Thriller - Shastrix Books


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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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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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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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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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Other reviewed books

The Mayan Secrets
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
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
Empire State
Devil's Gate
For Your Eyes Only
The Race
Dr. No
From Russia With Love
Rip Tide
Diamonds Are Forever
The Kingdom
Carte Blanche
Live and Let Die
The Jungle
Lost Empire
Casino Royale
The Visitor
Crescent Dawn
Seven Ancient Wonders
The Spy
The Silent Sea
Spartan Gold
Present Danger
The Wrecker

Unreviewed books

Arctic Drift
At Risk
Atlantis Found
Black Wind
Blue Gold
Clear and Present Danger
Dark Watch
Dead Line
Debt of Honour
Deep Six
Devil May Care
Die Another Day
Digital Fortress
Executive Orders
Final Fling
Fire Ice
Flood Tide
Golden Buddha
High Time to Kill
Inca Gold
James Bond and Moonraker
Lost City
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
Secret Asset
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 with the Red Tattoo
The Navigator
The Teeth of the Tiger
The World is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies
Treasure of Khan
Trojan Odyssey
Valhalla Rising
Vixen 03
White Death
Without Remorse
Zero Minus Ten

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