The 007th Chapter: Brokenclaw

One cliché I’ve never embraced is that one should try everything once.

Sir Thomas Beecham’s exceptions of incest and Morris Dancing one admires, especially for his list’s brevity, the lickle monkey. I know it’s an optimistic serving suggestion rather than to be taken literally but since “everything” encompasses drinking the contents of a radiator, I wonder how even the most optimistic person (an imbecile) would feel after that. I suspect they would slide into bed.

I tried Brokenclaw once, in 1990.

Now leave me alone.

I’ve satisfied the absurd threshold so you can’t make me do it again. Bring on the radiator, and – whyever not? - the dancing and incest too. I don’t think I’ve knowingly been to Northern Ireland, so all three I expect to combine to facilitate experiencing that additional “once” most handsomely.

However, writing this twaddle in 2017, I am as far from my exposure to Brokenclaw as its publication was from the Kennedy assassination, even though Brokenclaw still seems “recent”. Come to think of it, 2017’s the same number of years from Licence Renewed as its emergence was from the end of World War II. Timescales both A) mad and B) sobering, when one contemplates probably having masticated over half one’s breakfasts and how self-satisfied an over-moaned-about lot must be if resenting re-reading genre fiction for an increasingly unconfined experiment is even a thing. I should allow that cliché about time being a great healer to prove itself.

Still, there’s little more deceptively nourishing than the empty calories of a meretricious grudge, and there stands Brokenclaw, boxed-and-unboxed on every house move since but never ectually reopened. Flicking through it now, the last time I touched (say) page 113, I was 17 years old: chap could get miz about opportunities unlived in the interim, although the moistness of the eye might be being triggered by the impregnated whiff of acrid wugger socks, coal tar soap and Drakkar Noir. I’ve re-read every Bond but this. Most, several times (I don’t have much imagination). This, though: once done, never forgotten, but the memories weren’t good. Only four years after being drawn into Bond, here I was shunning it.

Several potential reasons: firstly, I grew up. These 007th Chapter pieces don’t corroborate that turgidly obvious cause, nor does the excuse explain my buying each subsequent Gardner and Benson etc., nor my sacrificing an evening’s tum-scratching to watch GoldenEye on opening night (or ever).

Less prosaic but more typically pretentious reasons canter forth:

• It is the last Bond published before I left school. Era’s end, box it away like all childhood pets, don’t remind yourself of the guilt of reading it instead of revising. Oh, Brokenclaw distracted me so with its wondrously exotic tale of… erm…, that it rawly buggered my Latin A-Level. Well, no it didn’t, because I was a sodding genius. Note grammatical tense. Also note gerundive. Might be a gerund; might be neither. I’m all forgetting, old.

• It is the last Bond published before I married. A friend considered The Man from Barbarossa an acceptable wedding present (we wanted knives). When the inevitable divorce comes, Mrs Jim and I shall fight to the last atom of our cuticles over who takes custody of it. Loser “wins”. Yet such stuff is my protection: were Mrs Jim to come good on her threats to cleave me in twain, its continued presence would then be within her menu of problems. My fragile salvation lies in possessing light entertainment product in which she has no interest. It doesn’t cut both ways: her dresses are divine. Time to soap the stairs.

However, none of this “end of one life, never look back” Hallmark cards piffle explains why I re-read Icebreaker. There is no satisfactory explanation for that, beyond uncontrollable drunkenness.

• It is the first Bond I bought when I thought there would be no more, the negative impact of Licence to Kill pervading. Bond was down, and Brokenclaw proved itself as anything but the means of reviving him from the wine-red floor.

Revisiting the timejumping of “some” words ago, in 1963 the Bonds of record were OHMSS and From Russia with Love. By 1990 they were Brokenclaw and Licence to Kill. Well, quite. If these were the standard-bearers, or even the standards, of contemporaneous 007, James Bond had moved from being rubbish fondly-thought-of, to rubbish inexcusable.

Nearer enlightenment, here. Mr Dalt-Ton hadn’t gone out of his way to pretend there would be more films, although if they were to be as spavined as Licence to Kill this was just as well (an underacknowledged truth). The weighty plop o’doormat of 007 Magazine became more infrequent and the dank torpor that descended over Bond was settling like an unending February. Brokenclaw, with (what I recall of) its plodding nature, administered scant hope. Perhaps that was it: I unilaterally charged the book with a mission it couldn’t accomplish – nor was it devised to - loading too much onto it and using that pretext to proclaim its failure. It had not managed subjective expectations that I hadn’t disclosed. Burned by the brutally pathetic Licence to Kill, this let me down further and I probably wanted it to, to prove a point I hadn’t articulated and, over quarter of a century on, still can’t. Hardly fair, of course, that I imposed upon it an obligation of which it was unaware and, given its antecedents, one misjudged on my part. It was never going to do it.

It was a Gardner.

Whatever the ills of Mr Benson’s books, and many of their elements burn my insides, there’s a zip and zap and spaniel-dim harum-scarum enthusiasm that suggest a writer happy to be there and trying his best, the silly old scrumblenumpkin, to jolly us along. Possess the narrative panache of half a tennis ball lying in an oily puddle they may, but there’s tangible joie-de-Bond. Does this come across in the 90s Gardners? No. No it doesn’t.

If you craved a champion to shoulder across No-Readers-Land the deadweight of the moribund 007, would your keeper of the flame be a writer ever-more-publicly grumbling? Albeit the hiatus was not a situation of his devising – one with which he had nothing to do, and would appear not to have welcomed any opportunity to be involved – was the pall over Bond lifted by the product and the persona Mr Gardner developed? I am not ascribing “blame”, because it’s unfair and delusional to suggest he was required by “the company that owns me” to write Bond-saving books; just idle/flabby speculation how helpful his increasingly spiky observations really, really weren’t.

Advocates may claim his books did save - or at least, promote – the literary Bond, certainly the early ones. Doubtless the balance sheet, the only point of it, would concur, rendering a contrary stance unarguable, or pointless. There was no “right” for Bond to continue, but it did. However, these later Gardner efforts, and memory proclaims them an effort, where one can scratch ‘n’ sniff the burden of contractual obligation, cursed with reluctance and – perhaps crucially – not backed up by the (generally) tonally more positive films – what were they for, exactly? They probably sold every first edition but, if what is said of COLD is true, in printing about eleven copies, that was likely.

Obviously this is hindsight retroactivity. Mr Gardner was under contract, and obliged to produce, which he did. This is certain. End of. (It’s not the end of; “soz”). The implicit mutual trust and confidence in the contract… less certain? This is not suggesting the man should have accepted his task with unalloyed wide-eyed enthusiasm and never expressed any reservations, nor that there was an unwillingness to permit him to do so; that preface to Licence to Kill is not atypical. He was in the best/only informed position to make his observations, which I am not. If, though, despite such reservations/whining the style of the books had been less gloomy, might there have been some reassurance for those of us seeking it that Bond was worth bothering with, that there was still energy into which to tap? It is of record (I believe) that he was seriously ill, and remained in poor health for much of the rest of his run. Those producing the books had aged. Those producing the films had aged. The exhaustion in all matters 007 was palpable, just at the point I was sufficiently immersed in it to feel (unjustifiably) entitled to demand it carried on in the way I wanted. Maybe this is no more than fan-cycle behaviour, and the human moss at whose self-selected humiliation in 2005/06 I sneered were doing no more than I had myself done a decade or so earlier. I resented what written Bond had descended to, but given the aura of chippiness developing about the output, I felt it resented me first. “You started it” is childish, although I was a child so, y’know, fair do’s.

How had we got so swiftly from the energetic, efficient screaming around of Nobody Lives For Ever, to this podgy waddle of a bore? It took me twenty years to become like that; Brokenclaw took four.

The 1990s were an odd period for Bond. Seems like we only had half a decade’s worth to play with but we were subjected to about a dozen books, albeit three of them novelisations (it’s still “ugh”, y’know), several comic series, James Bond Jr. (… I tried it. Once), three films, and a social reappraisal of Bond not as tired old guff your Dad once enjoyed (just like your Mum), but something skipping along the Cool Britannia wave of the latter end of the decade, archly (and cynically) playing up to superficial iconography albeit creating nothing of lasting substance. Not too shabby for something perceived early in the same decade as creatively spent. With Bond having since grown out of that turn-of-the-century renewal phase even bigger and substantially better, I wonder whether my continued dismissal of Brokenclaw as wretched, a refusal to go near it lest it taint once more, is a skirmish redundant. It’s so old and ignored that it cannot really have any continued significance. I know how this feels; my sympathies emerge.

Arguably, continued antipathy towards the book and what I decided it represented achieves one thing only: it supports the assertion, bandied about by The Grim, that GoldenEye and the hiring of The Actor Pierce Eardrum both saved Bond. If Brokenclaw and the remaining Gardners had been stronger, such saviours may not have been required and I would stand firmer in denying their Fake News rather than knee-jerk kicking out my own. For those who have followed my career – pfft – in these things, they might see deliberate mischief in my asserting a change of heart in considering Brokenclaw ectually not being all that bad as a concerted attempt to further undermine Brosnazi supremacist chanting. Well, don’t go looking for a motive. Nor much of a plot, if the disconnected splinters of the memory stack up. And the Brosnazi thing? It doesn’t seem so amusing to fling the accusation about, these days. Perhaps I did do a bit of growing up, after all.

D’you know something? (Rather than “anything” – a question too far). I’ve changed my mind. Brokenclaw is rather tremendous. Further dismissal of prior trenchant views might yet come: I’m on the cusp of the lip of the edge of considering The Man from Barbarossa not as practically unreadable scribble (yes, I know…) but as demonstrating a writer finally freed of having to a produce material in parallel to a series of less creative (and finally dead) films, liberated from shackles that had doomed Licence to Kill and would later confine the Bensons. I might, though, have changed my mind back when it comes to churning out my thoughts on that one: suspenseful, innit?

My new impression of Brokenclaw, I’m happy to stand by. Or at least near. I remembered so little of the story – there’s something with wolves and that ritual business at the end - but all else had passed my memory by, waving at it from a train or some other form of public transport that I obviously wouldn’t contemplate using. Accordingly, instead of the usual watertight method of merely glancing at the opening chapters before the seventh one, I re-read them.

It’s glorious.


Because it confirms a theory I expressed earlier in these pieces, about the Gardners. It’s all a colossal joke, hidden in plain sight. Piss-take, not mistake. Re-reading pieces of Gardner over a (marginally) shorter period than their initial publication period, one is not left stunned by the lack of association with James Bond and how he’s meant to be written, and repeated frustration, book-upon-book-upon-book-upon-God-not-another-one, about how Gardner’s stuff is miles off the mark, but increasingly awed at how much of it lacerates its target just so. The commonly-held view that Mr Gardner was not interested in James Bond can’t be right. One would have to have taken an interest in Bond to be able to subvert it so deftly. These are not the broad strokes, the easy targets, of Casino Royale ’67 or Austin Powers; this is surgical, not bluntly deconstructing Bond but brick-by-brick demolishing him and then rebuilding the character as the thunderingly boring Captain Boldman/Ken Spoon. Brokenclaw isn’t a trough; it’s a peak. How I nuzzle anew at its teat. I’m so pleased. I’m so pleased I am right, which is a rare sight and without doubt a distressing one, especially when I “smile”. Sorry about that.

In much the same way as that Star Wars Phantom Menace thing is such a terrific film because it so mercilessly, so savagely, so mean-spiritedly picks away at everything that went before it (or after it? I know/care not), I would rather take the view that great effort went into Brokenclaw and its peak-Gardner dismantling of 007 because it’s so wildly, so magnificently enjoyably not Bond, than adopt the easier conclusion that bog-all effort went into it because it’s so turgidly, so despairingly boringly not. Not that I am recommending defacing any book – even if it is Brokenclaw – but here’s a “fun game”, especially if you’re “good with crayons”. Go through it and cross out the words “James”, “Bond” and “007” and replace with something of your own devising, perhaps your name or that of your one friend. With any earlier Gardner, there’s arguably still been indelible residual aspects of the Bond character peeking through but, oh sweet baby Jesus and all his little demons, not here.

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How can one not seriously consider the following from those opening chapters to be moments of life-enriching penny-finally-drops-after-27-years mischief rather than of soul-eroding juvenile despair?

• A man in his 70s who has served in WWII appears in the opening chapter, but it’s not Ken Spoon, who is a modern guy full of gee-whizz technology and SECRET COMPARTMENTS and such things.
• Ken Spoon is enjoying his holiday in British Columbia.
• Ken Spoon is very prissy when it comes to taking afternoon tea.
• Ken Spoon drinks tea.
• Ken Spoon is a semi-expert lip-reader, which comes in handy for a massively convenient split second.
• Ken Spoon stalks a “fine-looking specimen” of a man around Victoria Harbour in some sort of hedonistic holiday romance, Death in Venice, mad pash man-crush thing (there’s no other reason, and he doesn’t claim there is).
• Ken Spoon lists off the contents of a museum and pretends he was sufficiently interested in them to thereby interest us; he fails.
• The more I re-read chapter two and its constant stuff about how Spoon has become “engrossed” in Brokenclaw Lee after leeringly observing his physical appearance, the more I am convinced Ken Spoon is in love.
• Whilst we are told that “In fewer than fourteen days, [Ken Spoon’s] world had changed”, we’re not told how.
• Ken Spoon reflects frequently on literary quotes and how apposite they are to his present circumstances.
• Ken Spoon seems to still be in the Royal Navy. Hello Sailor. Up periscope. Look at the hornpipe on that. Etc.
• Ken Spoon’s boss – “Boss” – has a temperament that’s all over the place and patently renders him unfit for office. If this book were written now, he’d be on Twitter.
• Ken Spoon does not approve of Art Buchwald and Johnny Carson (whoever they are); Ken Spoon does tend to reference American e.g “garbage” (why I pick that one, I don’t know)
• Ken Spoon, in a moment of kidney-stinging pomposity, considers his tastes “were a shade more sophisticated”.
• By chapter three, Ken Spoon has stayed in two hotels and has reminisced about at least one more.
• Ken Spoon annually – annually - orders one dozen black rollnecks from John Smedley & Co, and believes them to be the only firm making “decent rollnecks”. A ) what sort of crazed opinion is this and why do we need to be told it? and B ) If they’re that decent, why does he need twelve new ones each year? What the Hell’s he doing with them? How many has he ectually got by now?
• Ken Spoon wears “comfortable moccasins” as sensible footwear for a long walk through the damp streets of a September San Francisco and the suggestion is that these too are specially made and shipped to him, this time from Hong Kong. How many pairs per year - not disclosed.
• Ken Spoon possesses a grey suede jacket.
• Ken Spoon – a bachelor sailor alone in San Francisco – decides to go for a walk at night. Hmm.
• Ken Spoon, ostensibly an intelligence agent, does so unarmed.
• It takes Ken Spoon ten minutes to realise someone is following him.
• Ken Spoon is tailed (might not be a euphemism), and then tails, a man around San Francisco, thus corroborating earlier impressions of his sexual identity.
• Ken Spoon has no interest in considering the seedier parts of San Francisco as anything other than horrible, rather than trying to find points of local interest and colour and atmosphere.
• Ken Spoon has an innate knowledge of middish-quality clothing labels, and must reference one per page, on average. What a camp old twat.
• “She had all the grace of a butterfly, but the sales pitch of a rocket launcher.” Butterflies are commonly defined by their grace. Evidently in Spoon’s brain rocket launchers are defined by their authority to agree 10% discounts for cash.
• “It was remarkable how easily people talked when you applied enough muscle to key points of the anatomy.” Not really dispelling the rumours there, Kenneth.
• Ken Spoon repeatedly and sourly tells women to F Off. See point above.
• Ken Spoon watches a man get beaten to death with baseball bats and then runs away.
• Ken Spoon asks himself a lot of rhetorical questions and I’m confident few will ever be answered.
• Ken Spoon “let the fury build up inside himself, keeping it under control”. Uh?
• Under arrest, Ken Spoon tries to “figure out the mystery surrounding Lee” because we need to be reminded about that bit again.
• Parts of San Francisco remind Ken Spoon of Liverpool; seems a shame to cross San Francisco off the must-see list, but cross it off I must.
• Ken Spoon seems aware of Liverpool, generally.
• Boss basically treats Ken Spoon as a pinball. The pinball never has to know why it is being hit, it just is.
• Ken Spoon makes friends with Ed Rushia before the man has said anything much or done anything to warrant it but after Spoon has cast an appraising eye over his physical appearance.
• Ken Spoon learns of the significance of Lords and Lords Day, and amazingly enough one of these expressions was used by Brokenclaw Lee when Spoon was looking at the man’s lips – oh, those lovely, lovely lips – the previous day.
• Ken Spoon does not recall that the sciencey bit is precisely that of The Spy who Loved Me.
• “Then Boss spoke. ‘Why did you become so interested in Lee?’ His tone was unusually hostile.” Homophobe.
• “ ‘You saw this man and he struck you as being, shall we say ‘different’, not quite as other men?” Verbatim quote. Blimey.
• “Lee and the story he told about himself somehow jerked me from my torpor.” Yeebers. And he’s got two right hands. He’s a keeper.
• “More pictures in Spoon’s mind, this time of the man, Lee, his power and toughness tempered with charm.” Take him home to meet your Mum, Ken. Don’t worry – she’s known for ages. Mums always know. She just wants you to be careful and healthy and happy.
• “…if it was anybody else but you, Spoon, I’d be very suspicious of your story.” Suggesting, at the last moment, that Spoon is actually roaringly heterosexual despite all evidence to the contrary, but absolutely everyone else on Earth isn’t.
• “…you’ve been party to quite an extraordinary coincidence.” Yeah.
• Ken Spoon knows his Lewis Carroll. And his Byron. He is indeed mad, sad and tedious to know.
• Ken Spoon’s brain doesn’t burst when in the space of two paragraphs on page 48, seven different acronyms are used multiple times. (Mine did).
• Did again when multiple character names are flung around, but Ken Spoon is made of sterner stuff and is not easily bored. If very easily boring.
• Ken Spoon “…was reminded of horny-handed men…” Bet he was.
• “One of [the “tough, hard” men] acknowledged him with a broad wink…” Kenneth Elizabeth Spoon! You tart!
• In Ken Spoon world we need to be told at great length about the contents of a buffet. This also happened in his Icebreaker mission; you remember, the one where nothing turned out to be what it pretended to be, even the food.
• Ken Spoon meets a girl whose “legs go on forever”. His previous beard Pam Bouvier suffered the same affliction. It’s not really meant as an affliction; this is no bird with a wing down. The woman is an agent and physically perfect and doesn’t require Spoon’s help.
• “Spoon’s throat went characteristically dry at the clearly rounded shape of her breasts…” Accordingly, up until now, when that nice Mr Lee has been at the forefront of his mind, Spoon must have been all moist. Urr.
• “Spoon was beginning to be irritated by the riddles that seemed to be passing to and fro across the table.” Spoon its not alone in this.
• Spoon listens to a (long) tale of a young woman giving herself sexually over to Brokenclaw Lee, to enable “penetration”. By the end of the sixth chapter, we do not know Spoon’s thoughts about this. Can guess, though. Chapter six ends on page 69.

Now, reversey-changey the game and replace “Ken”, “Spoon” and “Boss” with their “proper” Bond names (…Christ) and – it’s just not James Bond, is it? Thrillingly so, but most definitely not. It’s an absolute hoot. These are tears of joy, not of grief. If there’s any more misery to be had it’s only over how much life I have wasted by dismissing this wonderfully subversive book as colossal drivel. I was taking it too seriously. I don’t say Mr Gardner did not, nor was he not determined to do a good job – it’s his name on the cover, after all, nice and big and bold – it’s that I sadly misunderstood the good job he was doing. I apologise for that, and for failing to recognise the devastating comedy value in telling us completely bizarre, distracting stuff such as this agent Wanda drinking coffee from a Paramount Pictures mug or talking to her father as if they had never met save to pass on character exposition for a book they happen to be appearing in.

OK, there’s still stuff early on about the breakfast ritual and May gets a mention but these are peripheral, ghostly whispers that add nothing (and arguably, never did). Those spasmodic references might have been actionable if presented in non-official product save to the extent that so much of the rest of it is blatantly not copying James Bond that any Passing Off action would fail. Pissing Off, another matter. In thought, in action, in inaction, in attitude, in relationships with the supporting cast and theirs with him and in engendering the reader’s interest as a character, Spoon is so radically far from Bond that it’s perversely, cage-rattlingly brilliant. I might not be appreciating it in the way I probably should, but feel royally cheered-up in doing so in a way I definitely can. It might be accidental, it might be inadvertent, but on occasion the unintended can produce greatness.

C’mon, it’s magnificent.

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The 007th (?) Chapter – Brokenclaw: Talk of a Merry Dance

We’re not in a hotel room! Told you it’s subversive. We are (of course) indoors, sitting, talking, talking so very, very, very much… so this one’s only the mildest wiggling of our wigglies. There’s also some nice brown bread and butter cut into neat triangles. Yum!

Boss and Spoon have just been told Wanda’s vivid tale of being pimped out for the Greater Good, and Boss, “fiddling with his napkin” (fnarr) proclaims that he abhors “this kind of sexual entrapment”, overlooking From Russia with Love completely but that’s fine because he wasn’t in it since it was a James Bond book. Spoon “had become almost jealous of Brokenclaw” and his self-identification as an erotic chaotic continues. Despite all the mild sauciness of the previous chapter, “[T]hey had carried on eating.” There’s so much bread and butter to be had! Served, no less, on “a large folding table of the kind you find room service using in the better hotels”. Write what you know, John; write what you know.

“Wanda is in a unique position.” Spoon at least raises his eyebrows at this – I wonder if this Mr Gardner based his Ken Spoon character on James Bond at all? – yet it’s not in amusement but reproach – so my wondering ceases. “Look, in a matter of three weeks we’ve made incredible headway.” Headway. Fnarr. No? No. In a matter of seventy pages we’ve done damn all, though.

“Boss gave a small nod…‘Cuckoo’, which is Wanda’s crypto…” It looks initially like the character of Boss might be influenced on M from the James Bond series, but then one reads him saying this sort of thing and one is reassured it can’t be.

Classic Spoon book moment when a character says they must “move quickly” then spends best part of a page still hanging around before they actually do leave.

“Spoon put out a hand to restrain her.” Nice.

“I should tell you, Mr Spoon, that his reputation regarding sexual appetite is quite wrong.” / “Really?” / “Yes, he’s more insatiable than any speculation could begin to intimate.” At which point Ken Spoon uncontrollably showers the smoked salmon in his special sauce and the book ends. Do people – real people – talk like that? “He’s hornier than you think” seems to be the idea.

So – hang on because I am a smidge lost here – we have the missing scientist/engineer trope but this Wanda is one of the missing scientists? How “missing” is that? “Spoon’s voice in no way suggested that he did not believe her.” Double negative…struggling…think I’ve got it…haven’t.

There are lots of bits here, aren’t there? The glue holding them together – Spoon’s lip-reading prowess whilst studying a handsome man’s mouth – is gleefully absurd but I now seem to remember that there’s something about Lee devaluing the dollar which may or may not have anything to do with Dr Bechmann and Professor Markowitz’s submarine tracking system. All a bit of a piecemeal buffet at which to pick; clever food metaphor, like that thing in The Godfather with all those oranges. Ken Spoon adventures regularly feature buffets, bits of any old thing without amounting to a full meal.

“Sexpionage, as the tabloids call it, can backfire.” Pompous arse, this Spoon. “Pretty rich, coming from you, Spoon”. “Coming”. Fnarr. Is this the most accidentally sexy Gardner? “I suggest you just stay silent while we tell you exactly what Ms Man Song Hing has uncovered for us.” OK, experience of these books dictates that Spoon is very, very unlikely to be told “exactly” what is going on. At best, scraps from a thin buffet of information. Also, Boss’ attitude is a bit of a buffet itself, albeit all choices seem to involve humiliating Spoon in front of other people. “More to the point, how she has found a way for you to get close to this odd fish, Brokenclaw.” Spoon has his own ideas about that, y’know.

“Among his heavies are a couple of charming Chinese called Bone Bender Ding and Frozen Stalk Pu.” Later on we get A Man called Horse; here we have A Man called Pooh. Puts Mr Kil in the shade. Oh, luscious. Quick, move those cold cuts out of range: Spoon looks ready to burst again. “Try those on for size.” In his dreams, baby. Maybe that’s what happens to all the “rollnecks”, and don’t think I’ve overlooked the phallic possibilities of “rollneck”. Because I haven’t, and rarely do.

“…Lee does not trust his masters in China…But it appears that he does not trust any of his own mob to deliver the stuff to CELD.” Whom he does not trust. Yet he allows Wanda to come and go (as t’were)? What a convenient idiot Brokenclaw is (as well as being utterly butterly). The experienced Gardner reader will recognise in the “merry dance” that the Chinese couriers will be put through the opportunities, which will be taken, for extensive narrative about a variety of hotel rooms. Fab.

“The American made a small puffing movement with his lips as though playing an invisible instrument.” This sort of behaviour cannot help an already charged atmosphere. We’ll need this room disinfected later. Any more of this and it’ll be HazChem suits all round.

“It all fell into place in Spoon’s head.” If he’s lucky, the saucy sod. Also, see the stark difference between something truthfully occurring for the reader, and something the reader is told to believe, red in tooth and (Broken)claw right here. The reader and the character are not on the same page in their level of understanding. This is distancing. It might be deliberate, because Ken Spoon is pretty awful and we should be kept apart. “I presume I am to play the Brit.” I presume Ken Spoon is not ectually British, then? “And who’s the lucky one cast as the girl? Not Ed here?” Blinkin’ flip, Spoon’s covering all sorts of gender-preferences and may be inventing a few new ones. “…we trust the FBI will also be on hand.” Frankly, why this absolute total multiple-entendre naughtiness didn’t appeal to a 17-year-old me is more of a mystery than whatever the story might turn out to be.

Spoon’s female chum is described by Boss as a “[N]ice little thing,” which serves to render the man even more appalling than he already is, and goes by the name of “Ho”. If anyone’s still not buying the theory that this is all a joke, how much more obvious do you want it?

“…we’ve had Orr go over Cuckoo’s debriefs.” I’m sure he enjoyed that. “…a man with stratospheric skills in psychiatry and its attendant arts.” It’s a science.

“Boss was at his most testy.” (Don’t say teste to Spoon, it’ll set him off again and we haven’t had pudding yet). “ ‘Spoon, I do abhor your constant use of these odd American terms!’ “ Does an awful lot of abhorring for such an abhorrent man, this Boss chap. Also, that’s what you get when you employ an American, you clown. And who the chuff talks that way, anyway? I do abhor it.

“Spoon had risen.” Oh Lord; has anyone got a bucket of cold water? “I’m sure only the most common and insensitive person could find anything vulgar about you, Chi Chi.” Spoon is sure, because on the basis of everything that has happened so far, Spoon is that person. He’s a bit clumsy around girls, isn’t he? Takes him about a month to ejaculate his overdone banter. “She spoke flawless English with no trace of any American accent.” That’s more than Spoon can muster. Is it wise, for someone in US Naval Intelligence, to speak that way? Surely that’s a cause for suspicion? “I feel we shall have a common spoon.” Ah, the perils of Find + Replace. And of weak puns.

“From the desk, Boss made a loud harrumphing sound.” Should never have had that smoked salmon; it always mungs his guts. “You have not yet seen the person you’re to impersonate?” So they’re going to pretend to be Chinese agents and haven’t thought about the prospect that Mr Lee might have, say, a photo of the real ones? Nah. “Her manner was very much that of the liberated woman, though Spoon was glad to note, without those abrasive bad manners so often used to force women’s rights down the throats of men who exhibited a particular kind of chauvinism.” Slightly hypocritical of Spoon to object to things being forced down his throat – there might not be room - and as for the final clause – is there a good kind, then? Some good folks just happened to be marching alongside the Neo-Nazis, is that how it works?

“I don’t wish you to think of me as a woman.” Well, that’s one way of being more appealing to Spoon, certainly. “She’d better learn that we’re two of a team.” Spoon does not wish to be identified as a woman either, so all’s well.

Suddenly it’s characters-a-go-go, with Q’ute (also “leggy”, so presumably she has two) and Bill Tanner (having wandered in from a James Bond book (very metatextual, a tip of the hat), performing his traditional “says and does nothing” routine; a spot-on accurate bit of characterisation which suggests the author has ectually spent some time studying James Bond books) and someone called Cogger and someone called Franks and various codenames and I am lost. Dr No has about seven speaking roles in total; there’s at least a dozen people mentioned or appearing in this chapter alone and trying to remember who’s who is more bothersome than remembering that I’m not meant to care, because to do so is to miss the joke. “It was said that the Scrivener could create a new personality for you in a matter of hours…” That’s nothing – John Gardner has created a new personality for the leading man in a few words.

This Franks chap, of whom “even” Spoon is “a little in awe” (he’s so masterful), “could eventually break anyone down” via methods gentle or sinister. I feel broken down by his lengthy repetition of things the last three chapters have already told us, although boring someone to death is probably one of his many interrogatory talents. It appears he has engaged in sinister torture but no-one worries about this when there’s a range of desserts and coffee yet to be served.

“His name is Peter Argentbright, which proves that all that glisters is not silver…” I am on the floor, bereft of ribs for my sides have split. Has all this been translated from something? Everyone seems to speak in garbled, over-wordy half-jokes. I am aware this has rubbed off, but don’t use the phrase “rub off” anywhere near Spo… Well, you’ve only yourself to blame. Best get that into boil wash before it crusts.

Boss goes into a reverie about what the former French Embassy in Beijing looks like, which is blissful timewasting. Silly old pickle, it’s been ages since lunch and he’s forgotten to take his pill. All sorts of stuff about “a merry dance” which is a familiar Gardnerism from his other Spoons, and the chapter concludes on a Gardner high: Spoon and his Ho are told that it’s probably going to be even more dangerous, without specifying why, and that someone else might be involved, without specifying who, and Spoon is then engaged for a further hour being told of “traps and unspeakable dangers”, without specifying what (although that might be because they are “unspeakable”). We’ve had about twelve pages of the same information being given twice, masked by a blizzard of characters, codenames and abbreviations, and we’re still hanging around indoors and there’s a vague notion of other stuff happening which we, the reader, are deliberately not told about. In its own way, that’s art.

On one level, if even daring to take this seriously as “James Bond”, everything that happens in this chapter is desperately irritating, some of it downright awful, although that you made it so far into the book, 80-odd pages and nothing’s happened, is worth a medal. Abandon any pretence that this is anything other than an equal to the other greatly misunderstood official outrageous spoof – Carte Blanche, in which Bond is presented as a brand-name fixated egregious sexless dullard (fantastic) – and it’s a giddy whirl of utter wrongness that leaves one’s senses spent at the pleasure it brings.

Tune into it the right way – and I stick to my seat that this is the right way – and it’s terrific. I’m now keen to read the rest of it, to administer a spanking to a 17-year-old lad (me, so it’s OK, honest) and ashamed at my prior view of it being rampagingly inadequate underpowered dull tosh. Even if you don’t wholly buy the theory, remember that you should try everything once. And let Brokenclaw live twice.

James Bond wasn’t in this one so can’t return from somewhere he never was. Ken Spoon will doubtless be back, and I’ll be very glad to receive him. Jacques Stewart is more insatiable than any speculation could begin to intimate. Especially around rollnecks.


Ken Spoon is simply the cat’s pyjamas.


Plot twist! Jim likes BROKENCLAW! This can only be topped by the final reveal where NEVER SEND FLOWERS is declared Gardner’s best (I hope I haven’t spoiled things).

I feel Jim’s pain about the timescale thing, though one benefit is that buttressed by the passage of years, the things that harmed you in the past, such as BROKENCLAW, become more innocuous rather than insidious. It can’t hurt you anymore.

Bond’s first espy of Brokenclaw, the Chinatown goings own, Wanda’s story, the trick house, the O-kee-pa, etc. For better or worse, BROKENCLAW at least sticks in the memory, much more than say, WIN, LOSE OR DIE or THE MAN FROM BARBAROSSA, books I struggle to recall much about beyond the broad premise and maybe a scene or two. That BROKENCLAW is a little less twisty-turny, a little more “!” than “?” for once, I think helps.

I don’t completely hate the structure either. There’s that really long briefing scene that goes from about Chapters 4-7, I know, but if there has to be lots of yakkity-yak (big if, I know), then better to get it all laid out and out of way here by the end of act one, so we can get on with the adventure uninterrupted. The stop-start-stop-start action chapter/briefing chapter/action chapter/briefing chapter format of, say, SEAFIRE, hurts an otherwise fairly diverting book, with the meeting scenes puncturing the narrative, interrupting the flow and halting any momentum.

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I haven’t worked out the new forum’s spoiler tags, either.

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Oberhauser is Blofeld.


Donald Trump is president and there’s not a thing you can do about it!