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Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill

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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Buy book: UK
Brokenclaw

Brokenclaw

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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Buy book: UK
Win, Lose or Die

Win, Lose or Die

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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Buy book: UK
Mirage

Mirage

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1st February 2014

I was pleasantly surprised by this Oregon Files novel, which opens with a thrilling rescue that leads on to a series of following adventures. Over recent years I've become less satisfied with the Cussler 'brand' but this, some three years since the last book in this series, was really enjoyable to read.

The Oregon Files started out as much more of an ensemble piece in the earliest novels, but now focus much more on the main character, Juan Cabrillo. While this can sometimes feel unrealistic it adds a lot more of a sense of adventure than the very procedural nature of the first few books.

The plot here is fantastic. There's the usual slight sci-fi edge to the threat, but the baddie is surprisingly authentic and not the almost-parody Bond-villain that sometimes features in Cussler novels. The story shows the Oregon's day-to-day as well as a big adventure, which adds realism to the story and a much more interesting look at the characters. It also helps to slow the main plot line which flits around the world quite quickly in scene after scene of action.

The best Cussler for years, in my opinion, and one I find it difficult to find much fault with. Much more of this please.

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Buy book: UK
Scorpius

Scorpius

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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Buy book: UK
The Mayan Secrets

The Mayan Secrets

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30th November 2013

The Fargos return for an adventure in South America, where an accidental discovery sets them at odds with a mysterious collector. As recent Clive Cussler novels go, it's not a bad little adventure, although there are holes when you look too closely.

The story itself is quite plausible and fits the traditional Cussler setup, which was a good early indication that it was going to be a good adventure. The characters are slightly more realistic than they've been before in this series, being cardboard cutouts.

Where the book falls down is in the detail - the motivation of the baddies is thin and their backgrounds are vague. There are places where problems could be easily solved with the application of modern technology, and one scene in the UK makes an error that a tiny bit of research would have spotted. It's disappointing that a mistake in something that I do know about makes me doubt what the book tells me about subjects, such as the Mayans, that I don't know a lot about.

Overall I've rather enjoyed this adventure, and think it's probably the best in the Fargo series so far.

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Buy book: UK
Solo

Solo

2nd October 2013

William Boyd's entry in the James Bond series is likely to appeal to two groups - fans of Ian Fleming's original literary works about the British secret agent, and fans of the cinematic escapades based on the same character. My immediate feeling was that neither would be satisfied, but actually I found it to be a good Fleming-esque read.

The story is set in 1969, following the original Bond canon and disregarding the many novels written by other 'continuation' authors since then. This felt a much better decision than that of Jeffrey Deaver, the last author to tackle Bond, who rebooted the series into the 21st Century.

Bond, a character quite recognisable to a reader of the Fleming originals, is sent by M to an African country to stop its civil war, and from there things spiral in a complex and unpredictable manner. The plot felt, particularly in the first half, like it was following well the Fleming style, but then Boyd pours on layers of complexity - probably too many - which makes the end of the novel awkward and anticlimactic.

For the most part though I think that Boyd has managed to capture the James Bond spirit without turning it into parody. A Bond novel that I think can appeal to both fans of the literature and cinema adventures.

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Buy book: UK

Other reviewed books

Zero Hour
Never Go Back
Ordinary Thunderstorms
High Heat
The Trophy Taker
The Striker
Nobody Lives Forever
The Tombs
Role of Honour
Poseidon's Arrow
Icebreaker
Deep Down
A Wanted Man
For Special Services
The Affair
Licence Renewed
Colonel Sun
Second Son
Octopussy and The Living Daylights
The Storm
The Man with the Golden Gun
You Only Live Twice
61 Hours
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Thief
Thunderball
Empire State
Devil's Gate
For Your Eyes Only
Goldfinger
The Race
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
Rip Tide
Diamonds Are Forever
The Kingdom
Carte Blanche
Moonraker
Live and Let Die
The Jungle
Lost Empire
Casino Royale
The Visitor
Crescent Dawn
Tripwire
Sandstorm
Seven Ancient Wonders
The Spy
The Silent Sea
Spartan Gold
Scarecrow
Present Danger
The Wrecker
Medusa
Corsair

Unreviewed books

Arctic Drift
At Risk
Atlantis Found
Black Wind
Blue Gold
Clear and Present Danger
COLD
Cyclops
Dark Watch
Dead Line
Death is Forever
Debt of Honour
Deep Six
Devil May Care
Die Another Day
Digital Fortress
Doubleshot
Dragon
Executive Orders
Final Fling
Fire Ice
Flood Tide
Golden Buddha
GoldenEye
High Time to Kill
Iceberg
Inca Gold
James Bond and Moonraker
Lost City
Mayday!
Never Dream of Dying
Night Probe!
Pacific Vortex
Patriot Games
Plague Ship
Polar Shift
Rainbow Six
Raise the Titanic
Red Rabbit
Red Storm Rising
Sacred Stone
Sahara
Seafire
Secret Asset
Serpent
Shock Wave
Skeleton Coast
The Bear and the Dragon
The Bourne Trilogy
The Cardinal of the Kremlin
The Chase
The Facts of Death
The Hunt for Red October
The Man From Barbarossa
The Man with the Red Tattoo
The Navigator
The Teeth of the Tiger
The World is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies
Treasure
Treasure of Khan
Trojan Odyssey
Valhalla Rising
Vixen 03
White Death
Without Remorse
Zero Minus Ten

Top books

  1. The Affair
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Never Go Back
  4. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  5. Moonraker
  6. From Russia With Love
  7. The Silent Sea