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ChickenStu on Benson's Sequels and Novelizations

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#1 ChickenStu



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Posted 17 June 2014 - 04:25 PM

I have returned to bore you with my thoughts on the books. Having taken an extended break after devouring Gardner's run at Our Man I decided on Sunday night to dive back into the literary world of 007. So without further do here is my report on my first leg of Benson's Bond. 


Choice Of Weapons


Zero Minus Ten


A fairly engaging read with the strong historical backdrop of the late 90's Hong Kong handover. Benson doesn't write Our Man himself particularly well but the story moves at a brisk enough page for one not to notice such limitations. Hong Kong is described well (and I should know since I've been there). It would have been a lot better thought if characters like Li, Sunni, and Thackaray were a bit more fleshed out.

A big let down for me was the sequence set in Australia. The "comedy" scene with the Aboriginal girl is too broad and felt like something straight out of the Roger Moore movies. 

There's where the problem is really. If Benson attempted to write a James Bond BOOK rather than a James Bond MOVIE - then we would probably have something here.


The Facts Of Death


The nicest thing about this book for me were the scenes at Quarterdeck with the old M himself Sir Miles Messervy. I also enjoyed the scenes with Felix Leiter. These two old faces were a pleasant oasis in an otherwise over complicated tale of numbered killing sprees, deadly viruses and ludicrous sex scenes. Only two books into the Benson run and those sex scenes ALREADY feel tiresome. 

Still, nice to see our new M Barbara Mawdsley enjoy a bit of romance despite it being somewhat short lived. Benson does write Our Man a little bit better here - and the mention of "that" family motto is a lovely throwback to the Fleming days (and a subtle indication of what was to come in the movies). But with not very interesting villains (exactly who is who again?) and a dull narrative - this story is rather underwhelming despite an unusually strong start. Dissapointing. 


Live At Five


If only the previous two novels in the volume were as inventive as this short story - where Our Man helps a figure skater defect by performing all kinds of humorous antics at an ice rink. Great ending too! Only took me a couple of minutes to read it really but it did put a smile on my face!


The Man With The Red Tattoo


The most bonkers tale in the book yet. Pretty unhinged. Sadly - Benson's inability to create memorable characters really lets him down. It's difficult to know who is who here and to discern one character from another. It was entertaining to see Tiger Tanaka again and the allusions to You Only Live Twice were nice - but one can't help such things are merely a cynical stunt by Benson to keep the long term readers interested. 

A lot lets this down which is a very real shame. This wacky story of poisoning the G8 summit with mutant mosquitoes may have been a lot more entertaining - as would the missing girl sub-plot - if it felt like Benson actually CARED. He just strikes me as a dull writer. The real tragedy here is the stories themselves always start out like they are going to be interesting and have some really unusual elements. It's a shame so far that Benson doesn't seem to have the narrative flair to pull some of these unique ideas off.


Midsummer Night's Doom


A fun short story to finish things off with. The Hugh Hefner cameo was very amusing. A wryly pleasing ending to a somewhat lackluster book.


So there you go people. That is what I think of Benson's run so far. Up next is another anthology of three Benson books. I feel bad when I criticize a book because I'm not author (yet) and I appreciate it takes a lot to put one together. I don't like the thought of Benson himself stumbling across this one day - but I'm afraid I have to be honest. So far - his work is really just not grabbing me.

Gardner's run was hit and miss but did have the occasional absolute BELTER.


I'm going to relax for a few days and enjoy some World Cup football so it may be a while before I'm back with my review of the next one. Thanks for reading!  

#2 Dustin



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Posted 17 June 2014 - 04:47 PM

Thank you for sharing your views here, ChickenStu.

#3 AMC Hornet

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Posted 17 June 2014 - 04:57 PM

IMCO Benson had two belters: Zero Minus Ten and High Time To Kill (AKA A Better Way to Die).


In the former, Benson made a passable attempt at the Fleming sweep, including meals that sounded delicious and a gambling sequence that makes me feel like I could play Mah Jong just from reading it (a la Casino Royale and Moonraker).


The latter is reminiscent of Icebreaker - one of Gardner's belters, as it is a bold and successful step outside the usual formula.


I won't say a word against either of these works. The rest, however, I won't comment on - except to say that, having also seen the episode of MASH where Hot Lips tricked Frank into giving her the pearl necklace intended for his wife, Midsummer Night's Doom held no surprises for me.

#4 tdalton



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Posted 17 June 2014 - 05:00 PM

I remember rather enjoying Doubleshot and Never Dream of Dying back in the day.  Haven't given them a read in a long while, so it's certainly possible that my opinion of them might be different now.  The one thing I remember thinking about Benson's writing at the time was that he was good at coming up with entertaining ideas, but not so much at actually writing them.  Still, I remember the novels of his that I've read (never got to Zero Minus Ten, High Time to Kill or beyond the first couple of chapters of The Man with the Red Tattoo) being decent entertainment.

#5 ChickenStu



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Posted 17 June 2014 - 05:08 PM

The one thing I remember thinking about Benson's writing at the time was that he was good at coming up with entertaining ideas, but not so much at actually writing them.  


Yep - that pretty much nails it I think. 

#6 ChickenStu



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Posted 23 June 2014 - 01:35 PM

The Union Trilogy 


High Time To Kill 


Wow! Much better! I really did enjoy this one! The idea of secret information hidden inside a pacemaker was inspired - as also was the unexpected plot development of the plane crash! 

Chandra was a brilliant sidekick and Marquis a suitably dastardly villain. Yet with an air of pathos which was surprising. 

The final confrontation on the mountain was masterful and the cold - downbeat cliffhanger ending just right. 

Benson does fall short when writing Our Man as a character but with other such interesting stuff going on here it isn't really a problem! A great adventure all round. 




Very very good. Le Gerant and his Union organisation are shaping up to be great villains in the classic mould. Espada was a despicable villain, Heidi and Hedi two very entertaining Bond girls. 

I quite like the idea of Bond himself being vulnerable because of a head injury. Benson's never been too great at writing Our Man before but here he handles his inner torment very well. The climax and the doppelganger themes were a bit far fetched... but what the hell. This is James Bond. A very entertaining read.


Never Dream Of Dying 


A rollicking finale to The Union Trilogy. Tylin is a wonderful Bond girl - beautiful and seductive. Leon Ettinger and Charlie Wilcox were fine bad guys and it was very cathartic to see Bond finally face LeGerant/Cesari.

It was great to see old faces like Mathis and Marc Ange Draco return although the latter's arc and ultimate destiny in this story was unexpected and very sad. Benson was quite gutsy to use the Draco character in this way I thought. 

The two pronged finale of the bomb at Cannes and the final assault on the Union HQ was a riveting page turner. The story rocketed to it's seamless and downbeat finale' with aplomb. However - if there was one thing I didn't like about this book it was "that" sex scene. I've seen it talked about on these forums before. Now I know what all the "finger lickin' good" references mean. Oh well - still a good book. 

To me The Union Trilogy represents the very best of Benson's Bond material.


Blast From The Past 


A cracking short story to end the omnibus with. It's a shame Our Man' son had to die - but it was great to see him settle the score with Irma Blunt once and for all. A satisfyingly punchy little tale of revenge.


So that's all of Benson's "original" Bond books I've read now. I've just got the novelizations to go and I'll be in here to talk about those in due course. Choice Of Weapons was a bit dire all in all - but The Union Trilogy in my opinion was much much better. I know the latter was published first and the former was published second - but since the books were all out of order anyway in the titles chosen for each volume - I didn't think it could hurt to start with the second and end with the first. I'm glad I did so. Would have been heartbreaking the other way around - to go from something so strong to something so weak and disjointed. 


Much like Gardner, Benson is very hit and miss. Sometimes he gets it painfully wrong and sometimes thrillingly right. One difference I notice between the two is that Gardner was very much about taking Our Man forward and not really dwelling very much on the past, whereas Benson is happy to bring characters from previous books back. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't but I think Benson was right to acknowledge the past - despite anything I may have said to the contrary in my previous review. 


Despite being underwhelmed occasionally I am pleased that I have read these books. 

#7 saint mark

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Posted 23 June 2014 - 05:49 PM

thank you for your reviews

#8 tdalton



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Posted 23 June 2014 - 06:08 PM

Nice reviews on The Union Trilogy.  I still haven't found time for High Time to Kill yet, but Doubleshot and Never Dream of Dying have long been favorites of mine amongst the continuation novels.

#9 ChickenStu



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Posted 26 June 2014 - 09:52 AM

Tomorrow Never Dies 


A fairly entertaining adaptation of the movie. Notable differences were Our Man's encounter with Paris was done a bit different - Wai Lin was a bit more involved in the story's climax and had an extra action scene at the start.

I also liked how Carver's backstory was explored in a bit more detail - and Stamper seemed a lot meaner and formidable. As novelizations go - this ain't too bad.


The World Is Not Enough 


A laborious read. Doesn't help that I hate the film so much. The extra stuff about who Renard was and where he came from was almost interesting - as was the greater detail of Elektra's kidnap ordeal - but generally speaking this just wasn't very good. A lot like the film in that respect.


Die Another Day 


An even more laborious read. Ugh. Just horrible. Equally as unbearable as the movie. It really was a chore to get to the end of this one. Every cloud does have a silver lining though I suppose. For my time with the Raymond Benson books is now OVER. Gone. This truly was the nadir. The only way HAS to be up from now on as I continue with my Bond reading experience. After a short break reading a couple of other books - Young Bond by Higson is up next and I'm greatly looking forward to those.


Thanks for reading my reviews guys. 

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