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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

THE COMPLETE LITERARY 007 - For Special Services by John Gardner

Gardner's second Bond novel was an improvement on the first, and the author seems much more comfortable with his version of James Bond - because of the success of his d├ębut Bond, Gardner must have been allowed a little more free reign with his narrative and it shows in the finished book. SPECTRE is back which helps connect the new Bond to the old. The book does get a little silly, though and if the inclusion of Blofeld's daughter running the new SPECTRE doesn't stretch credibility too much, then the addition of Felix Leiter's daughter does. The, - will they/won't they, sub-plot between Bond and his oldest friend's daughter is a little creepy too. Mind you, I should point out that Bond behaves like a true gentleman. Though he does have to fight off those little urges.

Fleming's Bond books often went over to the fantastic but they managed mostly to keep a certain edge of realism and even the most absurd events seemed plausible, but unfortunately this aspect is missing from Gardner's light-weight Bond.

The original UK blurb for the first edition read -

In For Special Services, Bond is on loan to the United States Government, his partner none other than the tough and beautiful Cedar, daughter of 007's old friend Felix Leiter. Their enemy? An old adversary, the legendary SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), has reappeared. Bond and Cedar find themselves in some deadly and terrifying situations - from skyjack to plunging elevator, from armies of killer ants in the Mid-West to horror on a private mono-rail - before they come face to face with the heir to Blofeld's iniquitous empire.

For Special Services is paced well and does give a far better hint of Fleming that the author's previous Bond book, but it still reads more like a novelization than a true novel - too many of the Bondian cliches are brought into the mix and many events in the book are variations on events in one or other of the James Bond movies. That's not to say it's a bad book, though - on the contrary the action is clearly described and there are many excellent scenes, Bond is also pretty consistent throughout and although still over reliant on the gadgets, he is something of the action man of old.

It doesn't come anywhere near Fleming, but it's an enjoyable enough book in its own right. Although by now it had become clear that the continuation Bond novels were coming at the character from the perspective of the movies rather than the original books.

The jacket boasted, ' Ian Fleming's Masterspy, James Bond in John Gardner's For Special Services'. Perhaps EON'S masterspy would have been more apropos.

Still the book opens brilliantly, keeps up the tension till the end and offers a lot of Bondian fun - pretty much all you could ask for, really. It is also worth noting that both of Gardner's Bond books thus far had great sounding, Bondian titles. But then most of Gardner's Bonds did. Well with the exception of the single most dreadful title for a Bond book ever - No Deals, Mr Bond. Perversely No Deals would prove to be one of Gardner's better Bond books but then that's something for another time...

James Bond will return:


Brian Drake said...

I have great memories of this book. I think I read it when I was 13. I don't remember much except the Blofeld revelation and the bit at the end where Felix shows up to shoot some snakes. I was in middle school at the time and every day after lunch we had our reading class where we were, of course, expected to read, either our own book or something assigned by the instructor, and I always brought my own. FOR SPECIAL SERVICES was one of those books! Loved every minute of it. I should go back and read Gardner again to see if I like them as much now.

John Cox said...

I'm a big fan of this book. Also love the title. One of the best.

Troy D. Smith said...

I have fond memories of reading this when it first came out.