John Gardner - Shastrix Books

John Gardner

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GoldenEye

GoldenEye

John Gardner

12th November 2023

Novelisation of movies was a big thing in the 90s and 00s which seems to have since stopped on the whole. And this is probably one of the first that I read back then. GoldenEye makes for a really good, enjoyable, and memorable movie, so it’s a shame the book doesn’t live up to it.

The book contains a reasonably faithful representation of the plot of the film. But translating between media doesn’t really work in this case.

Gardner is clearly working from a script, and so doesn’t have the dialogue down as well as the finish film. The characters are much more verbose, and several of the punchlines are missing that get the best laughs.

He’s added a lot that’s not in the film (or I suppose kept bits that got cut). There are filler scenes that help to bridge gaps that the film doesn’t bother to explain, for example. And these feel awkward and contrived - there’s probably a good reason the film just skips them and leaves them to the viewer’s imagination, or we all collectively just agree to ignore.

One of these additions in particular stood out for being overly gratuitous. Gardner adds a lot more explicit sex than the film contains. He’s also added a scene of creepy sexism that’s incredibly inappropriate and frankly should have been in 1995 and I struggle to see how it was acceptable then.

The narrative is clunky, and doesn’t feel right as a novel at all. The only reason that the book works is that it reminds you of how good a film it was, and makes me want to watch it to refresh my mind of what really happened, instead of this mess.

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Seafire

Seafire

John Gardner

9th September 2023

John Gardner ups the continuity, as his time as Bond author draws towards a close. I definitely get the sense that it’s setting things up to wrap up, and doing so with the knowledge that the film series is about to change things up too.

Bond and Flicka (returning from the previous novel) are sent to investigate a suspiciously rich businessman, and tail him about the country then the world in what turns out to be the classic Bond plot.

I feel like Gardner is trying to channel Fleming more than usual here, and drops a bunch of references back to past missions and characters, as well as following a Fleming-like structure to the narrative.

I was disappointed by the ending, but I can’t say it’s out of character for a Bond novel, and I’m keen now to get onto reading Cold, Gardner’s final novel, which I remember sort of wrapping around Seafire in order to wrap up all the loose ends.

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Never Send Flowers

Never Send Flowers

John Gardner

5th August 2023

This 1993 James Bond novel sees the international spy and assassin sent to Switzerland to investigate the mysterious death of a holidaying member of staff from another government agency.

As a novel, it’s perfectly readable. As a plot, it contains all the outlandish characters and events that you might expect from Bond stories.

But it doesn’t really feel like it has quite the depth of character that I think I’ve now come to expect from this series. It’s almost like it’s a cliché, or trying too hard to be a Bond story from the movies. It feels more like a murder mystery with a ridiculous ending planned, but still breaks the rules.

And it being from 1993, it doesn’t really understand yet where it needs to fall on the spectrum between sexism and feminism - clearly trying to embrace the latter while still, with a modern eye, landing squarely in the former.

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Death is Forever

Death is Forever

John Gardner

19th March 2020

The twelfth James Bond novel published by long-standing continuation author John Gardner sees the British secret agent embracing the mores of the early 1990s as he investigates the disappearance of some former agents around Europe.

In some senses, it’s a classic Bond novel - exotic travel on the latest high class trains, female characters with absurdly suggestive names, and over-the-top villains. Yet it’s almost spoilt by Gardner’s attempts to make it work as a contemporary story - these things seem cheesy and forced into the novel, rather than the airy, natural feeling of being in place in the original Fleming stories (not that every line of Fleming’s has survived the test of time!).

I remember reading this novel as a teenager, yet only one line has stuck in my mind and the plot was totally alien. That the line in question was entirely inconsequential and entirely about trying to seem in place in the 1990s only emphasises the feeling I expressed above.

As a novel, it’s okay - but it’s not Gardner’s best entry in the series.

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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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Other reviewed books

Win, Lose or Die
Scorpius
No Deals, Mr Bond
Nobody Lives Forever
Role of Honour
Icebreaker
For Special Services
Licence Renewed

Unreviewed books

COLD

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