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Saturday, 5 March 2011

THE COMPLETE LITERARY 007 - Nobody Lives Forever

Originally titled, You Only Die once, which the copyright holders threw out in favour of, Nobody Lives Forever is one of the strongest books in Gardner's Bond series, not quite as accomplished as Icebreaker but not too far behind it. And like, Icebreaker it succeeds because it takes Bond out of his usual comfort zone and doesn't stick too closely to the accepted formula.The first half of the book is particularly good in establishing tension and, for a change, there is nothing too fantastical to take the reader out of the story.

En route to retrieve his faithful housekeeper, May, from a European health clinic where she is recovering from an illness, Bond is warned by the British Secret Service that Tamil Rahani, the current leader of SPECTRE, now dying from wounds suffered due to his last encounter with Bond (as described in Role of Honour), has put a price on Bond's head. "Trust no one," Bond is warned. Soon after, May and Miss Moneypenny, who had been visiting his housekeeper are reported missing, and Bond finds himself dodging would-be assassins while searching for his friends, assisted by a young d├ębutante and her capable, yet mysterious, female bodyguard.
The price on Bond's head is a competition orchestrated by Rahani and SPECTRE known as 'The Head Hunt', and is an open contest to anyone willing to capture, kill, or present Bond to Rahani, where he would be subsequently decapitated by guillotine. Along Bond's journey of attempting to rescue Moneypenny and May, Bond is betrayed and chased by a number of people and organisations, including his own British Secret Service ally, Steve Quinn who has defected to the KGB, corrupted police officers, and agents of SPECTRE in disguise.

"Take care, 007. The continents a hotbed of villainy these days, and you can never be too careful."

Bond is on the run with the best and most ruthless killers on his tail, which leads for some great suspense and once again Bond doesn't seem so indestructible. Author John Gardner concocted the plot based on feedback from his friends when asked what they would like to see in the next adventure: a personal story won over a regular spy mission.  Regular first edition artist Richard Chopping again provided the cover, but this was the last time the author would contribute to a Bond novel, which was a shame because the artist had also provided the first edition artwork for many of Fleming's best Bond books.

Gardner's characterisation of Bond is stronger than ever in this book, and we get a lot of detail that helps flush the character out, which results in this book actually feeling Flemingish rather than EONish. The Bond books, particularly those post Fleming, are by their very nature predictable but Gardner manages to surprise the reader several times during the course of the narrative.

Nobody Lives Forever remains one of Gardner's best even if SPECTRE was getting a bit long in the tooth by this time.

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