James Bond returns after ten years away in this light, but entertaining read, License Renewed
. I say License Renewed
because I got the American printing, replete with freeways and all the expected mis-spellings, the original British version was called, correctly, Licence Renewed
. Bond is called in to assist MI5 and Special Branch with an investigation into a known terrorist who's entered Great Britain. M puts Bond in, undercover, independent of them both, and before you know it tracing a terrorist has led Bond into a mad-scientist scheme that puts the world's nuclear power stations at risk of total meltdown.
The Americanisation of my copy seems somewhat apt though as the character of the novel is also somewhat out of kilter with its past. The Bond of John Gardner is much more modern, more confident, more reliant on gadgets – "gee-whizzes" as Gardner would have them (he claims in his introduction to have gone to some lengths to ensure the accuracy of all of Bonds gadgets) – and consequently much less fallible and much less believable (he is also a less cruel Bond which may suit some readers better). In fact, it seems like Gardner may have spent too much time studying the Bond movie canon and not enough on the novel. That said, I guess it's not all bad. Roger Moore (my least favourite Bond actor) was at the height of his Bond run at the time and Gardner's Bond looks positively Daniel Craig next to Moore in For Your Eyes Only
which came out the same year.
The ten year gap is also odd. Rather than just ignoring it completely, Gardner deliberately explains this away as the British government's attempts to diminish the role of MI6 – M has only managed to keep Bond on in his old role by changing the name of the Double-O division to the Special Services division, leaving Bond as the only remaining 00 agent with a license to kill, but also leaving much less work than Bond really needs to fill his time. However, with this book coming out in 1981, and Colonel Sun
having been published in 1968, that actually leaves a gap of 13 years. Gardner appears to be trying to place his book slap into the 80s, and ends up trying to drag the previous books from the 60s into the 70s. I don't understand why he bothered, and I don't understand why having bothered he didn't make the dates actually match up.
It's fun though, I raced through it pretty quickly and I definitely enjoyed myself while reading it. But, like Amis, he isn't Fleming, nor is this Fleming's Bond. In fact, Amis was a lot closer. Gardner did manage to write 14 Bond novels though, so hopefully he improves. I'm sure I'll find out.