Thriller - Shastrix Books


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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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Clive Cussler & Jack du Brul

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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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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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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