The 007th Chapter: Death is Forever


#1

You know that peculiar feeling that occasionally strikes?

Not the one you have about your sister, but the gutgnaw from neglecting something, be it the garden, a loved one or having driven away from wugger practice with one sproglet fewer than on arrival? Could be loss, could be guilt (those might be the same), and it’s the feeling I’m getting from Death is Forever.

Twelve novels in, with Licence to Kill as characteristic of his 007s as any, John Gardner reaches as many Bond novels as Ian Fleming coughed out. That could stake a claim in a character, if not the character. SInce his books are (or feel) wordier than the (initially) terse originals, even including Fleming’s short stories and the cigarette-packet doodles allegedly justifying the Horowitz outflow, by the time of Death is Forever it’s a credible guesstimate that Mr Gardner had written at least as much, if not the most, “James Bond”. Doubtless some measle will assert that this is not the case by a few hundred words or so; jolly good, take a toffee and let your mother know your achievement. You remember your mother; you were once extracted from her. Let’s hope it was just once, otherwise… eww.

If one accepts that girth is majesty (if you do, room 22, 9 p.m.; bring two friends and 100g of baton carrots), then to read Fleming is to be baffled at how much he deviates from the now-dominant. His “Bond”, who frankly should go by the name Peregrine Carruthers or some such, just doesn’t dress himself, speak, make lurve, interest himself in… wiring, drink or think in the ways in which those attributes are more commonly depicted. Oi, Fleming - stop getting Bond wrong. Also, stop giving your women boys’ bottoms; bit odd, y’know.

In contemplating this proposition, it raises the thought that James Bond can be sorely misunderstood, and (even if this twaddle about Gardner’s version having priority is idle teasing, albeit desperate to find a further angle for this piffle) how misunderstandings can become norms. I’d argue, for example, that the iconography of the Aston DB5 totally (for money, wilfully) misreads the intent. In the source novel, Bond takes a DB3 as a cover, pretending to be the sort of spivvish blister he thinks interests someone like Goldfinger. Considering the quality of Bond’s thinking during Goldfinger (flagrantly bigoted) and the abuse meted out by Fleming / Bond to someone like Goldfinger’s physical attributes, habits, values, pretensions, surroundings and associates (and, barely disguised, religion), Bond’s impersonation is not that of a man that we non-Goldfinger people should admire. The Aston Martin is, therefore, the transport of someone ghastly. Doesn’t play that way in the many (…many) times it’s been used since, does it? Likewise, the secondary lesson of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the primary one being Don’t Marry An Underwritten Nutter), that status symbols only symbolise status and don’t ectually instil it, is lost when dressing film Bond with the latest gaudy watch bauble and pretending it invests class, breeding or wisdom.

The basic argument, that might is right, renders Sir Roger Moore the definitive Bond (eminently arguable; I like this game), The Dench a better M than Robert Brown (…perrrr-haps, although she lacks the eyebrows) and The Actor Pierce Brosnan’s whatever-he-was-doing a better portrayal than that of Mr Dalt-Ton (…hypothesis collapses like the Brosnan tick’s lower jaw when he “performs” pain / ejaculation / mastication / all three at once). Insofar as the continuations now tiptoe over the line marked “even Fleming couldn’t string it out further, despite it being an embellished self”, it may be time to abandon any position other than what is brung unto us is John Gardner’s incredible creation, James Bond; his adventures, his universe, his moccasins, his cryptos and his sandwiches. Death is Forever just happens to be a glorious exponent of it, timed perfectly, perhaps accidentally, to reinforce the point.

Perhaps it is happenstance, perhaps it is coincidence (could be enemy action: Mr Gardner seemed grumpier book-by-book) but Novel 12, the point of equal, not sequel, offers little that is new but stands more confidently than I recalled it as an accumulation, an affirmation even, of all that is Gardner and, if due to volume of output he achieves priority, all that is James Bond. Even in the brief flick-by this exercise requires, I can’t avoid the conclusion that for too long I have left this one behind in the changing room, abandoned and crying for its mum.

I’m not entirely sure why.

On reflection, because it lollops along gamely, tongue a-flop, between two of the more notorious Gardners, the entertainment-bereft and frustratingly tedious The Man from Barbarossa and the credibility-destitute and intellectually unfortunate Never Send Flowers, they, for all their plentiful ills, draw the attention / fire of the completist when contemplating Gardner’s later Bonds. This one is barely mentioned amongst the already barely-mentioned. However, condemning it by the (condemnable) company it keeps says little about the book itself, where popular thought stretches only as far as the reflex criticism of “Hang on; this is No Deals, Mr Bond again; bit lazy, old bobble.”

It… it does have that aspect. The premise – running(-ish) around with A Team One Can’t Trust preventing a redundant Cold War spy cell being bumped off in grim ways – is, in essence, the same, yet a) No Deals, Mr Bond isn’t a terrible thing to reprise (God help us if it had been Icebreaker yet-a-bleedin’-gain) and b) what No Deals, Mr Bond did for the first five Gardners in adopting their lurching undulations of artistic choices and presenting them codified within Plot Variant X, Death is Forever serves the subsequent five Gardners the same. So rawly similar is the core tale that I want to believe it was deliberate, and you’ll have noted I am as capable of boss-eyed fundamentalist blinker-thinking and fat-headed dogma as anyone else with catastrophic zealotry of heart and access to one of these electric typewriting contraptions. Were I to possess such a thing, my YouTube channel would show me beating the abductees in my cellar with a copy of Carte Blanche. You’ll notice I have only denied my access to YouTube, not to possession of “cellar”, “abductees” or “Carte Blanche”.

The recirculation and recycling is, after all, very “Bond”, and there’s a parallel here with the films You Only Live Twice and The Spy who Loved Me: same underlying plot, the latter serving it up in a manner recording the developments / degradations possessed of the output occurring in between the two. Similarly, just as the film series bungs out a Greatest Hits every now and then, here the same. That this book is more gimmicky, more dependent on “Real World Peepel and Events”, more (ostensibly) humourless and even more violent in its articulation of the same story as No Deals, Mr Bond reinforces how much more gimmicky / dependent / humourless and violent the Scorpius to The Man from Barbarossa run had been compared to the first five. If pressed for time / tolerance, one could just read these two Gardners as a microcosm of the lives lived by his Bond (first five: Moore; next five: Dalton… maybe) and glean a sufficient picture of the whole output from these alone to be able to contribute knowledgeably to the generally non-existent discussion of Mr Gardner’s Bond novels.

Whether this was Death is Forever’s intention, this is its lasting impression and, as is the fate of all art, the pretension of the beholder determines final meaning. Cycle 1 is topped off by No Deals, Mr Bond, and the more extreme Cycle 2 has its precis with this remake that invites direct comparison (or, if not designed to invite it, lures comparison by how it presents itself. As defence counsel might argue – going out dressed like that, you were asking for it: what did you expect?). Slippery sloping, but one could posit that Gardner is now best left, here. The coagulated scrag-ends and exhausted, risible nonsense of Gardner Cycle 3 (where the wheels finally come off; few noticed) might be just as capably summarised by COLD, but that is such a mudslog of a book that accepting it as an exemplar of its immediate predecessors clangs alarm bells about what it is that it is ectually exemplifying.

Even if this theory of Greatest Hits Vol. II holds up, it still does not evaluate Death is Forever on its own terms. Impossible: the book, as with all continuations and every Fleming after – what? Dr No? – is presented as James Bond first and a novel second. Consider the reception afforded to The Spy who Loved Me, especially after the “non-more Bond” flim-flammery of Thunderball. Not what “we” want, although “we” might have misunderstood how experimental Fleming habitually was. Matters are confused with the likes of Mr Faulks, whose other books I have enjoyed (insofar as I enjoy anything), having a distinct “brand” of his own, but denying it with the exculpatory “writing as” to deflect accusation (more than accusation: fact) that Devil May Care is an awe-inspiringly dreadful Sebastian Faulks novel. One can see the logic in the appointment of Mr Benson, with prior expectations non-existent and not deflecting from the purpose – “More Bond! Basically It! Seventeen Pounds Please!” - than in the engagement of Messrs. Boyd and Deaver, whose Bonds are the worst things to which they have applied their skills (some stiff competition in the case of the latter). Perhaps (perhaps) the names bring more cash, but query whether the names are brought down. Might as well have stuck with the Robert Markham label. James Bond breaks his writers. Killed his creator: how could anyone else cope? Why bother? Just kick away the delusion of doing anything new and bang out a cruise control hoot like this one.

The Man from Barbarossa may have been an attempt to deny the truth and reverse the order of things; accordingly it is utterly wretched “James Bond” within the popular misconception of the sub-genre, but it might be a competent novel (…might be). Just as the films are impossible to review - or contemplate reviewing - without reference to their own kind, it is pointless to expect that a Bond book is going to be perceived – or sold, thus forcing the perception – as anything other than that. When the latest continuation is unleashed, the opinions sought are those of Bond fans, usually whoever’s running what’s left of the “International Fan Club” that week, not real people. The litmus test must be whether I would have picked this book up were it not Bond, and the answer’s no, but let’s not dwell on the negative but celebrate it embracing its fate and, after a snow-bound, charmless misadventure, everyone’s sixth favourite action hero, John Gardner’s Ken Spoon, finally comes in from the cold.


#2

This specious series of essays started as an almost serious attempt to establish, by downing one chapter of a Bond novel, with the seventh chosen for reasons of gimmickry, what one could establish from that snapshot as characteristic of a 007 book. The hypothesis being that such idiosyncrasies are why it proves so difficult to reproduce (or match) the Bonds and precisely why they have persisted in literary form when others have fallen into obscurity. I accept that “so difficult” is a subjective evaluation, also the criticism that this is hardly a new proposition and the (at best loosely) connected film series potentially has more influence on public awareness of the Bond books than the content of the books themselves; however, if the many Gardners, and later Gardners in particular, were “Bond” then a book such as Death is Forever, summarising them, thereby sets the agenda for what literary James Bond is. Indeed, an extremist skein of the argument is that if you don’t appreciate Death is Forever, you don’t – or can’t - appreciate literary Bond at all which means, on the basis of the first six chapters, you’re frankly too dull and insufficiently Bond-aware to appreciate:

• acknowledgments to the estates of T.S. Eliot, Robert Graves and W.H Auden before the first chapter opens; so much poetry. That’s so “Bond”, isn’t it? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Bond. The poetry. No? Well, that proves you’re no Bond fan and you can now pooh off.
• an old man being murdered in the opening paragraphs is The Law. This always happens. Any Bond in which this doesn’t happen is not a Bond. Fact. It’s as important as the gunbarrel starting a film, and justifies similarly unembarrassing advocacy on social media.
• the obsession with brand-name women’s underwear: once Janet Reger, now Victoria’s Secret.
• cryptos!
• names and names and names and names and names and names and names. And names.
• M being actively hostile to Bond, here openly accusing 007 of being “a cretin”. He might be right and if you think this depiction of M is frustrating, woeful and / or disconcerting, it’s you that’s the cretin. Yes it is. I thought you’d poohed off, anyway.
• abbreviations and acronyms: how can one not live for this stuff?
• repeat briefings over coffee and sandwiches; you can see what triggered Broccoli and Saltzman into knowing that these would make successful films.
• specifically dated real-World events, because James Bond is a documentary.
• Cold War – and post-Cold War – intricacies, described yet more intricately. Because James Bond is a documentary. Why have you not realised this? You are magnificently thick.
• a Bond who reads women’s magazines, whilst at the dentist.
• on that, and given the hero’s ability to identify brand names, there is a theory that the reason he can do this is not through experience but, because he spends so much time flying about, he picks this stuff up from in-flight magazines. This is, of course, homaged in Die Another Day when he stealthily flies to the UK First Class. It would explain his awareness of the sort of spavined tat (e.g. wristwatches) advertised via such grotty pamphlets. He is close to pontificating that a small tube of Sour Cream and Chive Pringles and a 125 ml bottle of tepid white wine (40 Euros) is the finest dining known to man.
• hotels. Hotels are key to “The James Bond Phenomenon”. They bloody are. You’ll recall an earlier observation that A View to a Kill is the only film in which Bond does not spend time in a hotel. So there. That this becomes a chase across Europe is a fantastic opportunity (cruel souls might say “excuse”) to average about four hotels per chapter. Fab.
• this sort of thing: “…Ulricht Voss, who was really Oscar Vomberg – Mab to any inhabitants of Cabal – asked to meet Dan Broome urgently. He gave the name and address of a notorious local clip joint and brothel, Der Monch. The Monk. Then added ‘To see Sulphur’. The transcript went on to show Puxley’s fast call to Sulphur…” Who am I again?
• a cabal (ho ho!) of Americanisms, which are not remotely distracting.
• a second chapter of nine-and-a-smidge pages which takes place in one room but possesses the following totals (it’s epic Gardner): Hotels referenced: 2. Security services named: 5. Other abbreviations: at least 4. Other places named: 9. Characters named or codenamed (might be all the same person): …um… TWENTY-SEVEN. It’s your fault if you can’t keep up.
• there’s a reference to safe sex in chapter six and one recalls an interview with Mr Gardner in which he confirms insisting on this because children read these books. Doubtful – I’ve never seen my children read anything and even if they did / could, peevish rebellion would mean they didn’t read anything their mangy father did. If any child were to make it past – never mind understand - the second chapter, they are the sort of grotty spod unlikely to get any sex at all. The same child-aware caution was not applied to the insane levels of protracted violence nor the gratuitously upsetting appearance of John Major and Helmut Kohl.
• the overt naming of Mel Gibson (one recalls that as of 1992, perpetually rumoured as the next Bond, not that Mr Gardner would have known this as he NEVER WATCHED THE FILMS) and – erm – Sean Connery. Bond is always self-reverential and this is a high. Not a low. Not that at all. No. Come on, this is super, not absolutely cushion-chewing awful.
• by the middle of the third chapter, Bond has sat in an office; sat on a ‘plane, sat in a taxi and sat on a hotel bed. “Then, for the hundredth time in the past twenty-four hours, he went over the facts again and tried to make some logical sense of the whole business.” For several pages. Not just a briefing, but a briefing in flashback, which references earlier briefings. Pure action cinema. This is great, if you like this sort of thing, which I’m trying to pretend I do. Were I that child, though, I think my testicles would be regressing, until he mentions another run of cryptos and then I’ll need some Special Private Me Time.
• a third chapter which does end in a bit of a fight… in a hotel room … with “a very good copy of Cezanne’s Blue Vase over the fake fireplace” and various styles of chair that take up most of Bond’s attention and, accordingly, ours. Fie to your Fleming and his supposed eye for detail; real, true written Bond has the ear, nose and throat of detail, with occasional bonus foot and mouth. What was going on again? Oh, yeah, a fight, with… someone.
• over the course of chapters three and four, an additional 12 fictional characters and codenames are introduced, as are an abundance of references to Stalin and his acolytes. You really can’t argue that you’re not getting value for money here. There’s even a bit o’Hitler. On per character basis, it’s roughly five new ones per page. Not sure what any of these people are doing, but as there are so many of them, it’s bound to all be terrifically exciting.
• Desert Eagle! Desert Eagle! Desert Eagle! Desert Eagle! Deser… what do you mean, it’s not a crypto but a brand of gun? Oh. No, turns out I won’t be needing my special sock after all, thanks. There’s another chapter coming up though, so stick around. But not to the sock.
• “James Bond liked weeping women as much as he liked having his teeth drilled.” As we’re told he indulges his women’s magazine fetish whilst at the dentist, he plainly likes weeping women a lot. He’s a fantastic aspirational role model. You can see why they cast progressive-of-view Sean Connery. Who is named in this book. Let that bounce your brain as much as the onslaught of abbreviations. OK, it’s basically the same fourth wall smash as Fleming spotting Ursula Andress at Piz Gloria, but taken up a notch – the fifth and sixth walls lie as rubble, too. Yaybo.
• “He could never abide by the old proverb which says ‘It is no more pity to see a woman weep than to see a goose go barefoot’.” Well, absolutely. Who does?
• “Two hours dragged by.” Not reading this book, they won’t. Am I a man of my word? No. Not when about ten thousand will do, anyway.
• yet more poetry. Because that’s what James Bond is about, fool.
• the incident of fiddleback spiders, which I’d suggest as one of the better ideas in continuation Bond, and leads to the sublimely clumsy and bizarre sentence “Bond dropped the sandwich onto the carpet, slipped out of his right shoe and beat the bread, butter and salmon into the carpet.” There are children reading this who would be influenced by that sort of behaviour.
• “You saw what I did to poor old Oscar. If you play games with me, I’ll personally bite off your nose and make you eat it.” Says James Bond. A few paragraphs later, he threatens to emasculate the same character. There are children reading this who would be influenced by that sort of behaviour.
• the idea of James Bond, sandwich-masher and nose-biter, going around beating up decrepit and defunct Cold War spies is a very funny joke at the expense of… well, James Bond. As is his awareness of musical theatre, particularly that of Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Book’s full of references to popular / populist culture. Accordingly, any Bond book that doesn’t do this isn’t a Bond book in my Bond book.
• “Such is the enforced secrecy of the British island nation.” The… what? I find my mask of delight slipping. “Easy St John came down from her suite, dressed right out of a ‘60s spy move.” OK, mask right back on again. It’s so arch. Bond strikes camp. And then bites its nose off.
• “This I always wanted to do,’ the driver said in a voice which suggested he was Bond’s man for life. ‘Always like those private dicks.” No, just walk away and let that one’s glory shine untainted.
• by chapter six I am not sure if Bond has actually been outside for any length of time, at all. All that faffing about tropical reefs that Fleming has him do is so non-Bond it’s embarrassing.
• “When did you last see cops wearing thousand dollar suits and Gucci shoes?” Asks James Bond, secret agent for the British island nation.
• if you don’t burst into tears (of joy, obv) at the following, you’re not a real Bond fan. You simply can’t be. “[Harry], quite unconcerned, was stretched full length on his bunk reading a book by an over-praised English thriller writer. / ‘You ever notice how this guy never describes people?’ He looked up at them. / Bond peered forward to see the author’s name. ‘Can’t say I’ve ever read him.’ / ‘Well, what he does is he tells you that this or that character looks like a movie star. Gets away with it every time. He’s got one here who ‘could have been Rex Harrison’s double’, and another has ‘the rugged good looks of Sean Connery’. This is a cop out, yes?’ / Bond sat on the edge of the bunk. ‘Someone once said I looked like Hoagy Carmichael with a cruel mouth’.” That Fleming had that particular description delivered out of Bond’s earshot and in a conversation in which he was not involved just shows how wrong he was about Bond; what a bloody idiot. Quite rightly, called out on it. Think how he describes Milton Krest’s voice, or Ursula Andress with the terribly lazy words “Ursula Andress”. Loser. Proper description, as here with Klaus Korngold (lick that alliteration whilst at it), requires stopping mid-fight to give about 300 words’ worth. That’s how it’s done. That’s proper Bond, that is.
• “power ladies”.
• “abnormally elated”.
• half of the book seems to be written in italics, making my eyes go all squelchy.
• talking of squelchy, here it comes (finarr): “ ‘And, James, it must be safe.’ / ‘Always,’ he whispered. ‘Nowadays nobody takes chances.’ “. And we’re spent. Well, I certainly feel influenced. Still going to bite your nose off if you disagree with me, though.
• Gardner has a Felix as a villain; Fleming had a Felix as Bond’s lover. Gardner wins again. What the Hell was Fleming thinking?
• “Most of his face had ceased to exist, and there was a great deal of blood on the door and wall…[H]e took a sheet and wound it around the pulp that had been Very Big Hans’ head…[H]e shot Felix twice, straight through the left side of the chest and then in the throat.” Still, so important to get that safe sex message across clearly.

It really isn’t surprising that Bond has been going for however long it is now, if this is what it is. It’s not surprising: it’s completely bloody amazing.

I still like this, though, even if I’m enjoying it more as GardnerBond pastiche than as Actual, Real Bond, reinforcing as it does all the symptoms of this run of, as it says on the back cover, “James Bond” novels (they’re not even disguising the pretence any more). It’s tremendously funny as a well thought-through piss-take, attacking the preposterousness of “James Bond” by biting off its nose, to spite its face. It is that, isn’t it?

Surely?

I feel at my soul’s last fracture to proclaim this as being a James Bond novel; it isn’t. It just can’t be.

Surely?

Hilarious, though.

Funnier than this twaddle, anyway.


#3

The 007th Chapter – Death is Forever: Death Threat

We’re not in a hotel room.

We are, however, on a luxury train (not “the overpriced Orient Express” though, shoving our Bond-scenting noses down our throats once more). A hotel on wheels, then, transporting this coincidentally named (but that’s it) “James Bond” and his companions between hotels in Berlin and Paris.

It was in the same interview / review in which the more-attention-grabbing-than-the-actual-payoff reference to safe sex appeared (and, I think, one conducted by Mr Benson), that Mr Benson expresses a desire for this author to lighten up. Tosh: if you see the joke, and it’s really, really hard not to spot such overt messing about as this, this is flat out one of the funniest Bond novels. Whether it’s intentional is, of course, moot (although some must be: the cross-talk exchanges in chapter six, and the method by which Bond eventually disposes of bodies later in the same, are The Lady Vanishes in spirit, and none the worse for that). The absurdly protracted violence, the pointless multitudes of identities and counter-identities and counter-counter-counter identities, the poetry – it’s a scream.

Fine, if you have to be purist about it and not appreciate anyone even lightly mocking James Bond because that asks uncomfortable questions why one has wasted so much life on it all, you’ll hate this, but, y’know, get over yourself and wallow in how stupendously wrong it is. I hasten to add, repeat even, that I am not suggesting Mr Gardner did not care: only someone who has thought hard about Bond could emit such a merciless dissection of the silly old rubbish.

“She shook with terror, and her eyes were wide with fright as Bond poured several cups of coffee into her.” That does indeed sound terrifying: waterboarded with Mellow Birds. What a horrid man. As for this girl, E Z “Easy” St John – the joke name working only if one adopts American pronunciation, which fortunately “Bond” does throughout– she’s an agent, she’s a “power lady” (she occasionally wears a suit; that’s it), Bond dismisses her liberation, she’s easily shocked when the plot requires it, she’s massively inexperienced when the plot requires it, Bond inexplicably keeps this under-trained gibbon kicking about when the plot requires it, Bond falls in love with her for no convincing reason whatsoever when the plot requires it and then she gets killed. Gardnormal stuff there, then. Character is all over the place; accordingly, not of herself that memorable but sticks in the mind as an exercise of Mr Gardner’s standard characterisations of Bond girls taken to extremes; presumably another joke. Better as a joke.

“He would allow things to progress for another twenty-four hours before making a final decision.” Why? Decisive action-man Ken Spoon pootles about, again. “When things had returned to normal he decided to drop the bombshell he had been keeping in reserve.” Ooh – what can it be? That sounds exciting. It’s… about leaving the train separately. Hilariously overblown lead up; John, you riot.

Our other travelling companion is Harry Spraker whose other identities I could list but we’d both age considerably before the end, so I won’t bother. He might not be trustworthy. He might in fact be a pineapple. Assume nothing, for ‘tis Gardner, red in tooth and claw.

Hotel reference number one for this chapter: the Sofitel at Charles de Gaulle airport.

“Cab”; “idents”; “cops”; “dollars”; “sidewalk”. James Bond, native of the British island nation, there. In passing, such description excludes Northern Ireland. Hm.

“ ‘You speak French.’ / ‘Like a native – a native of Uruguay.’ “ A) this is a pretty good gag (told you it was funny) and B) why worry? James Bond speaks English like a native – a native of Las Vegas, or somewhere equally upsetting.

“The French really don’t like any of us, but it’s nothing personal.” In expressing such an absurdly sweeping opinion, man seems to think he’s James Bond. Clown. Interesting view, given Bond’s father-in-law is French. The rocky road to Never Dream of Dying starts here.

Hotel reference number two for this chapter: the Ritz.

“ ‘Big word, incompetent.’ / ‘Just telling the truth.’ “. Back slowly out of the book and this one won’t bother you if you don’t bother it.

False identities referenced in chapter so far: Maurice Charpentier. Gail Merchant. Martha Gratzi. James Bond.

Hotel reference number three for this chapter: the Sofitel at Orly airport.

“Of all the railway stations in Europe, Bond liked the Gare du Nord best.” Thus commences one of the more engaging travelogue passages I can recall in Gardner. He just didn’t do this enough, habitually whipping by his locations as if they barely mattered, or he barely cared. Here, Bond takes time to engage with and reflect upon his surroundings and here, for one brief moment in 1992, James Bond returned, and it was good. It may be that this reverie in Terminus Nord, and the locations picked for the story as a whole, seem more engaged-with because these are places I know – Berlin, Venice, Paris etc – and whilst one’s memories being prompted to fill in the gaps can’t be dismissed, it does rather expose that when called upon to describe less well-known locales – those in Icebreaker and The Man from Barborossa, say – the writer doesn’t stretch himself to and I can’t tell you much about them as a result. There was snow, probably.

“…the trade of espionage and terrorism, two activities which have a great deal in common.” If you want a quick insight into Mr Gardner’s detachment, his stand-offishness with James Bond, it’s right there.

“There was no point in ordering anything more expensive than the house red at Terminus Nord…” In one’s own experience, there is little that is ectually more expensive than the house red at Terminus Nord, “… unless… you were out to impress a client or a young woman.” Older women just get a bucket of cream soda and should consider themselves well done to. Quite right too.

“He was a short man who walked and dressed like a second rate jockey: tweedy trousers and jacket over a dull beige roll neck sweater…” Given GardnerBond’s enthusiasm for roll neck sweaters, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is a description of what’s left of our hero; it isn’t, but instead one of yet another bloody character to attempt to welcome into the story, “The Jockey”, who despite such garb “…could disappear into a crowd.” Curiously dressed crowd, that. You won’t notice him alone, but you’d notice that crowd. Seems counterproductive.

It takes about as long to describe the comings and goings of the taxi queue as it would take to stand there, waiting. This is, I suspect, deliberate but events are not moving on in a pacey fashion, admired little gastronomic asides… um… aside.

“The Place Vendome really boasts nothing but banks, high-priced shops, the Ministry of Justice and the luxurious Ritz Hotel.” Erm, and the column, John, the damn great sodding column in the middle of it. I know you’re off down the safe sex route, but ignoring that colossal erection is overly puritanical.

“…as his head turned towards the entrance to the, arguably, most famous hotel in the world.” Odd place for that “arguably”, no? Also, there lives a bloated orange lunatic who might take you up on that argument. He has the best hotels.

“[Bond] could almost read their lips.” The “plot” of Brokenclaw relies wholly on Bond’s lip-reading skills; skills that now seem to fail him. Probably had too much of that house red.

Hotel reference number four for this chapter: the Crillon.

On checking for a reflected tail via a jeweller’s window, Bond considers that the cost of the displayed diamonds “…would probably go a long way towards wiping out the American budget deficit.” Why does this concern him, unless he is as American as his turn of phrase suggests? One recalls the silliness surrounding the hiring of Mr Benson – an American? How dreadful! – yet, here we are, another exercise of spooky Gardner foresight, breaking us in gently. More immediately even than that, Mr Gardner uncannily predicts here large chunks of the first Mission: Impossible film, all Channel Tunnel, untrustworthy Frenchies, false identity gobbledegook, a boss who hates the leading character, a hero from the 1960s rendered unrecognisable in the 1990s, all terribly American, even foreseeing the comment I’ve removed because it’s an invitation to yet more litigation but was basically about neuter sexlessness.

Meanwhile, we have another new character – there hasn’t been one for about five paragraphs, the standard is slipping – The Shadow. He seems to be dressed as Sir Anthony Eden. I’m assuming that’s another comment on how aged all this Bond nonsense is. See? Funny.

“The car was a black, well-polished Honda, which only went to show that the Japanese get everywhere.” Does it? How? Here, for one brief moment in 1992, James Bond returned, and it was… not so good. Is that what such a thing would “only go to show”? I’m not sure what we are being told here, or what we are being told that’s either logical or palatable. The occupants of the car are not Japanese so… it shows they don’t get everywhere? It was probably made in Swindon, anyway.

“The Shadow pushed against him, making him the middle of an interesting human sandwich.” Book’s got sandwiches on the brain; Total Gardner.

Anyway, not too much happens in this chapter – I neglected to mention the alliteration in the villain’s name, nor that all this charging about is ectually (yet again) a Fake Plot, but these would have been worth pointing out only if they hadn’t been the case – but the kickdown of pace is perhaps not such a bad thing: the overwhelming rush of information in the first few chapters calms down as Bond has himself a nice meal and potters about Paris (despite the ostensible urgency of whatever is meant to be going on).

Death is Forever, then: all the violence of Scorpius, all the real people of Win, Lose or Die, all the hard-to-deny mickey-taking of Licence to Kill, all the sandwiches of Brokenclaw and all the aimless meandering about of The Man from Barbarossa, concentrated, this is really tremendously enjoyable because it confirms so many suspicions about the nature of the whole Gardner enterprise, and even more so if in a hurry and lacking the time to bother with the several hundred acronym-brimful pages of those previous five. Weirdly splendid in its own way. It could have ended here, on a high.

It didn’t.

James Bond left ages ago. The crypto “Jacques Stewart” definitely needs retiring in as violent a way as possible, too.


#4

I was chuckling all through this, expecting to arrive at the end newly educated. But it all went wrong at ‘water boarded with Mellow Birds’. Concentration thereafter was at a low.

I am sure things were said and points were observed but about those, I will need another pass.

The criticism however is thoroughly caustic. I am still wondering how one launches into the next offing after what appears to be a thoroughly despising journey through the last. I wonder if I should retread a Gardner but, all things being equal, I just can’t be arsed. 'Nuff said.

Well done sir. I do hope there are avenues Other than just on this here board for your considerations.