Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"I just read those Higson's Young Bond adventures earlier this spring, they're awesome! much better than any of the proper continuation authors I've read, since maybe Christopher Wood."

I agree- Higson's efforts stand up well on rereading, despite the basic concept being pretty far from Fleming.

"It's interesting you started with those books. How old were you? Had you seen the films? I assume the books were intended to be a child's first BondLit experience, but I never met such anybody who started with Young Bond til now."

From memory I was around nine or ten, browsing a bookshop when I came across the then-latest Higson- I think Hurricane Gold. At that point I had only seen a few Roger Moore films, and was vaguely aware of Daniel Craig being the current Bond. I persuaded my mother to buy it for me on the strength of the Bond name slapped across the cover, and I remember thoroughly enjoying it. Not the Bond I was used to, but still a gripping read all the same.

I quickly collected all the young Bonds by Higson, and a couple of years after that moved on to the originals with Fleming's FYEO.

My other strong memory of Higson's young Bond is lending Hurricane Gold to my mother back when I first read it. She promptly gave it back, unable to get past the torture scenes in chapter one with the sadistic 'rat run' ordeal. Looking at it now I realise Higson's fare is pretty gruesome stuff for younger readers...

I still find it a bit ironic that Higson's young Bond saga manages to evoke Fleming more successfully than most of the 'proper' continuation authors...


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

That's a good origin story, SPECTRE. Clearly Higson's books succeeded in doing their job.

They were more explicitly gorey than anything Fleming wrote, or probably any of the grownup authors. I think Hurricane Gold is the one where one of the bad guys suffers a head injury early on, and his brains are literally falling out of a hole in his skull for the rest of the book, even as he continues to walk and talk for a couple hundred more pages.
I figured the books were aimed at young boys who consider gorey messes cool?


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"They were more explicitly gorey than anything Fleming wrote, or probably any of the grownup authors. I think Hurricane Gold is the one where one of the bad guys suffers a head injury early on, and his brains are literally falling out of a hole in his skull for the rest of the book, even as he continues to walk and talk for a couple hundred more pages.
I figured the books were aimed at young boys who consider gorey messes cool?"

I guess the publishers figured that the violence was so over-the-top that it was impossible to take seriously. I well remember the character whose brains start falling out- elsewhere, a different villain is buried alive by swarms of ants in the jungle, Indiana Jones-style, while another character drowns in quicksand.

I've just checked over my copy of Hurricane Gold and it carries the dubious recommendation on the back cover, from an Observer review, that there's "more flesh-crawling deaths than ever before!" This on a book apparently aimed at younger readers...


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

For Your Eyes Only (1960)

After seven consecutive Bond novels in as many years, Ian Fleming decided to experiment with the formula a little, resulting in 1960’s For Your Eyes Only. Rather than a full-length novel, the author instead produced a collection of five short stories, comprising a set of brief vignettes depicting the dangerous life of a secret agent. Fleming’s FYEO ultimately succeeds in offering a unique reading experience, albeit with a few misfires along the way.

The first story presented here, ‘From A View to A Kill’, involves a melancholy Bond attempting to solve the mystery of disappearing NATO despatch riders. The shadow of the Second World War casts a pall over Bond’s thoughts during the gloomy opening, with his cynical distaste for the French capital: “Bond had decided to give the town one more chance…Since 1945, he had not had a happy day in Paris…it was its heart that was gone…” Combining intriguing allusions to Bond’s war service, vivid imagery “thundering stream of black metal”, and a well-drawn portrait of a lonely and bitter 007, Fleming crafts an exceptional introductory scene.  As the story progresses there occurs a tense setpiece, with Bond’s surveillance of the villains’ forest hideout, and the ensuing climactic battle delivers. FAVTAK makes for a fine start to the collection.

The high quality continues with the second instalment, “For Your Eyes Only”. The tale entangles Bond with a striking heroine in Judy Havelock, whose independent spirit sets her apart from many of Fleming’s other romantic foils for Bond: “She would walk alone through life and have little use for civilisation…Bond thought she was wonderful…” Overall, FYEO marks another triumph for the collection as a whole.

The next story, “Quantum of Solace”, is where the standard of storytelling begins to tail off somewhat. Here we’re treated to a bored Bond listening to the Governor of Nassau tell a long anecdote about unlucky civil servant Philip Masters’ disintegrating marriage. While Fleming will return to the subject of marriage later on in the series, with superior results, here the Governor’s lengthy yarn on the topic comes across as rambling, lacking Fleming’s usual flair. The penultimate story, “Risico”, is better, with a pleasing focus on the myriad deceptions and lies of genuine spycraft, as well as a memorable setpiece in Bond’s stroll across a deadly minefield. Finally, Fleming contributes “The Hildebrand Rarity”, the last and best of the stories featured here. With colourful imagery, a rich setting in the form of the Seychelles, and an intensely creepy and repelling villain in the odious Milton Krest, THR represents essentially the most ‘Flemingesque’ of these five adventures, ending with an unsettling twist.

In conclusion, “For Your Eyes Only” is a worthwhile read. The short story format generally works quite effectively, with the disappointing exemption of the middling QOS. With four hits and a miss, “For Your Eyes Only” remains an interesting and distinctive variation of the usual Bond formula.


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Good review, SoD, thanks for that. I'd have given "Risico" more coverage, though. It deserves more than one sentence!


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

I love the FYEO compilation. These stories, QoS aside, are among my favorite of Fleming’s work.


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Interesting reviews - keep them coming!


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

SeaFire (1994)

As John Gardner’s tenure as official Bond author drew towards a close, his penultimate original novel, 1994’s SeaFire, moved 007 onto surer ground.  Gone were the labyrinthine plots and hectic mazes of deception that characterised the last few Gardner tales; here Gardner provides a clear and thorough plotline, marking a definite improvement over his past few ventures into the world of Bond.

James Bond is despatched to investigate the mysterious shipping magnate Sir Max Tarn, uncovering a global scheme to cause catastrophic natural disasters and bring about the return of the Third Reich. With a billionaire industrialist foe seeking control of a valuable resource, an alluring heroine, and high stakes, the author manages to assemble a respectable concoction of Bond ingredients. Chief among these is the memorable presence of the sinister Max Tarn: “He…clasped Bond’s hand in a grip as tight as a hangman’s noose…an undertow of bleak, unbalanced evil…” With an implicit hint of insanity resting beneath the charismatic façade, similar Nazi-themed backstories, and even similar names, Bond’s nemesis immediately puts the reader in mind of Christopher Walken’s intense portrayal of Max Zorin in 1985’s A View to A Kill, and comes across as a more developed threat than many of the other adversaries Gardner invents for Bond to confront.

Elsewhere, the construction of Gardner’s action sequences sees a definite improvement. Two scenes in particular- the vicious fight to the death aboard a sabotaged submarine, and the final pursuit involving high-tech Powerchute vehicles- bear close parallels with similar escapades in the later Eon Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and it is difficult to believe this is merely a coincidence; perhaps the film-makers noted the increased cinematic potential of Gardner’s action in this particular adventure? At any rate, the author’s prose in these sections is polished and vivid: “the blade of the knife slid home, like pushing a spade into soft ground…the sea…catching him with dozens of hands bent on pulling him down…” Gardner’s description of the submarine confrontation succeeds in evoking Bond’s frantic desperation and despair, especially with the addition of a striking dramatic moment where our trapped hero experiences a surreal nightmare: “ He dreamed of diving for pearls…a terrible ghost from the past appeared…Tracy di Vicenzo, lying dead…” Garner devotes more attention to Bond’s inner thoughts than usual, and this tactic pays off, allowing the reader to gain a sense of a haunted and disaffected protagonist, riven by melancholy and wary of his budding relationship with appealing Swiss agent Fredericka Von Grusse. This is a more sensitive portrait of James Bond than most in Gardner’s canon, one fraught with emotional intrigue, and for this the author is to be commended.

In conclusion, SeaFire is ultimately among the stronger of Gardner’s Bond novels. With a colourful enemy, a thrilling denouement and some interesting characterisation of 007, Gardner manages to get Bond’s adventures back on track, resulting in one of his more enjoyable contributions to the crowded continuation saga.


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

For Special Services (1982)

A year after John Gardner made his 007 debut with the generally well-received Licence Renewed, he returned to plough the same literary furrow with 1982’s For Special Services. While the author emerges with some credit here, For Special Services is most definitely a mixed bag of an adventure.

The plot involves James Bond’s covert investigations into the mysterious Markus Bismaquer, as he begins to suspect that the secretive industrialist is using his wealth to fund a revived faction of SPECTRE, hidden away deep within the swamps and bayous of Louisiana. So far, so cliché. Yet Gardner injects a vein of almost satirical eccentricity into proceedings that instantly lifts the entire tale above the workmanlike. Whereas Licence Renewed stuck rigidly, for the most part, to Fleming’s original formula, here the whole adventure tends towards the brink of parody. The weird happenings at Bismaquer’s desert ranch could be argued to be in keeping with Fleming’s later stylings, such as the surreal darkness of Blofeld’s Garden of Death in You Only Live Twice, but if this was Gardner’s intention then it doesn’t quite work. Rather, the outrageous circumstances in which Bond becomes embroiled during the course of his American sojourn are conveyed with a lighthearted flourish through matter-of-fact prose, lending it a coolly comedic tone not unlike Roger Moore’s contemporary exploits on the big screen in Moonraker and Octopussy.

For example, billionaire industrialist Markus Bismaquer’s global empire is based, not on gold or oil, but on the noticeably less valuable commodity of ice-cream. SPECTRE’s schemes are ultimately revealed to centre on drugging supplies of ice cream and using this to brainwash others into carrying out their evil plans. I’m not sure what to make of the ice cream brainwashing plot.  On the one hand, its certainly memorable. On the other, its utterly ludicrous. Even more ridiculous is the fact that SPECTRE decide to test the brainwashing chemical on James Bond. Why the organisation would want their greatest enemy, rather than some random henchman, to play such a key role in aiding their plan isn’t really explained. The scenes in which a hypnotised Bond must infiltrate a secret US Army base are mildly confusing at best and laughable at worst. It’s a shame that Gardner chose to stake the credibility of the story on such a risible plot point, as much of the rest of the novel remains exciting and intriguing. There are a few strong action sequences, the excellent opening plane hijack and the tense hotel fight being early highlights. A welcome element of character insight is introduced as Bond wrestles with his own paranoias over whether SPECTRE have truly returned, but this conflict is swiftly abandoned when the villainous cabal’s presence becomes obvious. It’s a little disappointing, as a greater emphasis on character over plot would have helped this adventure considerably. As it stands, For Special Services boasts some well-crafted action and suspense, hobbled by an absurd, contrived plot. Close, but no cigar.


Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Diverting into non-fiction briefly, we have

The Making of GoldenEye by Guy Pearce (1995)

This relatively slight coffee-table book, released to coincide with the premiere of the seventeenth Eon James Bond adventure, does exactly what it says on the tin; provide a straight-down-the-barrel factual history of the production of GoldenEye, from the earliest script drafts to the final rounds of publicity promotion. While there isn’t much to be found here in the way of shocking revelations, or on-set gossip, if you’re looking for a decently detailed account of the film’s conception and development, this will probably do the trick.

The book mostly consists of a series of interviews with key cast and crew personnel, such as Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli, Martin Campbell, Pierce Brosnan, Isabella Scorupco, and Sean Bean, amongst others. Highlights include Pierce Brosnan’s filming diary, which manages to be extremely comprehensive and insightful, with contributions from Martin Campbell on the tribulations of directing, and a lengthy chapter on the special effects used during the tank chase. There are also a number of behind-the-scenes photographs, some of which appear to be exclusive to this book, although other are disappointingly only printed in black-and-white. The narrative also suffers in places from being written a little too much like a press release, smoothly gilding over some behind-the-scenes problems while taking the time to throw jibes at rival action films such as True Lies. Overall, though, if you’re in the market for a veritable smorgasbord of trivia about GoldenEye, as well as a fascinating and straightforward account of its production, the Making of GoldenEye is an easy recommendation.