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Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

For Special Services - Gardner John "Inspector" was the dying word of a plane hijacker – a hijack that Bond, with the help of a couple of SAS soldiers, had just single-handedly foiled. Could this be the return of Spectre – even without Blofeld – you know it!

The fact that [a:Gardner|31672|John E. Gardner|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1310298607p2/31672.jpg] was entrusted with fourteen Bond novels implies that somebody thought that he was worthy of taking on [a:Fleming|2565|Ian Fleming|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1364532740p2/2565.jpg]'s mantle. What we get is a novel that, though better than the previous one, [b:License Renewed|1409545|License Renewed (John Gardner's Bond, #1)|John E. Gardner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1183382520s/1409545.jpg|51308], is neither Fleming, nor Fleming's Bond. On the plus side, the story is fun and Gardner tries his hardest to keep the identity of the new Blofeld a guessing game for the reader. The hugely irritating "gee-whizzes" of the previous novel are thankfully, mostly gone – the turbo-charged Saab is a little gadget heavy still.

But the book also has a number of significant flaws. Despite his best attempts to hide it, the identity of Blofeld was so obviously telegraphed that I was never in any doubt. While the story was fun, it does seem to owe more to the movies (especially the Roger Moore ones) than the Fleming novels. Blofeld's retreat had a butler character called Criton – which seemed to exist purely so Bond could say "admirable" – purlease! And the balance of the book felt wrong. There was far too much time spent at the ranch that I was beginning to worry that Bond would run out of pages before the real Spectre storyline even kicked off. Then, as soon as it starts, it runs out of steam almost immediately. The cavalry just arrives and it's all over.

But the worst of the novel is the icky relationship between Bond and the Bond-girl – Felix Leiter's daughter Cedar. Obviously as the daughter of his friend she is off limits, but that doesn't seem to stop him thinking about it (a lot) and perving over her when a bad guy rips her top. As if sensing this difficult line, Gardner has Bond strike a brief feminist stand in the middle of the novel when another baddie tells an off-colour joke. Though, as it's so totally out of character for either the novel or the known history of Bond, he backs off almost immediately and never returns to any discussion of feminism while seducing his host's wife or thinking about his best friend's daughter. The worst of the worst is reserved for the final chapter though. A chapter which should just have been completely cut and never mentioned again. Instead of which we are rewarded for finishing the novel with a description of Felix Leiter 'gifting' his own daughter to Bond to be "whatever you want her to be". Really? Even in 1982 did people do that?

It seems as if Gardner is getting there. Slowly. This is a better Bond than the previous outing, but ultimately Gardner still manages to blow the novel at the eleventh hour. Two books into a series of fourteen, I'm just not sure I can be bothered to keep going through the rest, he's not getting better fast enough. I guess I'll see...