suspect that if you ask me again in another ten years I will have forgotten again.

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No Deals, Mr Bond

No Deals, Mr Bond

John Gardner

11th July 2013

No Deals, Mr Bond has to rate as one of the worst titles in the series, which is a shame as it's one of Gardner's better novels. I've found the first five to be variable in quality, but by his sixth Bond story, Gardner seems to have got a plot that works and a grip in the character he wants Bond to be.

Two former undercover agents have been killed and M asks Bond to protect the remaining three members of the team. It's a basic and believable story with little reliance on ultramodern (for the eighties) technology or gadgetry, skips over the aspects Gardner's vision of Bond dug into in the previous novels, and is much more like something Fleming would have penned.

Bond still lacks some of the depth of character that Fleming gave him, but at least doesn't seem to contradict the original character. There are moments where Bond's apparent age flickers between his thirties and sixties, but it's hidden well and easy to suspend disbelief of this minor aspect.

A good adventure, and if the rest of Gardner's novels follow the style of this one then I'll be very pleased.

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Nobody Lives Forever

Nobody Lives Forever

John Gardner

19th February 2013

John Gardner's fifth James Bond novel is the best of the series up to that point, much more reminiscent of the adventures written by Ian Fleming, in which Bond, holidaying in Europe, discovers that almost every assassin around is after him.

The character of Bond is much more to the fore in this novel, though not as much as in the originals, but the structure feels more familiar. The other characters are stronger than they have been, though it lacked the iconic enemies that Fleming was surprisingly good at making plausible.

In terms of the plot, there were a few moments where I thought it didn't work, with one particularly obvious twist visible right from the start, but otherwise it was strong enough to keep my attention throughout.

A good continuation story, and Gardner's best up to this point. I'm looking forward to continuing the series under his helmsmanship in the hope that things are on the up.

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Other reviewed books

Role of Honour
Icebreaker
For Special Services
Licence Renewed

Unreviewed books

COLD
Death is Forever
GoldenEye
Never Send Flowers
Seafire

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