Tag Archives: spy

Win, Lose or Die – Blokelit?

 winloseordiePhil: This post was going to be a review of John Gardner’s James Bond Book Win, Lose or Die. I was going to mention that it’s a sort of blokey chick-lit with war and gun references replacing the shopping and designer brands.

It is of course. There’s loads of detail lavished on weapons systems and recalling military manoeuvres in the Falklands war. It all gets in the way of the plot probably proving that ex-military types are less adept at handling this sort of detail than most chick-lit authors. Since I didn’t grow up reading comics featuring war stories were characters would shout, “For you Fritz, the war is over”, I found myself wishing there was less minute detail on the ammunition.

Needless to say, I don’t have to do this as it’s pretty much what I said when reviewing another book from the same author just under a year ago. That’s the problem with a long running blog, it’s easy to repeat yourself.

Looking at my words, I obviously enjoyed The Man from Brabarossa rather more than Win, Lose or Die. I can understand that because the plot in this one doesn’t stack up. In fact there is a hole big enough to drive a battleship in to. A hole so large, you wonder why no-one thought to mention it before publication.

Spoiler Alert: For a chapter or two, Bond is taken off to a US military base for debriefing. Except it isn’t a US base, it’s a fake set up by the bad guys. Later is turns out that MI6 knew he had been sent there, that it was a fake – and didn’t bother to mention any of this to Bond. Had he known, he’d have spotted the dodgy Wren (who readers susssed out about 10 minutes after he met her anyway) and the climax of the story would have never taken place.

You could argue that this might have ruined the end of the book but not as much as wondering what they heck M and the rest of Bonds bosses were playing at.

That’s not the only plot issue either although this one is possibly more timely nowadays. It seems that nearly everything we say is being recorded both on the telephone and in the street. Computers use voice analysis software to listen for key phrases which prompts experts to listen properly to. This all sounds very like the PRISM listening programme revealed last year by Edward Snowden leaking documents. However, in 1989, I think Gardener was over-egging just how much surveillance was going on.

More to the point, why would the bad guys have a slogan they kept repeating which alerted the security services? I know Bond villans are normally a bit thick, after all why do they always reveal their plans instead of just shooting 007, but this takes dumbness to a new level.


Filed under Books, Phil

The Man from Barbarossa by John Gardner

The Man from BarbarossaPhil: A meeting between a debonaire man and a femme fatale in a fine restaurant, surely it can only be another lunchtime chat with team nolanparker?

No, this time it’s James Bond sharing some banter with one of this french counterparts, Stephanie Adore.

In book form, James Bond novels are the blokey equivalent of chick-lit. There’s some clunking product placement, pacey plot line and a bit of shagging. Compared to most chick-lit novels the products and rumpy-pumpy are toned down to a huge extent but I guess this tells you a lot about the difference between men and women.

John Gardner was the first author to be officially sanctioned by Ian Flemings family to write Bond stories. He took the existing characters but moved the plots from the 1950-60 period into the near past. TMFB takes place in 1991 during the run up to the first gulf war. The Cold War has ended, the Soviet Union is falling apart and so Bond operates in a far less certain world than he used to. Some changes have been made, there’s no mention of Bond’s Bently for example – it would be an anachronism in the 1990s when the marque was seen as a luxury brand rather than the sports car Flemming originally intended. Besides, by this point it would be a vintage vehicle and probably conk-out if he tried to drive it accross Europe as he had in previous stories.

Bond books are, apart from On Her Majesties Secret Service, very different from the films. The main characters have far more depth. There’s also a lot more build-up. The main adventure doesn’t get moving in this one until over half way through the novel. That’s not unusual for Book Bond, the “Spy Who Loved Me” doesn’t even see his appearance until 2/3rds of the way through the story. Mind you, Flemming seemed to recognise this wasn’t a great idea and never experimented this way again.

The thing is, that despite the big adventure not happening from page 1, it doesn’t matter. There are little adventures, including an assassination attempt, in the run up. The story seems to build and there is plenty of mystery to go before we get to the finale. Maybe the James Bond brand carries things along but this is one book that defies many of the conventions writers have to follow if they want to get into print.

Another is that the text is a bit clunky. Flemming suffered from this, Sebastian Faulks did a better job years later, but nothing like as badly as Dan Brown does. Despite this, the story is strong enough that you want to get to the end. I read the book in stages while waiting for glue to dry on another project and that seems just the right way to handle it. Bond books are not high art. They are good fun pulp reads writen in a hurry and meant to be read like this.

Anyway, I enjoyed TMFB – Action, adventure, beautiful women and incomprehensible cocktails, what else could a man want?

The Man from Barbarossa at Amazon

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Filed under Books, Phil