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Topic: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Some thoughts on various contributions to the literary oeuvre, reviewing a random Bond novel on a regular basis. I hope to eventually cover the whole lot. From Benson to Boyd via Higson and Horowitz, this will be an unplanned wander through the jungle of Bond literature rather than a scheduled trip. There'll be lush fauna (Fleming's OHMSS), deadly tigers (go on, have a guess...*) and everything in between...



Here goes with one of the first 'proper' continuation novels...








*Award yourself a pat on the back and a cigar if you guessed Devil May Care

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Licence Renewed (1981)



In 1981 the world of Bond was revitalised. On the screen, Roger Moore encountered Greek smugglers, talking parrots and winter sports in For Your Eyes Only, while on the page, the literary James Bond made a welcome return in the form of John Gardner’s Licence Renewed. This was notable as the first original novel to contain the Bond character since John Pearson’s quasi-fictional parody jumble The Authorised Biography of 007 in 1973; whereas that quirky tale had focused on a reflective, retired agent in a vein that brought back haunting memories of Casino Royale ‘67’s august Sir James Bond,  Licence attempts to restore something of the mood and tone of Fleming’s writing to the literary universe abandoned in the wake of Kingsley Amis’ 1968 effort, Colonel Sun.
Licence Renewed reintroduces us to Bond in chapter two, and Gardner can’t resist adding the suggestion of time marching on for our favourite secret agent: “Minute flecks of grey had started to appear in the dark hair.” Bond’s habits have begun to develop over the years: “drastically cutting back-most of the time-on his alcohol intake…a new special brand of cigarettes, with a tar content slightly lower than any currently available on the market…” These superficial changes, combined with a memorable summary of Bond’s looks: “the face of an attractive buccaneer…” update 007’s image to that of a slightly grizzled, older but still skilled and formidable agent, marginally refined for the changing times. This portrayal of Bond is decent; what Gardner’s characterisation lacks is the sense of darkly gruelling accidie of Fleming’s latter works. Rather than build on these sentiments Gardner instead increases the level of comedic humour present in this adventure. This Bond is a breezy, amiable sort of chap, firing off puns and quips and exchanging witty repartee with the villainous Anton Murik and his hulking Scottish henchman, Caber. When combined with the implications of age’s toll beginning to affect 007, we are reminded of Roger Moore’s lightweight portrayal and so the characterisation of the literary Bond becomes a little hazy and rough around the edges in places.


More successful is Gardner’s use of plot and action and with these aspects the author accomplishes some commendable triumphs. There are a good variety of setpieces, including a foot chase through French streets, a breakneck pursuit in Bond’s gadget-laden Saab, and a vicious fight to the death on board a cargo plane, this last successfully evoking both Goldfinger and the then yet-to-be-released film version of The Living Daylights. The plot, too, is effective. It centres on terrorists gaining control of nuclear reactors, and while uranium may not be as tangible a commodity as gold or oil Murik’s plan remains suitably grandiose, not least in how it chillingly foreshadows the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Overall, Licence Renewed is a mixed bag of elements that ultimately manages to conjure pleasant memories of the best of Fleming, and remains an entertaining opening to Gardner’s epic fourteen-novel era.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Nice idea, nicely done.  ajb007/lol
Yes, back in '81 there was a bit of a buzz around this novel, and it is a good read. Gardner had strict restrictions placed on him by Glidrose (later IFP) which he was happy to work within at first. His later books IMHO declined in quality quite sharply.
I hope our member Silhouette Man spots this thread, and puts a word or two in.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"His later books IMHO declined in quality quite sharply."

Tend to agree there...


By the way, does anyone know why exactly 1981, specifically, was chosen as the right moment to revive the literary Bond? Was it to cash in on the record success of Moonraker in 1979? Or were there legal/copyright issues at stake? Just curious on this bit of trivia...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

I've sent Silhouette Man a message, this is very much up his street.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Thanks SoD, I enjoyed reading your review.  ajb007/martini

I too remember the excitement this novel's publication elicited at the time, and I still have the first edition I bought at the time (I'd just started sixth form) and read in more or less one sitting. I visualised Connery when I read it, rather than Moore, but with the slightly lighter touch which unconsciously anticipated his more amiable NSNA delivery. I do clearly recall appreciating the edition of Q'ute, who may have been inspired by Robert Conrad's female Q-equivalent in the TVs series 'A Man called Sloan', which had then recently been shown on tv.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and as both you and Barbel note, sadly after only a few more, Gardner's licence should have been revoked.

"How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

After the release of the paperback it wasn’t too long before I was able to display secondhand copies of Licence Renewed in my bookshop. It sold really well, as did many of Gardner’s early Bond books, but as the series continued sales decreased and copies were hard to come by as only Bond fans were buying them and thus keeping them in their collections. The earliest ones were also bought by casual readers and disposed of into secondhand shops after they were read.

Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

" It sold really well, as did many of Gardner’s early Bond books, but as the series continued sales decreased and copies were hard to come by as only Bond fans were buying them and thus keeping them in their collections..."


Interesting. I suspect the high sales/initial consumer interest might have been to do with people confusing the new series of books with Eon Productions products- the edition of The Man From Barbarossa I have (some kind of book club edition) even naughtily carries the films' official 007 logo! This crossover appeal was also something ruthlessly exploited by Saab when promoting the Silver Beast as "the new Bond car" in very filmic posters- knowing that the public imagination would leap to the cinematic Bond first, a clever marketing ploy.


"as the series continued sales decreased and copies were hard to come by as only Bond fans were buying them and thus keeping them in their collections. "


I wonder why sales tapered off- did the public 'buzz' wear thin? Or did mainstream reviews of Gardner's work get harsher? Another intriguing question here...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

The general rule of thumb is that sales diminish as a series continues. When sales drop to a certain amount to where the profit margin is negligible, then the series ends. I can only give the viewpoint of a secondhand bookshop, but the same principle would apply to when the books were sold new.

Interestingly, the Gardner 1st edition hardcovers are getting big prices on the secondhand market, not in the Fleming price range, but very nice for sellers at the moment.

Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"Interestingly, the Gardner 1st edition hardcovers are getting big prices on the secondhand market, not in the Fleming price range, but very nice for sellers at the moment."


Understandable, those early Gardner hardbacks with the faux-Chopping dust jackets look really nice. I have Icebreaker and Nobody Lives Forever in 1st edition hardcover and they're good-looking investments on the shelf. Speaking anecdotally, decent first editions of Role of Honour seem particularly expensive for some reason...



Haven't dared venture into the treacherously costly waters of Fleming collecting yet...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

I don’t need 500 for Fleming.  How about one word- awesome!  Other than a few Gardner and “Markham”, the rest are pretty much garbage.

This is where we leave you Mr. Bond. (Pilot, Apollo Airlines)

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

While I think the word"garbage" is a bit of a generalisation, it could certainly apply in places to this next one Polar Bear 007...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Carte Blanche (2011)



Jumping forwards thirty years, we find the screen James Bond trapped in limbo. With MGM stumbling haphazardly out of the mire of bankruptcy that had plagued the company throughout 2010, it was up to the literary Bond to take on the mantle of releasing new material during the relative dry spell of 2011. Following Sebastian Faulks’ critically successful Devil May Care in 2008, Ian Fleming Publications decided to continue the trend of tapping ‘celebrity’ authors to write Bond adventures, and duly appointed American thriller maestro Jeffery Deaver to carry out this vital mission. Does he succeed?



In short, the blunt and pithy answer is ‘no’. Deaver attempts to update Bond for a modern audience, setting the novel in 2011 and making Bond a veteran of Afghanistan rather than the Second World War, but these tweaks are ill-judged. Sending Bond hurtling into the twenty-first century is a jarring and often uncomfortable choice in prose form, because the constant references to mobile phones and fashionable eco-recycling concerns damage any attempt to write like Fleming. Deaver’s altering of Bond is a significantly more radical interpretation than, say, Gardner’s, and this drives a stake through the authentic heart of the project; to write in a way that effectively imitates and recalls the stylings of Ian Fleming. Even Faulks and Boyd, for all their individual faults, recognised this basic duty for a Bond novel. Deaver, on the other hand, portrays Bond himself as a fussy, fretting man, endlessly questioning the behaviour of the intriguing Ophelia Maidenstone: ‘What sort of message lay behind that choice?’ in long-winded spasms of psychoanalysis, and indulging in dreadful humour more redolent of Alan Partridge than the witty quips we expect: “British security and police operations were like human beings…even, Bond had once joked, undergoing sex-change operations…Why waste departmental Post-It notes?” Such clunky dialogue is a world away from the brash swaggering repartee we have come to know from 007. 



The plot is little better, a muddled confusion of laboured MI6 bureaucracy and office politics courtesy of the irritating Osborne-Smith, and a pursuit across Serbia, Dubai and South Africa to stop the recycling mogul Severan Hydt. An insidious and creepy presence, Hydt is a monstrous foe, perversely attracted by death and decay and plotting to execute a relatively convincing plan to reconstruct and then sell classified documents on the black market. With his twisted criminal leanings, Hydt is a respectably threatening adversary and emerges as the single best part of the novel. Its just a shame that the actual mechanics of his scheme are so convoluted, and even more disappointing when a separate character entirely is unmasked as the true villain of the piece. The action, too, is lacking; a series of wordy gunfights dependent on changing perspectives between characters to increase suspense, a device that gradually becomes more tiresome as the tale goes on. Overall, Carte Blanche pales when set alongside the better continuation novels, and is ultimately a far cry from the finest of Fleming.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

So... you didn't like it much, then?

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"So... you didn't like it much, then?"

To quote Q: That's putting it mildly, 007...


In all seriousness, though, I know this review might come off as a trifle snarky or harsh. However, it must be kept in mind that its just trying to express my opinion; which is that Carte Blanche isn't very good. Hopefully you enjoyed it more than I did...

Its not without its saving graces, as I noted, in the form of the sinister Severan Hydt, but the plot and characterisation drag it down for me. I can see why someone else might like it, though; the modern setting, the topical recycling plot, the dangerous South African locations...

The next instalment of these reviews should be a bit more positive- heading back to the realm of Fleming or Gardner...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Edit: unfortunately, there's a fair bit of negativity in this review as well...

Never Dream of Dying (2001)


I purchased Raymond Benson’s seventh 007 adventure, Never Dream of Dying, from a charity shop for the meagre price of 40p. This seems appropriate because the best word, in retrospect, to describe this confused jumble of poorly executed ideas is cheap.
The story centres on a bitter French film producer plotting to bomb the Cannes Film Festival. The hot-blooded villain, Leon Essinger, is a cardboard figure motivated only by petty jealousy that Hollywood cast him out. Having Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay as Bond antagonists might have a ring of satire to it, similar to Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies, yet Benson fails to exploit the obvious opportunities to poke fun at the blockbuster industry or perhaps offer a pastiche of the Bond films themselves. Instead he insists on treating events with deadly seriousness. While it is possible to accuse the Gardner books of overindulging in levity, the wearisome stylings of NDOD put all those complaints into stark perspective. The tone Benson attempts is one of tragic melancholy; hence we get a protracted love affair with Bond and beautiful actress Tylyn Mignonne, a deliberate and conscious evocation of the romance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The ham-fisted pointlessness of such an unsubtle and direct imitation of Fleming barely needs to be said; more than once Gardner crosses the line from pastiche to parody, and from there to slavish clone.


As if to emphasise this even further Bond’s old ally Marc-Ange Draco puts in an appearance, but the use of this character serves to increase the distance between Benson’s Bond and his predecessors. Suffice it is to say that the plot twist involving Draco is at best bizarre and at worst insulting. It’s a terribly misjudged piece of tinkering likely to annoy hardcore fans and badly confuse the uninitiated. For someone who ranks Fleming’s Majesty’s as their favourite in the series its particularly galling.


This isn’t helped by tepid prose, stuffed with meandering technical detail and dully repetitious action. It can be difficult to portray cinematic action on the page, though rather than using simile and metaphor, or taking us inside Bond’s thoughts, Benson prefers to describe events in the plainest, simplest manner possible: “The bullets pierced the metal and ignited the petrol. The van was sent flying in the ensuing explosion. It rolled twice and settled on its side as the passengers scrambled to get out. But they were too late…the van’s petrol tank exploded, killing them all.” Benson succumbs to the worst excesses of “he did this and then he did this and then he did that” prose, a garbled childlike mess of sprawling sentences and superfluous connectives. This is the only Benson I’ve read and, you could say, I’d never dream of trying another. A turgid fiasco…

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

Never Dream of Dying (2001)


I purchased Raymond Benson’s seventh 007 adventure, Never Dream of Dying, from a charity shop for the meagre price of 40p.

I personally feel you were still overcharged  ajb007/crap

This is a horrible, horrible Bond ‘novel’  ajb007/mad

YNWA 96

The Unbearables

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

I recently tried to read High Time to Kill because I know it is regarded as one of the better Benson novels. I couldn’t get more than 25% through it before I gave up. The dialogue is simply atrocious. The only thing Benson achieves is to make John Gardner - particularly his early work - look very good by comparison.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Miles Messervy wrote:

I recently tried to read High Time to Kill because I know it is regarded as one of the better Benson novels. I couldn’t get more than 25% through it before I gave up. The dialogue is simply atrocious. The only thing Benson achieves is to make John Gardner - particularly his early work - look very good by comparison.

Cant really blame you  ajb007/crap

I think Benson’s novels are more aimed towards the ‘Bond film fan’...there appears to be a conscious effort to write the books in the ‘filmic style’ - which seems to alienate the Bond book fan rather than include them. It’s been a good few years since I read these - but I remember I quite liked DoubleShot and The Man With The Red Tattoo was passable...but my memory isn’t what it once was  ajb007/crap  ajb007/biggrin

YNWA 96

The Unbearables

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Based on all the reviews of the Benson novels as they came out, I've never read a single one - the only continuation author I avoided. There's nothing more frustrating than reading a poorly-written novel.

I have great affection for The James Bond Bedside Companion - I've reread it countless times - but I wonder what motivate IFP to choose Benson to continue after Gardner  ajb007/confused it would be a bit like asking Sir Miles to write Britain's next Eurovision entry based on his love for Eurovision and AWTD.  ajb007/biggrin

"How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Sir Miles wrote:
Miles Messervy wrote:

I recently tried to read High Time to Kill because I know it is regarded as one of the better Benson novels. I couldn’t get more than 25% through it before I gave up. The dialogue is simply atrocious. The only thing Benson achieves is to make John Gardner - particularly his early work - look very good by comparison.

Cant really blame you  ajb007/crap

I think Benson’s novels are more aimed towards the ‘Bond film fan’...there appears to be a conscious effort to write the books in the ‘filmic style’ - which seems to alienate the Bond book fan rather than include them. It’s been a good few years since I read these - but I remember I quite liked DoubleShot and The Man With The Red Tattoo was passable...but my memory isn’t what it once was  ajb007/crap  ajb007/biggrin

It had been about 20 years for me since I had picked up a Benson novel. I actually read Benson before ever reading Fleming. As you suggest, I suppose I was the target audience at the time (a teenager who was a fan of the films) so I remembered liking the books. It was easy to picture Brosnan’s Bond on the page.

Having now read Fleming several times over - as well as Gardner, Boyd, Deaver, and Horowitz - Benson is actually unreadable. I think he generally understood Bond but lacked the literary skill to translate that understanding onto the page.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Charmed & Dangerous wrote:

Based on all the reviews of the Benson novels as they came out, I've never read a single one - the only continuation author I avoided. There's nothing more frustrating than reading a poorly-written novel.

I have great affection for The James Bond Bedside Companion - I've reread it countless times - but I wonder what motivate IFP to choose Benson to continue after Gardner  ajb007/confused it would be a bit like asking Sir Miles to write Britain's next Eurovision entry based on his love for Eurovision and AWTD.  ajb007/biggrin

So...a solid gold hit then  ajb007/bond

YNWA 96

The Unbearables

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

"I actually read Benson before ever reading Fleming"

The first Bond novels I read were actually the Charlie Higson Young Bonds many years ago, they made a great starting point to then jump into the adult Bond with some original Flemings later on. Higson tries to work within Fleming's timeline, though I imagine reading Benson first would be more recognisable for someone coming straight from the films to the books...

Having said that, Benson's attempts to bridge the literary and filmic versions of Bond fall very flat indeed.


"I think he generally understood Bond but lacked the literary skill to translate that understanding onto the page."

That's a good summary. Even though Gardner confessed to not really liking Bond, he could at least write well as evidenced by his early 007 novels. On the other hand however, while Benson was a big Bond fan he lacked ability on the page, which shows.


"Benson is actually unreadable."

Parts of NDOD definitely felt like that. I've heard people say that DoubleShot and High Time to Kill are alright but I'm afraid I'll be taking a long sabbatical from Benson's literary oeuvre with these reviews from now on...

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

Perhaps you could try reading one of his film novelisations? As with Gardner, there's a different feel to them since other writers were involved.

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Re: Bond novels, reviewed in 500 words or less

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

The first Bond novels I read were actually the Charlie Higson Young Bonds many years ago, they made a great starting point to then jump into the adult Bond with some original Flemings later on. Higson tries to work within Fleming's timeline, though I imagine reading Benson first would be more recognisable for someone coming straight from the films to the books...

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.

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.


I've never read Benson's novels. I've always seen him compared unfavourably to Gardner, and I didn't much like Gardner.
I did recently find his Bedside Companion online in *.pdf form, and have been enjoying skipping around through that, especially the sections of analysis on the 14 original books. He really knows his stuff, and he summarises a lot of information quite neatly. Worst I could say is his opinions are pretty standard, uncontroversial stuff, but that's probably more appropriate to the encyclopedic nature of the book. I wish the Bedside Companion  was as easy to find in used bookstores as his attempts at Bondnovels.

Last edited by caractacus potts (6th Jul 2020 22:33)