Friday, 21 February 2014

John Gardner’s James Bond novels

What do I review for FFB at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase this week? I had a choice between two detective short stories, a few vintage comic books, and a hardboiled crime fiction. I read them all. However, since I didn’t have the time to sit down and review any of them, I decided to write about the two novels I purchased recently from a secondhand bookstore—John Gardner’s James Bond novels—Licence Renewed (1981) and For Special Services (1982). I haven’t read them yet.

It’s always easier and quicker to write about books you haven’t read.

While I have read books by Gardner, I have never read any of his adaptations of Ian Fleming’s master spy. I am aware that Gardner is one of many authors who continued Fleming’s legacy through both novels and short stories. Other worthies include Kingsley Amis (as Robert Markham), John Pearson, Christopher Wood, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd, and Charlie Higson who introduced the Young Bond series.

I was delighted with my new acquisitions for two reasons—the used paperbacks are in good condition and cost me Rs.20 each (less than half a dollar) and the titles are Nos. 1 & 2 of the over a dozen 007 books Gardner wrote. In fact, I think he wrote a book or two more than Fleming did.

In Licence Renewed, James Bond makes a comeback 15 years after Ian Fleming wrote his last two novels, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, in 1966. He challenges a “dangerously deranged opponent bent on the destruction of the western world in a nuclear holocaust.” And, in For Special Services, 007 is on loan to the United States government and takes on an old enemy, the legendary SPECTRE — the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

I’ll be reading both these novels but I’ll not be reviewing them. Gardner’s Bond novels are already popular and written about more than a bit.

Meanwhile, the crime fiction I mentioned above reads like a cross between an Ed McBain and John D. MacDonald novel. It’s gritty and hardboiled and paints a realistic picture of police procedurals and jurisdictions as well as the very ordinary lives of police detectives and state attorneys. I was struck by the starkness of the style, the story, and the characters. Review to follow soon.

The two stories I read earlier this week were A Warning in Red and The Affair of the Corridor Express, two delightful mysteries by English clergyman and author Victor Lorenzo Whitechurch (1868-1933). The stories deal with a murder and a kidnapping, respectively, and are set around trains in England. They are w
ritten clearly, precisely, and concisely.

The Affair of the Corridor Express is one of 15 stories in Thrilling Stories of the Railway featuring the eccentric detective Thorpe Hazell. John Norris, a keen reader and writer of vintage fiction, has reviewed the short story collection at his blog Pretty Sinister Books. He has also reviewed Whitechurch’s The Robbery at Rudwick House.


Note: The two covers are replicas of my novels.

12 comments:

  1. I remember reading these when they came out and being a bit disappointed, but really just because they weren't by Fleming - can;t remember now. I have a friend who just re-read them all and really rates them in fact. Thanks Prashant - Gardner succeeded far better than most in continuing someone else's legacy as these attempts to pepretuate a franhcise usually peter out quite quickly after all - thanks chum.

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    1. Sergio, you're welcome. I thought you might have read these novels. I haven't read any of Gardner's JB novels and I'm looking forward to reading them. However, since I read Ian Fleming a long time ago I wouldn't be able to draw a comparison between the two authors; not that it's really necessary. I like Gardner's writing style.

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  2. Considered greatly inferior to the Fleming books. I suspect if Gardner had changed the name and setting so these were not BOND books but just similar spy novels, they would have been better received. Or maybe not.

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    1. Richard, I didn't know Gardner's JB books were considered "inferior" to Fleming's. He has written quite a few of them. You have a point about Gardner doing better if he'd, in fact, created his own spy. He must have had his reasons.

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  3. I'm with Rick: there's a big fall-off from the Ian Fleming books. I remember liking the Bond pastiche by Kingsley Amis.

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    1. George, I'll probably get around to reading Kingsley Amis' lone JB novel after reading these two books. The movies have overshadowed my interest in the Bond novels.

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  4. Great finds. I will see how I go with Gardner's Boysie Oakes character before branching out. I haven't got to any of them yet!

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    1. Col, thank you. John Gardner appears to have experimented a fair bit with his writing, and quite successfully too. I remember reading a couple of his standalone novels some years ago. I've heard of Boysie Oakes although I've never read this or any of his other series novels.

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  5. The only book I have read by John Gardner is Bottled Spider, which is the start of a police procedural series. I want to try the Boysie Oakes novels.

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    1. Tracy, I haven't read much by John Gardner who, for no apparent reason, I tend to confuse with Brian Garfield. I'm beginning to enjoy police procedural novels.

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  6. I haven't even read all the Ian Fleming titles yet, so I doubt I'll ever make my way to Gardner's. I agree with you that it's a lot easier to write about books you haven't read: a preview is far simpler than a review. Hardest of all for me is writing about something I really loved. I never feel that I can communicate the book's greatness well enough—and who can, really? The best I can do is persuade people to read it.

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    1. Kelly, neither have I read all of Ian Fleming's novels, though I've been meaning to read and re-read them. John Gardner stood on the periphery of my reading vision till I purchased his two James Bond novels. I read more books and short stories than I review here simply because I don't have the time to write out the reviews. It has come down to one book review a week. I agree with you on the hard part of book reviews. It's never an easy job. I'm often in a dilemma as to what to include and what not to. I continue to experiment.

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