Role of Honour

Author: John Gardner
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Published: 1984

Recently I have been re-reading some of John Gardner’s James Bond novels, and although they have been rather flawed, I have still enjoyed them. That is till now. As a teenager, I remember enjoying Role of Honour, but upon this reading I found it to be extremely convoluted, and the writing style varied from chapter to chapter – only returning to what I would call Gardner’s natural fluent writing style for the climax – which, by that time the damage had been done.

Let’s analyse the mess. Firstly, the basic plot premise is that James Bond has left the secret service under somewhat of a cloud. Of course this is a ruse to draw out some foreign agents who have been recruiting former spies. This story base, is not too dissimilar to that of The Spy Who Came in From The Cold, where Alex Leamas posed as washed up and drunken ex-spy. So while it being derivative, it is still a solid foundation for a spy story, however, Gardner then implements his first layer of plot convolution, and that is to make James Bond a high-level computer programmer. Yeah, yeah!

And this is believed. Bond is introduced to computer mastermind named Jay Autem-Holly, who offers him a position. Now this may be a minor spoiler, but we are talking about a book that has been published for over twenty-five years, so forgive me, but Autem-Holly has been hired by SPECTRE to use his computer skills to implement their latest scheme. And furthermore, SPECTRE is aware that Autem-Holly has employed Bond, and yet they do not object. Surely SPECTRE would have a file on Bond, as he is responsible for the death of the last two leaders of the SPECTRE organisation, and be fully aware that Bond is not a computer programmer.

Okay, the thing is SPECTRE know who Bond is, and need him for another purpose, but that is really a moot point, because even if Bond had left the service under a cloud, he would not willingly work for the organisation that killed his wife. The fact that he does willing work for SPECTRE should have alerted Holly and SPECTRE’s hierachy that he had not in fact left the service, but it was a ruse to discover their plan. It’s a contrived double edged sword. Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. But that is just clumsy plotting.

In the book there is also a strange passage in the middle where Bond is spirited off to a SPECTRE training camp, called Erehwon, which I am sure you realise is ‘nowhere’ backwards. Actually, I like to think that this training camp is on SPECTRE Island which featured in the film From Russia With Love. I have often thought about SPECTRE Island and wondered if it was ever closed down. In the films, it’s a plot point that is never resolved, and as such I believe it is still operating to this day, training terrorists and other nefarious villains. But I digress. Now, at Erehwon, Bond is put through a training routine, and suddenly the story gets rather violent. What I mean is, more violent than the usual Bond adventure – and in particular the three preceding Bond novels written by John Gardner.

This is just a theory, with no basis beyond the fact that I have been reading a few Mack Bolan novels from the mid 1980s recently – that I believe there was a deliberate attempt to toughen up the Bond stories to compete with the burgeoning popularity of the Bolan stories. Remember, Mack Bolan and The Executioner series were rebooted in 1981, which also happens to be the same year that Gardner’s Licence Renewed hit the book stands. By the mid 1980’s, Mack Bolan had grown to the point where spin off series such as Phoenix Force and Able Team were being launched. Maybe the Bond publishers, or possibly even Gardner himself, saw Bolan and his expanding action adventure universe as a threat, and as such decided to up the ante, by bringing a harder visceral style to the action passages in the Bond stories. I must admit, I’ll be curious to read the action passages in the next Bond novel Nobody Lives Forever and see how they stack up. Maybe this burst of violence was just a brief blip on the radar, or maybe it was the beginning of a conscious move to toughen up Bond.

Role of Honour is definitely not the Bond book to chose to read as an introduction to the work of John Gardner. Admittedly, half way through, the story starts to pull itself together (with many of the plot elements from the first half jettisoned), but most readers wont have the patience to get that far into the story. And even then, a decent second half does not compensate for a poorly plotted and patchily written beginning. This was quite a disappointment. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have fond memories of Gardner’s Bond continuation novels, enjoying almost all of them when i read them as a teenager. The one I didn’t like was Win, Lose or Die – It’ll be curious to see how it stacks up today?

Gary Dobbs at the excellent The Tainted Archive, in his review of Role of Honour has some quotes from John Gardner, where he suggests that it was his weakest book (to that point), and much of this had to do with rewrites to avoid similar scenes in the film Never Say Never Again. Also, it is suggested that Gardner was burnt out after the first three novels, and was scheduled to take a break, but book sales were strong, and Gardner never got his break. Reading the story, this almost makes sense, the book reads very tired at the start, and as I alluded to earlier, many of the hi-tech computer plot points are jettisoned in the second half of the story.

Here’s hoping that Nobody Lives Forever sees a return to form for Gardner.

Role of Honour

Licence to Kill (1989)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Carey Lowell, Anthony Zerbe, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny
Music: Michael Kamen
Main title song: ‘Licence To Kill’ performed by Gladys Knight
End title song: ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle

Licence To Kill is the sixteenth official Bond movie and was the first not to use a title from one of Ian Fleming’s novels or short stories. Originally the movie was going to be called Licence Revoked but the producers, fearing that audiences would not understand what ‘revoked’ meant, changed it to the more familiar Bondian phrase ‘Licence To Kill’.

When this film came out in 1989, Dalton was heralded as a new tougher Bond. The press releases stated that The Living Daylights was written as a fairly generic Bond adventure as they were unsure who would play Bond. But this being the second film for Dalton, the writers could write to Dalton’s acting strengths. Dalton was never good at light throwaway lines. He was at his best when he was snarling and glaring at his opponents. Often the media spin for a Bond film doesn’t quite match up to the finished product – the previous film was promoted as ‘safe sex Bond’, despite the fact that Bond beds more women in the film than Sean Connery did in Diamonds Are Forever. However, generally this film was very good at delivering what it promised — a harder edged Bond. Admittedly there were still some silly sequences –- particularly with some Kenworth trucks towards the end of the film. But Dalton was good. He was hard and looked angry, and acted like a ‘blunt instrument’ for Her Majesty’s Government –- although in this case he was not –- and to understand that, you have to go back to the film’s original title ‘Licence Revoked’. Yes, this is the film in which 007’s licence to kill is rescinded. But I am getting ahead of myself – let’s have a quick look at how the story plays out.

Concept artwork for 'License Revoked' (click for larger image)

The film opens in Key West in the United States. James Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter – once again played by David Hedison (from Live and Let Die — great to see a bit of consistency) – is about to get married. Bond is his best man and they are rushing to the wedding. At that moment international drug baron, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), who the American’s have been trying to catch for years, has flown into US airspace. Sanchez’s mistress, Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) has fled to the Florida Keys with a disgruntled minion of Sanchez. Naturally Sanchez wants her back – hey Talisa is pretty hot! – and follows her. As Leiter and Bond make their way to the church a D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) chopper flies overhead and lands in front of them. Leiter is told about Sanchez’s incursion into the US and he boards the chopper, ready to pursue the Drug Lord. As you expect, Bond refuses to be left out of the action and tags along as an observer.

Bond ends up being more than an observer and ultimately helps Leiter bring Sanchez to justice. Then both Bond and Leiter return to the festivities as planned — that being Leiter’s wedding.

A man as powerful (and as rich) as Sanchez is hard to keep locked away, and after a proposing a huge financial incentive, to anyone willing to help him escape, Sanchez does just that. Before leaving the United States, he first wants to extract a small amount of vengeance upon Leiter. He does this in two parts. First he kills Leiter’s newly-wed wife, Della (Priscilla Barnes). Then he feeds Leiter to the sharks, dangling his legs in a shark pool. Now this is not intended to kill Leiter — just leave him maimed and grieving. Although the film is not particularly graphic in depicting the violence, plotwise it is quite brutal — and may I hasten to add, it is not a sequence dreamed up solely for the film. It is lifted directly from (my favourite Bond novel — which is due a re-read very soon) Live and Let Die. Most Bond fans are well aware that the Bond films and the original novels are quite different, and even though Live And Let Die had been filmed in the early seventies with Roger Moore, the story did not utilise many of the plot points from Ian Fleming’s novel. Which was a shame for the film Live And Let Die, but a plus for Licence To Kill in which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson could marry some of these plot points with a character from Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity and then come up with a new film.

John Gardner's novelisation of the film 'Licence to Kill'

As an adjunct here, having veered off onto a minor literary tangent, I will tell you that John Gardner’s novelisation of Licence to Kill was available in Australia several weeks before the film was released. I immediately tracked down a copy and had read it before the preview screenings had even commenced. The thing that struck me though, about the novelisation, was how difficult it must have been for Gardner to be faithful to the film, and also slot into the already established Bondian chronology. So in Garder’s novelisation, following on from Fleming’s novels, he is faced with the problem that Felix Leiter has previously lost his legs to a shark in Live and Let Die. It is certainly a strange co-incidence that different villains should meet out the same punishment to Leiter – and furthermore, why would a villain dangle a man with prosthetic legs over a pool with a shark in it? Yeah, it’s kind of dumb. This is just one of the many plot convolutions that Gardner had to deal with — but all things considered, he muddled through okay.

So in the film, Leiter is maimed, and his new bride has been killed. Bond — who is extremely upset — believes that he owes Leiter a debt, and rather than moving onto his next mission as instructed, he chooses to stay in the Florida keys and investigate.

First he searches the aquariums, fisheries and marine research facilities for a great white shark. His logic being that if Leiter was mauled by a shark, then whoever was responsible must have one. His enquiries are not particularly fruitful until he arrives at Ocean Exotica Warehouse run by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). Krest suggests that he is out of the shark hunting business, but a submersible vehicle named ‘Shark Hunter’ would suggest otherwise. Bond, on the surface, accepts Krest’s subterfuge, but decides to pay the warehouse another visit at night.

That evening Bond returns, but he doesn’t find Krest. Instead he finds Killifer collecting his multi-million dollar payoff, for arranging the release of Sanchez. Bond does what any guy whose friend has been fed to a shark would do — and that is feed the man responsible to the shark. He does this, by tossing Killifer’s own money laden suitcase at him, knocking Killifer (and his ill-gotten gain) into the shark pool.

Later Bond is reprimanded for working on his own, and interfering with an American C.I.A. investigation. Furthermore, he had been assigned to a mission in Istanbul, which he had ignored. M, who has flown in personally rescinds Bond’s ‘Licence to Kill’ – or harking back to the film’s original title, has his ‘Licence Revoked’.

Later, Bond breaks into Leiter’s home and retrieves some digital files pertaining to the Sanchez investigation. Bond learns that all Felix’s inside people are dead, except for one operative, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who Leiter is scheduled to meet at the Barrel Head Bar. Bond makes the appointment in Leiter’s stead, and find that a cadre of Sanchez’s goons are there to not only kill her, but whoever she makes contact with. But Pam Bouvier is a sprightly and resourceful agent in her own right, and with Bond’s help, they escape from the establishment.

After acquiring a large sum of money, courtesy of Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), with the assistance of Pam Bouvier, Bond heads to Isthmus City, posing as a wealthy business man. And once he has attracted Sanchez’s attention, then from within, he intends to bring Sanchez’s whole organisation down – in the usual explosive Bond manner.

One contrivance that slightly irks me with Licence to Kill is that when Bond arrives in Isthmus City to bring down Sanchez, is that Sanchez doesn’t recognise him. Sure it may have been hard to see Bond’s face in the pre-title sequence, where he actively assisted Leiter in the capturing of Sanchez. But Sanchez knew to go after Leiter (where and when too) – no doubt due to Killifer. But yet he appears not to be aware of Bond. Adding to the contrivance, Leiter is taken directly after Bond leaves Leiter’s home. Sanchez is waiting inside, so they would have been watching and waiting. But still nobody fingers Bond – well not until Dario at the end, but that is due to the incident at the Barrelhead Bar. I know this is all vague and nitpicking – but it is a tad sloppy.

Licence to Kill has a whole army of villains and minions for Bond to tangle with over the mission. First and foremost, as already discussed is Franz Sanchez, played by Robert Davi. Sanchez is a different kind of villain for two reasons. Firstly he isn’t a cartoonish megalomaniac. And secondly, although he is in supreme command, he runs his evil empire like a large corporation. He is constantly surround by a financial advisor, Truman-Lodge (Anthony Stark), and his military advisor Heller (Don Stoud).

Then there’s Milton Krest played by Anthony Zerbe.  In Licence to Kill, Zerbe doesn’t get as much screen time as his position in the credits would indicate, but he certainly makes his presence felt, and his demise is truly memorable. I once read an interview (can’t remember where) with Zerbe, where he was asked why he played so many villains. His response was that it had to do with his christian name ‘Anthony’. He said that if his name had been ‘Herb’ or ‘Herby’ (as is Herby Zerbe) then his career most likely would have gone down a different path with comedic roles. I can see it! Over the years Zerbe appeared in The Equalizer, The Return of the Man From UNCLE, at least five episodes of Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and numerous other productions.

Sanchez’s sergeant at arms is Heller, played by the ever reliable Don Stroud. Frankly Heller is a nothing character (or what is left of him in the script). In is most memorable scene, he has a prong of a forklift truck through his chest.

Sanchez’s number one henchman is Dario is played by Benicio Del Toro (in one of his earliest roles). Del Toro has become such a solid character actor these days, (I love his performance as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) it is almost strange watching him as a young punk, spouting cliched Henchman dialogue. He’s not bad, but he doesn’t have many lines, and those he does have are rather awkward – “nice honeymooooonnnn!!!!”

Professor Joe Butcher is played by Wayne Newton, with an almost self-mocking grace – which he would take to extremes a year later with his performance as the villain in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (don’t groan!).

Gladys Knight sings Licence to Kill

When looking at a Bond film, one of the hardest things to analyse is the music, after all we all have different musical tastes. Furthermore, with the longevity of Bond series, popular musical styles have changed quite considerably since 1962. For example, a song like Goldfinger (with Shirley Bassey), as great as it is, wasn’t really going to cut it (commercially at least) in 1989. You’ve got to remember, this film was made when Eurobeat music was all the rage (and oh, how I hated it!). The good news is, Licence to Kill doesn’t have a Eurobeat theme song. Instead, Gladys Knight was chosen to sing the opening title song, and it’s not too bad. It doesn’t grab me like some of the classics, like the aforementioned Goldfinger, Thunderball or Diamonds Are Forever, but it is a good song and certainly not one that I cringe at every time I watch the film. In fact, over time, I am probably enjoying it more and more.

The film also had a song for the end title credits, ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle. The song is pleasant enough, without being remarkable – and once again, thankfully without any cringe inducing pop stylings of the era. Later the song would become a early hit for Celine Dion when she released it in 1992.

But Licence to Kill has a little musical mystery. In 2009, when I interviewed Vic Flick, he related a tale about a lost recording session, where composer Michael Kamen had invited him and Eric Clapton to perform on an instrumental title track. The music from that session has never seen the light of day. Here’s what Vic said at the time:

It was a phone call out of the blue. Michael Kamen wanted a dark guitar sound to compliment the melody and extemporization Eric Clapton was going to do on their composition. So, knowing of my penchant for low string guitar playing, he called me for the sessions. It was good to see Eric again after many years and it was wonderful to work with those two gifted musicians. Eric played some amazing guitar on the track and Michael worked out a fine arrangement. I did my thing with a counter theme in the low register. The title turned out very good and the following day we went to a loft in the wharf area of London to shoot the video. What little I saw of the video was great. The video was then submitted to the Bond producers who had commissioned the project. I waited, Michael waited and Eric was off doing his thing somewhere in the world. After two weeks came the news that the Bond producers wanted a song as a theme and commissioned Gladys Knight and the Pips and blew out the track that Michael, Eric and I submitted.

You can read my full interview with Vic Flick here, where I ask him about the missing recording session and his career.

Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier

Now just for the kind of double-talkin’ Bondian rhetoric that you would expect to hear from me, I am going to suggest that Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films — but it is not a ‘classic’. Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are among the best Bond films too, but they also earn the distinction of being ‘classics’ — and this has nothing to do with age. While being very good, Licence to Kill doesn’t make it to ‘classic’ status for two reasons. The first is the girls (sorry!). Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are possibly the most low-key of all the Bond girls. They are attractive (oh, yes), and their acting is quite okay too, but hey don’t have that key ‘electric’ moment which makes a Bond girl a cultural icon.

Talisa Soto as Lupé Lamora

Next there is the plot. I am not saying that the film is overly plotted, but it is clear to see that the Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke) and Heller (Don Stround) characters have been severely truncated, which muddies the waters during the climax. How and when did the story become about stinger missiles, rather than cocaine smuggling? If I may head back to John Gardner’s novelisation — for those that want to know what is going on — the book is worth a read. I have already pointed out the book’s shortcomings in relation to the Bond chronology, but as this story progresses, the characters and finale are substantially more fleshed out in the novel than the film — Gardner didn’t have to worry about run-times.

But I do like Licence to Kill. It’s funny after all these years seeing the success and popularity of Daniel Craig as the new tougher Bond — and hey, I like him too — yet, Timothy Dalton did the same thing seventeen years earlier but the public did not want to buy it at the time. I for one, wanted more Timothy Bond, but due to legal problems between EON Productions and the film studio we never got to see it. I was one of those in the silent dark days between 1989 and 1995, who kept saying that I wanted to see Dalton in a black and white version of Casino Royale — I can assure you, I wasn’t alone in this. Well, obviously that never happened. But maybe those fan whispers slowly built in strength and momentum. And maybe, just maybe that is how we ended up with Daniel Craig as a new tougher Bond. I know Quentin Tarrantino (love ya, Quentin) has recently said in the press that some of the credit for the success of Casino Royale should go to him, because the project only came together after he started to talk about it. Well that’s bulldust! Because, as we Bond fans know, we had been talking and imagining the idea from the day after we saw Licence to Kill in the cinemas. Here was a real Bond, doing a story that had a good, healthy dose of Fleming. It was good and we wanted more – and ultimately we got it seventeen years later.

Licence to Kill (1989)


UK First Edition

Author: John Gardner
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Published: 1983

In my review of For Special Services, I detailed how it and John Gardner’s third continuation novel, Icebreaker, came into my life, so I won’t rehash that, but if you’ll forgive the self indulgence, I’ll relate another Bondian tale from that very same trip through Asia.

Like any tourist that hits Tokyo, a trip to the Ginza precinct was obligatory – so off the family went. During our travels, we happened across a cinema complex, with various film posters attached to the front window. We must have wandered slightly off the tourist trail, because the signs suddenly didn’t have English translations accompanying them. But little things like language weren’t really a problem unless you wanted to actually communicate with someone.

Never Say Never Again
Japanese Never say Never Again Poster

Unfortunately we ran into such a problem, when I spotted an advance poster for Never Say Never Again, featuring Sean Connery. It was a black poster, with the lower portion of a bikini clad women lying on her side. Tucked through the strap on her bikini bottom, was Bond’s I.D. With a picture of Connery. It was a great teaser, and being a spoilt brat, I really, really wanted this poster. Please forgive my youthful western arrogance.

So we approached a staff member – and my father did most of the talking – and offered a large amount of Yen for the poster. The staff member didn’t speak English but the international language of ‘Connery’ and money conveyed our intention. The staff member wanted to sell the poster, but was clearly not in a position to do so, and had to say no. We walked away empty handed. I still think it’s a great poster, and would love a copy mounted on the wall.

Before I get into Icebreaker, I thought I’d explain my perception of International editions of Gardner’s Bond books. Unlike Licence Renewed and For Special Services (and despite the Illustration above), I do not own a first edition, Jonathan Cape copy of Icebreaker. The edition bought in Taiwan, was based on the American (Putnam?) edition, and I guess it would read very much the same. However the English Coronet paperback edition is slightly different. Not a great deal, but for example the first four paragraphs in the American edition are grouped into one slab in the UK edition. Also some of the commas and other punctuation are moved around. Not that this matters too much, but it does alter the pacing slightly. Funnily enough, by the time of Nobody Lives Forever, there is some quite heavy handed editing in the passages – still telling the same story, but using a different turn of phrase. I am assuming that this is common practice for various international editions, where novels are edited to suit the market that they are being released in. I wonder what author’s think about this? I know from my own simple attempts at writing, I often will write and rewrite a passage attempting to convey the full extent of my message, and keep a certain flow or rhythm happening. Maybe I am being too precious, but after all that work, I be rather perturbed if an editor for another English speaking market, tinkered with a passage and diluted the impact. Note, I am not talking about editing to tighten up and improve the story, I am talking about tinkering with a book that has already been released and adjudged to be the best it can be.

English and American readers are probably asking ‘whatsit matter?’ The funny thing is in Australia, many of the books are imported from both the UK and America. If a book is likely to be a best seller, it will get a print-run here, but a large amount of literature is imported. If something is mega-successful, like Steig Larsson’s books, not only will they be printed here, but also to meet the demand (or sometimes because it is cheaper), they will also be imported. So we have that funny situation where you can move through a shopping centre and find three different versions of the same book. And getting back to my original point about different versions, for different markets, I find it surreal that I can walk into a shopping centre with a friend, and we each go our separate way to buy the same book, and then come back half an hour later with our copies to find them different. Not a big deal, just a fascinating curio in a world which seems to get smaller by the day.

But time to move on to the case at hand – Icebreaker. When I first read Icebreaker, I was hugely disappointed. My problem was that there just way too many double and triple crosses, with characters swapping identities and allegiances. Reading it now, I get a very different impression. Maybe because I know the twists that will occur. However, the book is still the weakest of the three initial Gardner continuation novels, but not for the reasons that annoyed me as a bushy tailed youngster.

Firstly, Bond slips into a 1960s Boysie Oakes style character, chasing all the ‘loverly’ blonde dolly-birds. There was always been a certain amount of sexuality in the Bond stories, but here the tone is wrong. Bond doesn’t seem like Bond, but more like a character from a Timothy Lea novel (or film). Maybe the opening chapter should have been called ‘Confessions of a … Super Spy’. Admittedly, I am probably being a bit harsh there, it just didn’t gel with me. I was rather happy that Bond’s interlude with Paula Vacker was interrupted by two thugs intent on killing him. The fight passage, like all of Gardner’s action sequences in very well handled and rockets along.

The other big problem with the story is the presentation of the villain. He is talked and theorized about for the first two-thirds of the book, but we don’t really meet him. As such, he doesn’t seem like much of a threat. In fact, the real threat to Bond in the constantly changing allegiances of his allies. But to understand all that, you probably need a brief overview of the novel.

In Icebreaker, James Bond is assigned to join a team of international operatives to finally track down and break an neo-Nazi organisation called the National Socialist Action Army or the NSAA for short. These guys have been traipsing all over the world killing anybody who deals or trades with the Eastern Bloc countries.

The team consists of Bond (of course), CIA Agent Brad Tirpitz (known as ‘Bad Brad’ – due to his old school methods)’, Kolya Mosolov – a KGB operative, and Rivke Ingber, a Mossad Operative.

The alleged mastermind behind the NSAA is a gentleman known as Count Von Gloda – a man rumoured to be a wanted war criminal – a former SS officer, Aarne Tudeer.

The first twist comes when it is revealed that Rivke Ingber, is in fact the daughter of Tudeer. She claims that upon finding out about her father’s murderous Nazi legacy, converted to Judaism and trained with Mossad hoping to bring her renegade father to justice. The niggling thing here, is that her employer, Mossad themselves are not sure how much she can be trusted. For the first two thirds of this novels, Gardner keeps all the twists in the story under control. In fact they are enjoyable. Some are more expected than others. But then, it is almost as if Gardner assigned himself the task or literary challenge of implementing as many character twists as possible – that is the characters change allegiance; one minute they’re good guys, Bond’s allies, the next they are villains. The sheer number of switches eroded any credibility the story may have, and from that point on it becomes a literary exercise.

But as I alluded above, that’s not the problem. It’s Bond’s lack of interaction with the villain Von Gloda. Bond only meets him, after being captured, where he is brought him for some megalomaniacal gloating. And then, if you’ll pardon the ‘Incredibles’ reference, the villain starts monologuing.

Then Bond is dragged away to be tortured. And that’s it till the final showdown. Bond and Von Gloda don’t share a relationship – or more importantly Von Gloda and the readers don’t share a relationship. If an early passage in the book had described Von Gloda organising his villainous scheme – and incidentally killing one of his own minions for incompetence (just so we know he is evil) – then when Bond finally confronted Von Gloda there’d be a sense of fulfilled destiny. But instead, the head villain comes off as a secondary character.

This is also one of those stories where Bond seems to step into more traps than carrying out heroic deeds. Most of his daring escapes are aided by other characters – and therefore it could be argued in this story, he is a bit of a goose – in reality a pretty shit spy.

But it’s not all bad, Gardner handles the action well. There’s a very good passage, where Bond, in his car, The Silver Beast, is confronted by three snow plows – all intent on carving him up. And the final destruction of the villain’s lair, The Ice Palace, is pretty good too. Icebreaker is not absolute garbage, but it is a step down from the first two Bond novels by Gardner – so if you’re new to Gardner, I wouldn’t start with this one. It may give you the wrong impression of the series.

For a second opinion, check out The Tainted Archive – Gary liked this one a lot more than I did.


For Special Services

UK First Edition

Author: John Gardner
Jonathan Cape

As a teenager, in 1983, I traveled through Asia – with my family of course – and in Taiwan, at the Imperial Book, Sound and Gift Store in Taipei I found the next two books in John Gardner’s series of James Bond continuation novels. Those being For Special Services and Icebreaker. I must admit, here I got into a little bit of trouble. As a tourist, on the other side of the world, you are expected to go see the sights. However, I was more thrilled to find two new Bond stories, so I spent my down time, on the hotel bed, reading, rather than sight seeing. In my defense, as a tourist, once you’ve twenty-seven Shinto Shrines you’ve sorta seen them all.

The Bottom's Up Club in Hong Kong Circa 1983

Of course, when I hit Hong Kong, there were Bondian sights to see, so I dragged my ass out of the room and armed with my Pocket Instamatic (although I was never much of a photographer), went searching for the Bottom’s Up Club – from the film version of The Man With the Golden Gun. And I found it, snapping away some photos of the neon sign. Of course, I was too young to enter the establishment. However, unlike the film, the Bottom’s Up Club is on the Kowloon side, and not on Hong Kong Island– but a small quibble. I was delighted with my investigative skills – and tracking down this piece of cinematic history.

When I originally read For Special Services (I’ve read it a couple of times), I thought it was one of the best of Gardner’s best continuation novels, and re-reading it today it still holds up quite well. There are some contrived passages to be sure, but on the whole, the story holds up better than Licence Renewed, but I’ll talk about that a bit later. First, here’s a brief synopsis.

Airplanes from around the world, and from different airlines are being hi-jacked for their cargo. The hi-jackings are so frequent that MI-6, teamed with the SAS, have placed security details on flights which carry valuable cargo. As the story opens, James Bond is the lead man for one of these security teams.  When terrorists attempt to steal the shipment of gold bullion on board, Bond, and the SAS operatives spring into ruthless and efficient action, polishing off the aggressors. However, before one of the hi-jackers dies, he mumbles ‘in…spector, inspector’, or so the SAS officer beside him thinks. Bond isn’t quite so sure. Could the word be SPECTRE?

Yes, James Bond’s old adversaries, the evil organisation SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) have risen from the ashes. And what’s more, it appears that a person named Blofeld is running the show. Of course, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the original leader of SPECTRE is dead. Bond killed him in his Castle of Death in You only Live Twice. So who is this new mastermind behind the world’s most evil organisation?

Bond is assigned to answer that very question when the CIA ask assistance from ‘M’ on a case. The CIA have been investigating a reclusive millionaire named Markus Bismaquer, but so far, every agent assigned to the mission has disappeared or been found dead in a Louisiana swamp. So the CIA decide to go off the grid, bringing in a new recruit, Cedar Leiter (the daughter of Bond’s old ally Felix Leiter) on her first official assignment. Coupled with Bond, she has to find out if Bismaquer is the new head of SPECTRE and calling himself Blofeld?

To get to Bismaquer, Bond and Cedar pose as a married couple who have a rare set of Hogarth prints to sell. Bismaquer is a fanatical collector of rare (and expensive) artwork, and once word reaches him that the prints are on the market, he simply must have them.

Upon Bond and Cedar’s arrival in the United States, Bismaquer’s first overture to acquire the prints are not the friendliest of gestures, sending a band of thugs to forcibly drag Bond and Cedar to his estate. Bismaquer’s estate is a actually a huge ranch, called (funnily enough) ‘Rancho Bismaquer’, which is almost like a huge theme park with its own monorail, racing track and international airport.

Bond and Cedar fight off the thugs and then go to ground. But Bismaquer has an efficient intelligence network across the USA, and soon enough, our heroic couple are tracked to a hotel in Washington.This time the thugs plan a nasty surprise for Bond and Cedar as they prepare to leave the hotel. One of the goons cuts the power and the breaking system to the elevator carriage that Bond and Cedar are traveling in, and the compartment careens out of control towards the bottom of the elevator shaft, where certain death awaits our heroes.

US Hardcover edition

Well, maybe not certain death. I wont spoil what happens, but I am sure it will come as no surprise that Bond and Cedar survive the attempt on their life. Afterward, they decide to confront Bismaquer directly at his ranch. He is all smiles and the perfect host when they arrive, claiming that any unpleasantness was just a misunderstanding, and his staff exceeded their orders.

As Bismaquer’s guests, Bond and Cedar are treated to the full extent of his hospitality, as he is still eager to buy the prints. However, for a brief moment, there is trouble for Bond. Bismaquer’s beautiful trophy wife, Nena, is truly an art expert – unlike her husband who is a rich faker. She spots that the prints that Bond is trying to sell, are fakes. But as a neglected an abused wife, she chooses not to reveal the truth to her husband, and throws in her lot with Bond.

As Bond and Cedar dig deeper into the Bismaquer’s world, the more tangled the plot becomes. Is Bismaquer Blofeld? Or could it be his partner, Walter Luxor, a weedy skull-faced man who has undergone extensive plastic surgery? Of course, as SPECTRE is involved, the diabolical plot involves more than hi-jacking aircraft for profit. And Bond finds him self in the thick of it – almost too close for comfort as he becomes an unwilling pawn in SPECTRE’s game.

For Special Services reads far more fluidly than Gardner’s preceding novel, Licence Renewed. Gardner appears to have relaxed, and is far more confident with the Bond character. Funny how a ‘bestseller’ would do that! He has returned to his own writing voice, rather than trying to imitate Fleming and Gardner’s strength in action passages comes to the fore. He may not be as descriptive and atmospheric as Fleming, but there is no doubt that Gardner knows how to tell a story at a rattling brisk pace.

But, and if you’ll forgive the bad pun. The ‘specter’ of Fleming still hovers over the novel. There are rather obvious odes to Fleming’s previous Bond stories in the For Special Services, but rather try to write like Fleming, Gardner simply attempts to evoke a Flemingesque feel using his own words.

Coronet UK Paperback edition

Gardner’s description of the relationship between the Bismaquers, for me, evokes memories of the Krest’s (Milton and Liz) relationship in Ian Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity (which was in the For Your Eyes Only collection. Markus Bismaquer, like Milton Krest is a pompous ass with too much money, and likes the power that his money can bring. The wives, in both situations appear to be smothered by their overbearing husbands and are looking for a way out. They almost hope that Bond will be their white knight. However, in The Hildebrand Rarity, Bond’s actions did not free Liz Krest. And as I don’t like to include ‘spoilers’ in my reviews, I will refrain from detailing if Bond succeeds in saving Nena from her husband.

The primary conceit of the novel is ‘Who is Blofeld?’, and generally this is handled pretty well. However at the start of the novel, Blofeld is almost an evil mastermind caricature, spouting the usual gibberish about the evil scheme that’s about to unfold. The reason it becomes cartoonish, is that Gardner is deliberately trying to be vague about who Blofeld is, and as such, description is kept to a minimum. Therefore when Blofeld launches into the megalomaniac spiel, it comes across as a pastiche. Later, however, the resolution is great – even if you have guessed who Blofeld is, the final confrontation is extremely enjoyable.

For Special Services still holds up reasonably well after all these years, which pleases me no end. I was scared that my childhood memories of the Gardner books would be shattered re-reading them now. But, as it did twenty-eight years ago, For Special Services still serves up lively thrills and chills, and as such I’d heartily recommend it to Bond fans.

For Special Services

Licence Renewed

Author: John Gardner
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Published: 1981

As a kid I was always pretty lucky tracking down books. My aunt ran a second hand book shop and whenever I got hooked on a series, she’d help to find the books I was after. When I was really young, it was the Charlie Brown comic strip books which appealed to me – and she plied me with a great deal of them. But by the time I was nine years old it was James Bond who had grabbed my attention. And I loved those books – even if looking back now, I have to admit I probably didn’t truly understand them all. What does ‘killed with ignominy’ mean anyway?

I can’t tell you how much I treasured these books – their covers, the stories within, and even the adverts for other spy stories at the back of the books. On weekends, rather than getting out of bed, I’d select a book at random, flick it open to any old page and start reading, and then keep reading till one of my parents would holler for me to drag my good-for-nuthin’ ass out of bed. (I may be exaggerating slightly there!)

But there was a limit, because Ian Fleming only wrote fourteen James Bond books – or more precisely, twelve novels and two collections of short stories (and the rogue Bond story, James Bond in New York which appeared in Thrilling Cities). After a few years my paperbacks were pretty well thumbed and dog-eared – and I began moving on to other things. I had devoured all the written Bond that I could – I so I thought.

Rural Australia, back in 1981 wasn’t big on literary news – hell, even top 10 bestseller lists were not that important. My hometown didn’t even have a proper bookshop. The newsagent fulfilled the town’s literary needs with a shelf along the side, and even then, half of that was filled with Mills and Boon books. But it was here that my mother found a copy of John Gardner’s License Renewed – the first new James Bond book in about twelve years. I didn’t even know it had been written. But my eyes must have been wide with delight when my mother presented the book to me. Wow – a new James Bond book!

Now at this stage I didn’t know who John Gardner was. I hadn’t even heard of Boysie Oakes. Had I known, I must admit I would have found it curious to see Gardner chosen to be the Bond continuation author, as he had (allegedly) been quite vociferous in his contempt for the Bond character in earlier interviews.

Here’s a snippet from Donald McCormick’s Who’s Who in Spy Fiction (1977 Elm Tree Books) in which Gardner opinion of Bond is expressed. NB: I must add here, that while the entry on Gardner does have quotes from the man himself, the passage below is McCormick’s spin on how Gardner viewed Bond. The veracity of the information is open to debate.

Donald McCormick's 'Who's Who in Spy Fiction'

Like LeCarre, Gardner detested the character of James Bond. (There is little doubt that anti-Bondism actually pumped the necessary adrenalin into the veins of quite a few would-be writers in this period.) While he was proud and happy to be the only full-time drama critic on a weekly newspaper in England, the challenge of a new career as a novelist was accepted with enthusiasm. Though he reacted to the Bond era in much the same way as LeCarre, Gardner evolved his own type of spy story as a send-up of Bondism and the whole game of Intelligence. Where LeCarre evoked gloom and tragedy, Gardner indulged in comedy and laughter. The character of Boysie Oakes was not merely a comic anti-hero, but a positive antidote to Bond.

But Gardner did inherit the Bond mantle, and maybe his slightly cynical attitude to the Bond character was a big plus, particularly in this, the first of his many Bond books. There’s a few passages where Gardner attempts to analyze the Bond character and what makes Bond, Bond, and not just another spy pastiche. These explorations are quite successful, and not only flesh out the character, but add a layer to the already established Bond mythos.

I think it is fair to say that Gardner wrote for the Roger Moore – James Bond generation. It is obvious he had read and studied his Fleming, but there is also a sense of the cinematic Bond creeping into the stories. There was Bond’s new car, a Saab Turbo – nicknamed ‘the Beast’ which could come straight from the movies and rivaled the Lotus Esprit, which made such an impact around the world when it debuted in The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 – only three years earlier. Then there was Q’s new assistant, Anne Riley, nicknamed Q’ute. I know you are groaning, but you’ve got to remember I wasn’t even a teenager when I read this book, so to me, this was gold.

Girls on Guns

But as a teenager, Bond’s seduction of Q’ute (or is it Q’ute’s seduction of Bond?) probably was a bit over my head. Not the sex and seduction stuff, but the psychology of it. Above I mentioned there were passages where Gardner attempted to analyze the Bond character. This is one of them. The seduction takes place on a gun range at headquarters, where Bond is cleaning, dismantling and reassembling a new weapon (a Browning 9mm). Here Bond’s actions have a dual meaning. The gun is a phallic symbol (Gardner even makes an in-joke about the 1970’s Triad Panther Bond book covers – which featured girls sitting astride big guns), and as Bond ‘caresses’ the weapon, it is intended to excite Q’ute. Instead, it has the opposite effect. And in the process shows that Bond cares more about the gun, than he could about any woman. This is re-enforced shortly after with a cold reference to the death of Vesper Lynd in Fleming’s Casino Royale.

Onto the story. It appears that MI-5 and Special Branch have a problem with an international terrorist named Franco, who has been secretly meeting with a disgraced nuclear physicist, Anton Murik. Murik apart from being a physicist, is also a wealthy philanthropist, and the Scottish Laird of the Murcaldy. They figure something potentially dangerous is in the offing, and they require some assistance from MI-6. M agrees to help, but chooses to do things his way. He thinks James Bond is the right type of man for a job like this. Bond is not technically 007 in this story, as the double-O section has long since been disbanded, but M still uses Bond as a licenced trouble shooter, and still affectionately refers to him as ‘007’.

Bond’s mission is to ingratiate himself on Murik, gain his trust and find out what dastardly plot both he and Franco are planning. M briefs Bond thoroughly, not just on Murik, but also on his mistress, Mary-Jane Mashkin, and his ward, Lavender Peacock. And then Bond goes to work, shoehorning his way into Murik’s life.

The chapter where Bond ingratiates himself on Murik at Ascot races is a bit muddled. On one hand, the horse race itself echoes Fleming enough that it is damnably readable. But the pick-pocket passage, wherein Bond utilises some time honoured thievery skills to remove a priceless pearl necklace from Murik’s ward, Lavender Peacock is contrived. Even more so, when Bond turns up at Murik’s private box with the pearls, claiming he found them on the floor outside the door. If Murik was in the midst of planning a major terrorist operation and a unknown gentleman shoehorned his way into his life, then surely he would have had him killed. There’d be no games, or tests – which make up the next portion of the novel. It’s a shame in a way, as I said, the raceday, as far as a passage of descriptive Bondian writing was on track (pardon the pun), but then it trotted away from Gardner with unbelievable actions, which are wedged into the story simply to throw the two protagonists together. The scene ends with Bond being invited to join Murik at Murcaldy castle in Scotland. It’s an invitation that Bond gladly accepts.

Thankfully once Bond is in Scotland and at Murcaldy castle and a guest of Murik, the story is more cohesive and the actions of the characters make sense – or at least in the Bondian universe.

At Murik’s castle, Bond is potentially offer employment with Murik, but first he has to pass a test. And that test involves facing off against Murik’s number one minion, Caber, in a wrestling match. Caber is a bear of a man, and Bond stands little chance in a fair fight, so he uses a gadget supplied by Q’ute, to turn the odds in his favour. Personally, I see this reliance of gadgets a bit of a distraction, and only serves to make the character impotent, but as you’d expect Bond wins the fight, and consequently Murik’s favour.

Now a (somewhat) trusted member of Murik’s team, Bond is given a few details of Murik’s plan, which is to hijack several nuclear reactors simultaneously around the globe, and hold the world to ransom. Armed with the information required, Bond simply has to report to M, and his mission is over. Of course, things go wrong, and Bond has to use his wits to save the world (and the girl) once again.

Gardner appeared to take on (or was assigned) the task of bridging the literary Bond with the filmic Bond. I can understand why this decision was made, as the films – with the recent mega hit Moonraker – were incredibly popular then, while the popularity of books was beginning to decline (the ’60s ‘spymania’ bubble had well and truly burst by this time). Gardner achieves mixed results with his marrying on the two Bonds, as well as creating a few problems for himself later on in the series – most notably his novelisation for Licence to Kill which incorporated story elements from Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die.

The most notable links to the film Bond in Licence Renewed are the initial briefing passage with M – I could almost see Bernard Lee as I read the chapter – and the extrapolation of Q Branch. There’s also a passage where Bond makes his escape from Murik castle in his tricked out Saab, with Murik and his minions on his tail. However, the chase culminates with Bond being forced off the road, to crash, and being rendered unconcious. When Bond awakens he finds himself strapped to a torture table. There isn’t a laser aimed at his genitals, and Murik does expect Bond ‘to talk’ (then ‘die’), but the passage echoes the filmic version of Goldfinger, more than Fleming’s novel of the same name.

It’s strange reading this book again after so many years. When I read it as a boy, I can unashamedly say, I loved this book. Now, many years have past, and I have read many more spy books and watched many more spy films, and while I still enjoyed reading Licence Renewed, I see it as a patchwork quilt Bond story, with its disparate patches not quite matching up. John Gardner is not Ian Fleming, but he is a very good writer in his own regard, and each section works on its own, but not placed next to each other. As I have suggested, there are Flemingesque sections, filmic Bond sections, and Gardner’s own, slightly cynical exploration of the Bond character. Outside of the Bond universe, there’s also the legacy of twenty years of popular spy fiction. For example, there’s one passage, where Bond is being interrogated that owes a very large debt to The Berlin/Quiller Memorandum. I can imagine Quiller fans almost being outraged at such a blatant reappropriation of an incident, that is so (well for me anyway) associated with Quiller, and hijacked for Bond series. With so many different styles taking place, it’s almost remarkable that the book is readable at all. But it is. Very.

I still like Licence Renewed, but maybe not with the passion I did as a boy, but I still recommend Gardner to Bond fans, and if you’ve never read any of his books, I suggest you do so, but also do it with an open mind. There is only one Ian Feming, so if you expect a Fleming book, you’re sure to be disappointed. If you’re after a brisk thriller, in the Bond tradition, then Gardner’s Bond continuation novels aren’t bad. They’re flawed to be sure, but not ‘bad’.

Licence Renewed

The Liquidator (1965)

Director: Jack Cardiff
Starring: Rod Taylor, Trevor Howard, Jill St John, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Akim Tamiroff, Gabriella Licudi, Eric Sykes, John Le Mesurier, Derek Nimmo, David Tomlinson
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Title song performed by Shirley Bassey
Based on the novel by John Gardner

Brian ‘Boysie’ Oakes was a character created by John Gardner as a sort of antithesis of James Bond. Sure he is a secret agent, well more of an assassin really, and he is surrounded by gorgeous girls. But underneath it all, he is a coward with no stomach for killing, and an intense fear of flying. Strangely enough, nearly all Oakes adventures feature flying, after all, a globe trotting agent isn’t much good if he can’t trot. And adding insult to injury, in Gardner’s final Oakes novel, The Airline Pirates, Boysie is forced to set up his own airline called Air Apparent. But here’s a quote from Madrigal (Corgi 1968), the fourth book in the series:

‘Fly?’ The words came out in a strangle of panic. Boysie had a natural aversion to taking airplane rides. It was a state bordering on the pathological. He was sick in aircraft and usually in a state of shock from takeoff to touch down.’

Not very suave and sophisticated is it? That’s enough background on Boysie. Let’s look at the film. It opens in black and white. The end of the Second World War is near, and Boysie Oakes (Rod Taylor) is commanding a tank. But he is lost. As he stumbles around the streets of Paris in search of directions, he comes across a British Intelligence Officer, Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard), being accosted by two assassins. Oakes is no hero, but wades in to help anyway. As he does so, he trips over and Oakes accidentally fires his pistol. The shot kills one of the assailants. Then the kick from the first shot, sends Oakes over onto his backside. He accidentally fires again. The second bullet finds it’s target and the other assailant falls to the ground dead. As Mostyn struggled for his life, he wasn’t watching Oakes. All Mostyn can see is the aftermath. Oakes has cleanly killed two men, with two shots. Mostyn is impressed and locks away in his mind Oakes’ details. Intelligence may have use for a man such as this.

Then screen then explodes into colour and a loud brash animated title sequence, by Richard Williams takes over. The title song, naturally enough, The Liquidator is hammered out with great gusto by Shirley Bassey. It’s no Goldfinger, but the song is big, bold and brassy and at this stage, it seems if the viewer is in for one great ride. Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties?

The war is long over. It is now the swinging sixties. Mostyn is now second in charge of British Intelligence. But unfortunately, of late, there have been a few scandals, and Mostyn’s chief (Wilfred Hyde White) is not happy about it. In fact, he suggests that they hire a man to ‘remove’ the troublemakers and the undesirables. All of this is unofficial, of course. As he says, ‘Rather than scandals, we’ll have accidents!’

Mostyn remembers Oakes from the war and pays him a visit. Boysie is now running a café, that is, when he is not cutting a sexual swathe through all the ‘dolly birds’ in the vicinity. It’s this womanizing that get’s Boysie into trouble, and gives Mostyn the leverage to blackmail Boysie into working for him.

At first, it doesn’t seem too bad. Boysie is relocated to a swinging pad in London, and soon has a new coterie of girls to seduce. Even the military training that he is put through, doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s only when Boysie is sent out into the real world, and actually has to kill someone, that things get difficult. So difficult in fact, he chooses not to do it. Instead, he hires a hitman, Griffen (Eric Sykes) to do his dirty work for him.

The score to The Liquidator is good. It is by Lalo Schifrin who I consider to be one of the truly great screen composers. This is one of his earlier scores, but that doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable. As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack includes Shirley Bassey’s brassy title theme, and an assortment of bossa novas, conga beats, and lounge grooves. It a great slice of sixties spy music in all it’s diversity. For those interested in tracking down the soundtrack album, there are two versions available: The first is the original issue, which has musical highlights from the film (it makes a great lounge album – but is quite short – around 30 minutes). The second is a recent release from Film Score Monthly and has the bulk of the music from the film in chronological order (around 63 minutes). Your choice?

It’s such a shame, that a film that had offered so much in it’s opening minutes should collapse half way through and never truly recover. Earlier, I asked the question: Is this one of the great lost spy gems from the sixties? The answer is sadly no. The Liquidator is an interesting diversion but not much more than that. The failure of this film resulted in no further Boysie Oakes adventures making it to the silver screen. Starting a franchise was obviously the intention. If you look at the corgi paperback of Madrigal, the animated assassin from Williams title sequence can be seen on a playing card, clearly tying it in with the film series. So The Liquidator joins Where The Spies Are, Modesty Blaise and Hammerhead as a film adaptation from a popular book series that didn’t take off.

This review is based on a Turner Classic Movies television broadcast. Currently, The Liquidator is unavailable on DVD.

The Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardner are:

• The Liquidator 1964
• Understrike 1965
• Amber Nine 1966
• Madrigal 1967
• Founder Member 1969
• A Killer For A Song
• Traitors Exit 1970

The Airline Pirates (Air Apparent) 1970

Boysie Oakes also appeared in two short stories in:
• The Assassination File 1974

The Liquidator (1965)