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May 10, 1993

Revised January 14, 1995

Revised January 26, 1995

This interview originally appeared in 007 MAGAZINE issue #28, October 1995. www.007magazine.co.uk

Continued from Part 1

NOBODY LIVES FOREVER (1986)

At the outset of NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, 007 is on leave, traveling in his Bentley across Europe en route to a medical facility in Vienna to visit his ailing and convalescing housekeeper, May. Bond soon discovers that SPECTRE is sponsoring an open competition for, literally, his head. When he encounters wealthy Sukie Tempesta, a girl he saves from a possible roadside robbery/rape, Bond decides to bring her along on the trip as a safety precaution. Sukie's friend and professional "bodyguard," Nannie Norrich, soon joins the entourage. Bond eventually learns that May and Miss Moneypenny (who was visiting Bond's housekeeper) have been kidnapped by SPECTRE to lure the agent into the organization's clutches. It then becomes apparent that someone is eliminating any competition that comes near Bond and his party--and 007 deduces that it is SPECTRE itself that wants to win "the game."

It was a personal plot for Bond. I remember thinking, why don't we do a chase across Europe? We'll probably do it again, and we did. So I thought--why is there a chase--someone puts a contract out on Bond. Who and why? And it all fell into place. I believe it was the shortest outline I ever did.

It all fell into place because everything works. This is far and away John Gardner's best James Bond novel, and it is precisely because it is such a personal plot for the leading character. It's a plot reminiscent of FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE, and it moves along excitingly! If it were a film, it would surely have much of the same tension that something like Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST had. The chase idea was splendid indeed, and the reader is chased along with Bond throughout the book.

Once again, the continuing theme of the secret agent being a prisoner of his profession is obvious. Bond's professional life has put people close to him in danger--particularly his doting housekeeper, May. This time, the plot is not a mission imparted to 007 by his service. It is an all-out run-for-his-life pursuit; his goal is to not only escape the killers on his tail, but to rescue May and Moneypenny from their clutches.

One nitpick might be that there is no central villain--Tamil Rahani is bedridden, an invalid as a result of what happened to him at the end of the previous book--so it is his organization that serves as the intangible antagonist. But Bond is accompanied by a couple of well-written female characters (Sukie Tempesta and Nannie Norrich), and the author takes the threesome through many surprising turns. It is perhaps significant that NOBODY LIVES FOREVER marks the end of SPECTRE. I suppose it could always be resurrected, but it seems as if the nail was driven into the coffin with this one.

On a side note, NOBODY LIVES FOREVER contains John Gardner's one and only scuba diving scene. Since Fleming used the underwater environment so many times in his series, I asked Mr. Gardner if he ever dived and why he hasn't kept it a part of Bond. I tried it once. I didn't catch a single scuba! Seriously, scuba diving just does not turn me on. It obviously did turn Fleming on. And what about Jamaica? This island was also so much a part of Fleming's Bond, but Gardner has never used it in one of his stories. I suppose I'm not terribly fond of Jamaica. It really isn't what it used to be. Yes, it's a part of Bond, maybe in the fifties and sixties. I find it terribly run down now. I haven't been to Goldeneye. Specifically. I don't want to go to Noel Coward's grave either. It's a personal thing. I do not like Jamaica very much. It's my loss, I'm sure. I missed the golden age of Jamaica when people like Fleming, like Coward, were there, when it was an artistic community...

NO DEALS, MR. BOND (1987)

Five years before the events depicted in NO DEALS, MR. BOND, James Bond helped two young female members of an operation known as "Cream Cake" escape from the Eastern Bloc with their lives. Using two other females and one male, Cream Cake's goal was to seduce senior high-ranking Communist intelligence officers. But the plan was blown, and the five Cream Cake participants were brought to the West and provided new identities. As the story begins, two of the women have been murdered and left with their tongues removed--a sign of ritual execution by a Russian hit squad. Bond's assignment, officially unsanctioned, is not only to pull in the remaining Cream Cake members, but also to finger and eliminate the traitor among them. First Bond links with Heather Dare in London and takes her to Ireland in search of the second potential victim, Ebbie Heritage. There they are caught by Maxim Smolin, Heather's Cream Cake target in the GRU. Luckily, it is revealed that M has arranged for the colonel to defect. But General Kolya Chernov, head of Department 8 of Directorate S (formerly SMERSH), arrives on the scene with intent to kill everyone, including Bond.

It's not my title. Let me tell you about this. I think, without exception, every title I've put up has been mulled over and eventually turned down. They all think they can do better. Putnam always said, the title needs work. NO DEALS, MR. BOND is an atrocious title, but it was the best of what was a very bad bunch. Actually, about half the titles are mine, about four are Peter's. NEVER SEND FLOWERS is Putnam's. I'm not crazy about it. The title thing becomes an absolute nightmare.

The title notwithstanding, NO DEALS, MR. BOND is a solid, action-packed, exciting adventure. The plot is perhaps a little far-fetched, but it makes for gripping reading. The two main female characters, Ebbie Heritage and Heather Dare, are strong and well drawn, and the ally, Maxim Smolin, is especially interesting. The major villain, General Kolya Chernov, is not present enough to fully develop, but the scenes in which he does appear are quite effective. And the author's descriptive writing, especially in the action scenes, is effectively violent. The only disappointment in the story comes with the rather clichéd "most dangerous game" climax in which Bond is "hunted" by assassins on an island.

Once again, Gardner ventures slightly into political territory, this time Northern Ireland. James Bond is actually forbidden to set foot there. This is a strange thing that some people don't realize. In Britain, we have two services. MI6--Secret Intelligence Services, and MI5--Secret Security Services. MI5 have a policy that they only operate on British territory, and parts of the Commonwealth that invite them in. MI6 operates in all countries outside the UK. And at one point, they were specifically instructed not to meddle in Northern Ireland. The north of Ireland is part of the UK by law, despite what the IRA says. So, MI5 has jurisdiction.

Another small aspect I found odd was M's handling of the assignment. Bond's stalwart boss sends the agent into the field without giving him a full briefing. I questioned whether M would really do such a thing. I wouldn't think he would, but it made for a more interesting story! I must remind you that the author is God! Yes, it's probably odd, but I guess there could be situations when a senior officer would withhold information because he didn't want the junior officer to know certain things. It was a device. Mr. Gardner apparently grew fond of the device, because he used it again in subsequent books.

SCORPIUS (1988)

In SCORPIUS, the daughter of a baronet is found drowned in the Thames. When police investigations reveal that she was a member of a religious sect called The Society of the Meek Ones, whose guru is the mysterious Father Valentine, the Secret Service is alerted. There is further concern when authorities find on the girl's person a strange credit card (the "Avant Carte") unknown to the Royal Treasury and the IRS. The CIA is already investigating Valentine, and when the man is linked with international terrorist Vladimir Scorpius, James Bond is brought on the job. Without warning, members of the Meek Ones begin to assassinate major public officials in suicide missions meant to bring about the destruction of the upcoming general election. After he joins forces with American IRS agent Harriet (Harry) Horner, Bond interrogates another young member of the sect who has been found drugged and catatonic in front of her parents' home. It seems that Valentine, who is revealed to be none other than Scorpius himself, is brainwashing his members with drugs; he plans to hire out for profit not only his own brand of terrorism, but an army of kamikaze followers willing to die for their religious "beliefs."

John Gardner was influenced by televangelist Jim Bakker's scandal when he wrote his seventh Bond novel. He states that he wanted to use a televangelist-type figure, but that the character grew into a more private individual. James Bond takes on an investigatory role in the first two-thirds of the book, and the result is something unusual for a 007 adventure--it is almost like a police procedural/mystery. And it's a pleasure! Yes, I figure that every espionage story has to be some kind of mystery. I think I wanted to do an investigation of that sort. It worked. We actually get to go with Bond to crime scenes and search for clues, use deductive reasoning, and put the pieces of a puzzle together. It's the kind of thing that should happen more often in a Bond novel.

The final third of the novel becomes a bit more predictable, however, as Bond and his female partner, Harriet Horner, finally meet up with Scorpius on his island off Hilton Head in the USA. It is really just another DOCTOR NO-like scenario at this point--a madman with his own island fortress which is destroyed from the inside out. I was also disappointed with the development of Scorpius himself. We never get to see why this man has such a hold on people. We never witness one of his brainwashing sessions. He becomes cowardly once he realizes his cause is lost and the forces of good are crashing down upon his fortress. Nevertheless, SCORPIUS is exciting and quite a thrilling read.

Beginning with NO DEALS, MR. BOND, Mr. Gardner seems to have allowed violence to creep into the books a bit more than usual. SCORPIUS is very violent--Harriet Horner meets a particularly grisly death. I wasn't aware of it, but I can understand it. When we started off doing the books, I remember the discussion, we thought we'd lose a lot of the violence. I guess as the years passed, it's found its way back in. I suppose I was just more aware of violence in general.

LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

John Gardner does not consider his novelization of the 1989 film LICENCE TO KILL an official entry in his series. It was a completely separate one-time contract. I'm not going to do another. I was asked to do it. We felt it was a gesture of goodwill to Cubby. Cubby approached us. Cubby had said that the title of his next movie was going to be LICENSE REVOKED, and Glidrose said, "Come on, Cubby, LICENSE REVOKED? That's a little too close for comfort [to LICENSE RENEWED]." And Cubby said, "Well, we thought John would like to write the novelization, and we'd all be one big happy family." I was about to move over the USA anyway. This was a one-off idea, and I thought it might be fun. It wasn't. I did it, but I wouldn't want to do it again. I should have known...I started working on it and the screenplay changed daily. I would get phone calls saying, "John, scenes 230-235 are out, and new pages are being couriered to you." It drove me mad. I also had to pad out the book a bit. There are huge jumps in the screenplay, which you can do on screen; but with a book you need to explain things. So I had to add a lot to explain how Bond got from here to there, that sort of thing. (Since the time of this interview, Gardner agreed to write the novelization for GOLDENEYE, but on his own terms. He accepted the assignment on the condition that he have more freedom to "add and subtract" what he wanted and not be held to the screenplay during shooting.)

I find the LICENCE TO KILL novelization to be a pretty good one. It follows the script quite faithfully, and it moves quickly with the appropriate tension and suspense. It is still Gardner's Bond that graces the pages of the story--not Timothy Dalton's characterization. It could very well fit in with the rest of the series, save for the fact that it would be troublesome to bring back Felix Leiter in future books. In the film, Leiter starts the story with both legs and has one chewed off by a shark. However, in the novelization, Gardner has chosen to remain true to Fleming's history--one of Leiter's legs was eaten by a shark in the novel LIVE AND LET DIE. And his other leg gets chewed off here in the book of LICENCE TO KILL!! Would lightning really strike twice for poor Leiter? I felt that we should keep it for real. They didn't in the movie. I thought, what the hell. Let's keep it correct. I suppose Leiter could always come back in a wheelchair...!

WIN, LOSE OR DIE (1989)

John Gardner did double duty in 1988-1989 and produced two James Bond books--the LICENCE TO KILL novelization, and the excellent eighth official entry in his series, WIN, LOSE OR DIE. The story concerns James Bond's reassignment to Naval duty in order to act as bodyguard and head of security for an international summit meeting between President Bush, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Mikhail Gorbachev aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier Invincible. The meeting is top secret, and it will occur during a major internationally-cooperative event called LANDSEA '89. Bond is promoted to the rank of Captain and undergoes extensive training for several weeks, ultimately becoming adept at piloting a Sea Harrier. He also becomes acquainted with a WREN working on the operation, Clover Pennington. But a terrorist organization known as BAST, led by the mysterious Bassam Baradj, has plans to overtake the ship and hold the celebrity politicians for ransom. When intelligence learns that BAST intends to assassinate Bond over Christimas, M sends 007 to a resort in Italy, where he falls in love with the beautiful Beatrice Maria da Ricci. But on Christmas day, Beatrice is killed by a car bomb set by Clover Pennington, who tells the distraught Bond that Beatrice was in reality Saphii "The Cat" Boudai, one of BAST's three senior leaders. Later, Bond takes his station aboard the Invincible as LANDSEA '89 commences. After the murder of an American security officer, Bond learns that one of Pennington's WREN's is a BAST plant, and the woman is arrested. Bond is whisked away to Spain in the dead of night for a secret meeting with none other than Beatrice, still alive, who informs Bond that it is in reality Clover Pennington who is "The Cat." Bond returns to the ship to find that everyone on board has been drugged and Pennington's WRENs have taken over. 007 is thrown into the brig, but he manages to escape and steal a Sea Harrier. After an air battle with a BAST agent, Bond gathers an assault team from a nearby base. The team succeeds in boarding and liberating the ship. Later, Bond and Beatrice chase Bassam Baradj through underground tunnels in the Rock of Gibraltar, where he is finally killed.

This book ranks as one of the best of the Gardner Bonds for a number of reasons. First, the author decided to put Bond back into the Royal Navy. This seemed entirely appropriate. Imagining "Captain" Bond (he's promoted) in full uniform is a compelling idea. The book also seems much more like a "techno-thriller," more in the style of a Tom Clancy novel. It works like gangbusters, especially the detail with which Gardner describes the Harrier aircraft business. Gardner himself practiced in a Harrier simulator and described it as "very hairy." We also get a little more of Bond's life "in-between" adventures. We learn that he participated in the Falklands skirmish by landing there secretly and training civilians before the battle broke out. We learn that 007 now drives a BMW 520i, painted dark blue. There are many nostalgic remembrances on Bond's part, such as his memory of his "best Christmas," just before his parents were killed when he was a boy. There are further throwbacks to his life with Tracy, which brings us to another strong element of the novel: the love affair. Bond describes Beatrice Maria da Ricci as someone who could "easily become the love of his life," and the romance that ensues is the most dramatic to date. Unfortunately, Gardner has not brought the woman back in subsequent books. Yes, it was too good to be true. I was playing games with that book, because one of the other girls, Sarah Deeley, was my niece. It's one of those things--you create a character, it's a good character, but traditionally they can't go on. You're quite right, she could have gone on, but...

M is also a bit more fleshed out than usual. There is a scene at his home, Quarterdeck, the only such scene in a Gardner book. We learn that a family called Davidson replaced the Hammonds (who were killed in COLONEL SUN). We learn that M has a daughter and two grandchildren. His wife either left him or she's dead. She's dead, I suppose. I don't mention it. I suppose I shall now. Maybe in Bond #13.

The villains are part of a new terrorist organization called BAST (Brotherhood of Anarchy and Secret Terror). It's a pity that we never get to know these fellows very well, but this isn't detrimental to the success of the novel. Bassam Baradj is the group's leader, and he only appears briefly in the book. The most significant villain is Saphii Boudai, aka "The Cat." She masquerades as a person close to Bond through most of the book, and this is one time that one of Gardner's "false identity" plots works well.

One fine moment occurs when Bond meets George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and Mikhail Gorbachev (he has been assigned to protect them during an at-sea summit). It was fun. You know, I wasn't actually too far off--they actually DID get together later; there was a summit with Bush, Thatcher, and Gorbachev, off of Gibraltar! Or they planned it, but it failed to take place because Bush couldn't make it, or something. I had a lot of letters asking, are you a mind reader or something? The scene is quite amusing in that all of the leaders know him personally or know of him (in Gorbachev's case), and Bush tells Bond hello for Felix Leiter.

BROKENCLAW (1990)

BROKENCLAW is my least favorite of Gardner's Bonds. Both the author and the folks at Glidrose do not have much regard for it, either. Apparently, at the time of its writing, John Gardner's personal life was undergoing some rather worrisome and frightening realities. I arrived here [USA] in the spring of '89, and in early August I went to the doctor to get a light sedative to help me sleep. But I had to have a physical in order to get the prescription. At the end of the physical, he said, "I think you've got cancer of the prostate." Not a pleasant thing to hear. I had more tests, and the diagnosis was confirmed. So, it was arranged that in November I would have my prostate removed. There were other complications, such as our passports were about to run out. We had to get new passports, and a new stamp--so Margaret and I went to British Columbia in order to get the entry stamp! We were walking and saw that museum which features in the book. The next day, Margaret fell in the street and broke her patella, so we came back in very bad order indeed. Anyway, the writing of the book came during the recovery process, so there was a lot of serious emotional and ill health-related baggage tied into this book.

In BROKENCLAW, Bond's assignment is to infiltrate Brokenclaw Lee's organization while impersonating a British spy for Red China (accompanied by Chinese female spy Sue Chi-Ho, known as Chi-Chi). Brokenclaw Lee is half-Chinese, half-Blackfoot Indian, and is the most powerful gangster in San Francisco. Lee recently kidnapped key members of the LORDS and LORDS DAY team, which perfected the most successful submarine tracking device ever made. Lee plans to sell the information gleaned from these men to his colleagues in Red China. He has also developed "Project Jericho," which enables him to tap into Wall Street's computer system and wreak havoc with stock figures. After participating in an assault on Lee's hidden fortress near San Francisco, Bond accepts Lee's challenge to undergo a torturous ancient Blackfoot Indian ritual known as "O-kee-pa" to determine the "best man." Bond manages to survive the ordeal, kill Lee, and recuperate with Chi-Chi.

I shouldn't be too harsh on the book. It is still a fun, fast read, and it contains a very unique and exciting villain--certainly the most well-drawn and complete villain in a Gardner Bond since ROLE OF HONOR. But there are many events in the book which seem just a bit too fantastic for a Bond story, as if they belong in a different genre altogether. The climax of the book, which deals with a bloody Indian ritual used to test young warriors in line for leadership, reminds me of the old Richard Harris movie, A MAN CALLED HORSE. Somehow, I find it difficult to picture James Bond dressed in Indian regalia and voluntarily submitting himself to this ritual.

There were also some character inconsistencies with our hero which I was surprised to see. James Bond is drinking tea at the beginning of the book, and this is something he never does. At one point, he admits being superstitious about "that Scottish play" (for those of you who are not aware, many people, especially theatre people, feel that Shakespeare's MACBETH is a very unlucky play). Bond was never superstitious about anything in the past, why should he care about a play? I cringe whenever I hear anyone quote lines from that particular play. There is evidence that is a bloody unlucky play! It was an intent on my part to show that he does have a little more culture. Other odd things pop up in the book, such as Bill Tanner's participation in the assault on Brokenclaw's burrow in California (rather like "Q" in the films bringing in a hot air balloon at the end of OCTOPUSSY!).

But there are many good things about the novel as well. The character of Ed Ruisha (pronounced "Roo-sha") is a wonderful creation, an ally that is as good as a Kerim Bey or a Felix Leiter. He's a real person, a very good friend. And his speech patterns are exactly the same. Many people objected to his dialogue, saying I was making fun of hick accents--but he really does talk that way! Yes, Dr. Ruisha, he lives across the street. He actually came and sat with me at the hospital when I had the surgery. I repaid him by using him in the book. Peter got the manuscript and said, "I like it very much, but we can't have this man, this fellow Ruisha [pronouncing it "Russia"]. I said, "Peter, it's 'Roo-sha,' and when Peter came over to visit, he met the man and we all went out and had a great time.

Other highlights include the aforementioned O-kee-pa ritual, even if it's out of place in a Bond novel. The ritual itself is fascinating! The torture scene is interesting: Bond's genitals are painted with animal fat. He is then staked down naked, about to become the afternoon snack for some hungry wolves!

And the title, for once, is very Flemingesque!

THE MAN FROM BARBAROSSA (1991)

Gardner Bond #10 is something completely different. The author purposely set out to ignore the formula and try something new. The result brought him mixed reactions not only from readers, but from his publishers as well. The book is more like one of his own works than a James Bond novel. It is heavy on the political intrigue and espionage aspects of the story and light on the fantasy and action sequences. I tried to make a major change in the Bonds with this one, and Putnam objected to it. They didn't support it and it didn't sell as well. But I got only one dodgy fan letter!

I must admit I did not care for the book on first reading. I felt perhaps it was my least favorite of the Gardner Bonds. I believe my initial reaction was that it was so completely different from what I felt a James Bond novel should be that I was fairly close-minded. But on second reading, I found a lot more in it that was appealing. Both John Gardner and Peter Janson-Smith feel it's one of the strongest in the series. I won't go that far, but I do think it is a good one, and certainly a valid experiment for the series. After all, Ian Fleming experimented with style and structure several times; FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE, which I believe to be the best of the Fleming Bonds, was completely different in structure and was a departure from his usual formula.

The story concerns a terrorist outfit known as The Scales of Justice, which is operating within Russia. The SoJ has kidnapped one Joe Penderek from his New Jersey home, followed by an announcement that they have caught Josif Vorontsov, a key player in the massacre of thousands of Russian Jews at Babi Yar during World War II. They demand that the Russian government put Vorontsov on trial for war crimes. But Moscow and the Mossad claim that the SoJ have got the wrong man. The real Vorontsov is masquerading as Markus Liebermann in Florida! To complicate matters further, Liebermann is kidnapped a few days later by an unknown group. James Bond is sent by M with an agent of the Mossad, Pete Latkowitz, to Russia to help KGB agent Boris Stepakov investigate the Scales of Justice. The plot thickens when the SoJ begins to assassinate key KGB personnel on the streets in retaliation for the government's refusal to accept Pederek as the real Vorontsov. Through fancy maneuvering, Bond and Latkowitz, along with beautiful Nina Bibikova (daughter of Michael Brooks and Emerald Lacy--two infamous British moles), infiltrate the Scales of Justice posing as a film team recruited by a British SoJ member in order to document Vorontsov's "trial." But slowly the true story unfolds as Bond learns that the Scales of Justice doesn't really exist. It is all a sham created by General Yevgeny Yuskovitch in a complex ploy to discredit the current regime of glasnost, aid the Iraqis in the Gulf War, politically embarrass France and Britain, and literally destroy America in a nuclear strike. Luckily, Bond manages to impersonate an aid close to Yuskovitch, and avert the disaster.

In today's political climate, the plot is especially interesting. There are certainly still some Communist hardliners in Russia today, and the possibility of them regaining power is quite credible (at the time of writing, Boris Yeltsin is struggling with the Parliament over such issues). The Gulf War tie-in was also timely, because the book appeared just a few months after the war's end. It was during the run-up before the Gulf War when I wrote the plot. And I remember thinking that Saddam Hussein just might have something on the west--why else would he be so brash? I was writing it during the run-up and finished it off at the end of the thing. And it was out the same year, so people always were asking me, "When exactly did you write this?" The plot also seemed inspired by the "Ivan the Terrible" case, which Gardner confirmed.

I believe what some readers may have objected to with this one (myself included on the first read) was that the book was slower-going than usual. It seemed to be meticulously paced so that the complex plot could be digested thoroughly. There isn't much action until the final battle at the "Lost Horizon" headquarters of the Scales of Justice. There isn't a good main heroine--Nina Bibikova turns out to be the enemy in the end, leaving only Stéphanie Adoré, who really only has a small supporting role. The major villain, General Yuskovich, like several of Gardner's villains, only appears toward the end of the story and does not have a chance to make much of an impression.

The final fifth of the book is unusual and exciting in that Bond masquerades as a Russian officer after everyone believes he is dead (including M--the scene in which M learns of Bond's supposed death is quite dramatic and one of the best moments in any of Gardner's Bonds). Astute readers can see through Bond's masquerade since he can't possibly be dead, but it is still quite effective. There are some colorful supporting characters, such as Bory Stepakov, a KGB agent, and Pete Natkowitz, from the Mossad. And it's a bit ironic that at the end of the novel, James Bond is awarded the Order of Lenin.

THE MAN FROM BARBAROSSA deserves a second chance. I gave it one and am pleased that I did.

DEATH IS FOREVER (1992)

John Gardner's fifth Bond novel, NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, was a chase across Europe. So is Bond #11, DEATH IS FOREVER, with extended stops in Berlin, Paris, and Venice. It is perhaps Gardner's most violent and action-filled story to date. It is gripping and suspenseful, has a complex plot, and several wonderful characters. The only problem is that all the "fun" of a James Bond novel seems missing. Beginning as far back as NO DEALS, MR. BOND, the novels became much more serious in tone--there is little humor, and the violence has increased. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is a question of taste.

The story concerns the breakup of a group of spies, known as Cabal, originally stationed in what once was East Germany. The British Secret Service and the CIA are concerned that the members are disappearing, one by one, and recently the two field liaisons with MI6 were murdered on the job. James Bond is sent to locate and round up the remaining Cabal members. Reluctantly, he joins forces with a rookie CIA agent named Easy St. John, and together they become the two field liaison replacements. It soon becomes clear that someone is assassinating each member of Cabal, and wants the blood of Bond and Easy as well. The figure responsible is Wolfgang Weisen, formerly a deputy with the old HVA (East Germany's intelligence outfit). Weisen is wiping out Cabal merely for personal revenge--his real plot concerns a terrorist act upon major political figures when they ride the first train through Eurotunnel. Bond and Easy link up with the remaining Cabal members--Praxi Simeon, Harry Spraker, August Wimper, and "Bruin"--until one of them is revealed as a traitor. In a final showdown at Eurotunnel, Bond manages to avert worldwide disaster with sheer initiative and a lot of luck.

There are a number of good things to say about DEATH IS FOREVER. Bond is at his toughest, most ruthless, and most dangerous. He plays this one very hard indeed. The way he dispatches of a couple of hoodlums, Felix and Hexie, on a train is quite memorable. It's interesting to note that he is offered a knighthood again at the end of the book (which he refuses). The heroine, Easy, is also memorable; although it is difficult to believe that Bond would fall for her so quickly and so easily. (It was almost predictable that she would be killed at the end, simply because Bond said, "I love you" to her.) All of the members of Cabal are interesting characters, especially Harry Spraker and Praxi Simeon. The villain, Wolfgang Weisen, also known as the "Poison Dwarf," comes off as a little too comical for my tastes--I could almost imagine Truman Capote in the role--but he is at the very least quite colorful and unique. (John Gardner has used the "Poison Dwarf" moniker before. A Paul Cordova--a Mafia hitman--in NOBODY LIVES FOREVER, was also known as the "Poison Dwarf;" and the author used the name in one of the Boysie Oakes books long ago.) But the real star of the book is Venice. I adore Venice, and I'm toying with doing another novel set there.

There is a major "first" for a Bond novel in DEATH IS FOREVER. Bond practices safe sex. The British publisher was dead set against it being in a Bond book, and it's precisely where it should be! Kids read these things! We're in the middle of the black plague, for God's sake! We've got to have it. Nobody batted an eyelid at Putnam. I hope they got the message at Hodder, because I'm going to continue it. There are 11,000 people in this country who have AIDS and don't know how they got it! It's very frightening! John Gardner is so dedicated to promoting safe sex in the Bond books that he has intimated that beginning with NEVER SEND FLOWERS, James Bond will actually have and keep a permanent lady in the rest of the books. He may even get married again, but the author won't say for sure...

One of the more grisly scenes involves an assassination attempt on Bond and Easy in their hotel room. Room Service delivers some sandwiches, and embedded in the tuna are "Fiddleback" spider eggs which, fortunately for Bond, hatch seconds too soon. Had Bond and Easy swallowed the eggs, the spiders would have hatched in their stomachs and poisoned them. Just imagine yourself about to bite into a sandwich and seeing tiny baby spiders crawling around in the tunafish...not a pretty sight! The battle inside Eurotunnel is also a fine scene, giving readers the first glimpse of what this new landmark might be like.

DEATH IS FOREVER is hard-hitting and packs a wallop. But one comes away from it with the urge to ask the author to lighten up a bit.

NEVER SEND FLOWERS (1993)

In Gardner Bond #12, James Bond is on the trail of a serial killer. After four seemingly unrelated assassinations within one week (one in Rome, one in London, one in Paris, and one in Washington D.C.), a female member of MI5, Laura March, is also assassinated while on leave in Switzerland. James Bond is sent to investigate, since MI6 has jurisdiction on foreign soil. There, he teams up with Swiss intelligence officer Fredericka "Flicka" von Grüsse, with whom 007 strikes an immediate reciprocal relationship. After investigating the victim's personal life, Bond and Flicka learn that she had just broken off an engagement with the once world-famous actor, David Dragonpol--who had retired from show business in 1990 and disappeared into obscurity. During a visit to Dragonpol's castle on the Rhine, Bond and Flicka unearth the mind of an apparently sick individual--one whose hobby is, literally, assassination. After some narrow close-calls with Dragonpol's "servants," Bond and Flicka pursue the villain to Milan and foil an assassination attempt there on a popular diva. It is then learned that David has a twin brother, Daniel, who has been impersonating David since his "nervous breakdown," three years ago. Daniel is killed during a skirmish, but David plays a ruse and fools everyone into thinking that he is Daniel. David escapes and makes his way to EuroDisney, where he plans to pull off the assassination of the century--Princess Diana and her two sons. Only by using his wits and some carefully chosen items from Q Branch is James Bond able to thwart Dragonpol's plans in the middle of the night in the famous theme park. Afterwards, M intimates that Bond's assignments within the service will be changing, and that Flicka may very well become a permanent partner. (It's interesting to note that in the original outline submitted to Glidrose and the publishers, the targets at EuroDisney were "famous rock stars," not the royal family.)

I enjoyed NEVER SEND FLOWERS a great deal, mainly because once again John Gardner has experimented with subject matter and focus. The new Bond novel is little more than a serial killer thriller, much in the same vein as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. One might ask what James Bond is doing chasing a serial killer. Well, when the killer has a penchant for assassinating not only celebrities and political figures, but also members of MI5 (or MI6 for that matter), then someone like Bond would get involved. And again, as in SCORPIUS, 007 spends a good deal of the first part of the book doing down-to-earth detective work. And it's interesting! It's an unusual case for Bond, and it's precisely what makes the book so appealing.

This was also one of the quickest reads of any of the books. The story moves extremely well, zipping the reader from chapter to chapter at a breakneck pace. The author generates a good deal of suspense, and there are no leaps of logic that are sometimes annoying. And the character of James Bond is further developed. Gardner has always tried to inject a little more "culture" into the man--and in this book he seems to know a great deal about theatrical history! Not only is he able to correctly identify scenes from historically famous plays, but he can recite lines from them! Some fans may not be able to buy this, but I happened to think it was fun (I was a theatre major and have an interest in all this stuff anyway). The chase through the Schloss Drache Theatrical Museum is very entertaining--and boy, wouldn't I like to see that on film some day!

The climax at EuroDisney is perhaps not quite what it could have been. It takes place at night while the park is empty. It would have been more exciting if it had occurred during the day when the park was jam-packed full of people--but I suppose it would not have been politically correct to stage the scene in this fashion. (Apparently the Disney organization cooperated with the author during the writing of the book--perhaps it was a stipulation in exchange for their help.)

Other characters are interesting, too. The heroine, Flicka von Grüsse, is quite appealing and odds are that she may become the second Mrs. James Bond in the future. In an unprecedented move, M has allowed her to join MI6, and she will probably work as Bond's partner! This may be blasphemous to some fans, but their teaming really worked in this novel. I hope the author can keep up the bouyant reparteé between the two characters in the next novel. Once again, though, I find it a little strange that M and Bill Tanner keep showing up on location--isn't M a bit too old for that?

David Dragonpol is a great villain--a master of disguise and deception. It's a pity he isn't utilized a bit more in the story--but the scenes in which he appears are quite effective. His strange sister, Maeve Horton, could also have been played up a bit more, but this is a minor quibble.

Most importantly, Mr. Gardner has corrected the faults I found with the previous two or three books--the lack of humor. NEVER SEND FLOWERS is lighter than one might expect from a story about a serial killer, mostly due to the presence of the Flicka character. All in all, NEVER SEND FLOWERS is a good, fun read--and a good indication that John Gardner has not lost his knack for James Bond.

SEAFIRE (1994)

Gardner's thirteenth Bond novel incorporates the many changes in Bond's world and service which M hinted at in the previous book. The entire British Secret Service has been revamped. M is no longer in charge--in fact, M may very well be dying! The Service is now run by a "Committee" of Ministers and Secretaries and other governmental bureaucrats. M normally sits on the Committee, as does Bill Tanner, the former Chief-of-Staff. The old Double-O Section is no more. It is now called the "Two Zeros" and any action undertaken by the department must be sanctioned by the Committee--causing all kinds of turmoil in the way James Bond likes to do things. Any sort of questionable espionage activity--something like an assassination--is usually not sanctioned at all. Bond must perform these kinds of acts behind the backs of his superiors--with the wink and nudging approval of M.

James Bond has changed as well. He's not the fellow who once smoked a pack or more of cigarettes and drank several alcoholic beverages a day. He's not the rogue who would sleep with almost any member of the opposite sex without hesitation. He's settling down. In fact, he's becoming a bit mellow in his old age. He's taking stock of his life and he's not as fatalistic and cynical as he once was. James Bond is becoming more and more like someone we all might actually know in "real life"--which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how one views it. Also, in the new novel, Bond is actually living with his female companion from the previous book, Flicka von Grüsse. Now Bond and Flicka are a team of sorts, as she accompanies 007 through every scene in SEAFIRE, with only a couple of exceptions. It's almost as if the Bond series has become "The Avengers"--until the reader realizes what Gardner is up to. He's setting the stage for a dramatic event in the next novel. James Bond will most likely get married for the second time.

I have no problem with these changes. Face it, folks, James Bond is an old guy. In License Renewed the agent's age was never revealed; but the author hinted that 007 was greying at the temples and was not the "machine" he was in his thirties. I realized as I read SEAFIRE that, while reading all of the Gardner books, I had subconsciously pictured a James Bond who was in his late forties at the least, and who is now certainly into his fifties. That is not to say that Bond is not in shape--he's a perfect specimen of a male human at that age. He had to make some lifestyle changes. Everyone at that age must do so, or they will not remain on the cutting edge. Therefore, if you, the reader, pick up and read SEAFIRE and imagine a James Bond as a dashing, strong, brave, tough guy in his fifties, then everything will make sense.

All of these changes in Bond's world is what stands out in John Gardner's latest book. The action-adventure story involving the agent's investigation, pursuit, and ultimate destruction of the villain Sir Max Tarn ends up a secondary aspect of the book. This is not to say it's not a good story, either. Sir Max Tarn is one of Gardner's best villains--a super-rich maniac who believes he will be the new Führer in Germany. Gardner capitalizes on the growing movements of neo-Nazism in today's Germany. (There is one striking sequence in which Tarn delivers a Hitler-like speech to a mass of skinheads.) Tarn, who has been an English citizen since emigrating to the country from Nazi Germany in the forties, is now reclaiming his birthright as the heir to a respected and wealthy German family. Tarn made his fortune in shipping lines--then increased it by using the shipping lines for illegal arms trade. Sometime ago he acquired a German U-Boat, which he plans to use in a baffling "incident" off the shores of Puerto Rico. He wants to torpedo an oil tanker so that the oil spills in the bay. Then he plans to use a trio of scientists' new invention--a device that will miraculously "clean up" the oil spill. Tarn's motive to do this is just to show the world what kind of power he wields. Unfortunately, the scientists' invention doesn't work yet--so Bond must stop the torpedo before it kills everyone aboard the tanker and pollutes Puerto Rico.

Gardner manages to keep the pace of this rather odd plot going at such a rate that one never really questions what's going on until it's all over--which is pretty much what Ian Fleming did in his day as well. The action never stops, and the characters which populate the story--Tarn himself, Tarn's mysterious supermodel wife, the villain's henchmen (including a pair of crossdressers reminiscent of Wint and Kidd in the film version of DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER), and the marvelous Flicka--are all well developed and completely believable. SEAFIRE, like the last few Gardner efforts, was a lot of fun to read.

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