Think about violence.
Soon will be, reading this. One sympathises; you might possess many triggers for brutal acts – job frustration, relationship collapse, religious misunderstanding, sexual identity, any identity, wrong school, being awful, voting incorrectly – or, indeed, you might possess actual triggers, you complete bloody lunatic, violence clinging to you closer than your shadow (black; try shooting that, then), or any consistently poorly cleansed fold of your abundant flab.
It’s a trite observation – I am insufficiently able or bothered to challenge it – that as with any disease, so violence. One tackles it not by managing the symptom (they’ll take your popgun away and that won’t do), but suffocating the cause. Equally trite is the claim that modern media breeds violent desires, itself a peculiar notion when the liberty to express such cravings, or protect one’s self from them, is provided by a ludicrously outmoded dictum from the late Eighteenth Century about freely bearing arms. Generalising massively because it suits my point rather than serving truth, we’re post-truth, whichever port-swilled, gouty twerp devised for his small, oppressed and defenceless nation Amendment Two: Let’s Shoot You probably hadn’t contemplated the Xbox. The provision’s fitness for purpose in overcoming the tyranny of twenty-first century oppressions both cultural and political seems as credible as using Virtual Reality headsets to combat slavery, barn blight and probably something to do with witches. That the doctrine of Habeas Corpus has been enshrined in English law for much, much longer and still persists, is not an observation that suits my point so I shall ignore it. This is how liberalism works.
The self-preservation challenges of a 1790s society strike a recondite note, even if the pursuit of liberty remains a creditable blue-sky, over-optimistic thought although quite why pursuing liberty has come to mean hunting it down with guns seems mystifying. As with elephants, the argument that one preserves freedom by culling it violently chimes a counterintuitive note. The libertarian end seems lovely; the manifestation of it, woefully archaic. First they took my guns; then they took my knives. Then they took my spoons and whisk, and assorted cruet. It was super. No-one got whisked to death. Few probs scrambling a chucky egg of a morny-moo, but swings and roundabouts, yeah? (Then they came for the swings and roundabouts and admittedly that was a step too far. To arms!)
Influential “media” and violence, then. The use of one is frequently blamed for the abuse of the other so removing one might solve much and, albeit another indiscriminate spray-shooting of undergraduate posturing (neighbours said I was the quiet type), it is rare for a kiddie to have the backs of their brain burst out with a download of Sex and the City 2 (empirically proven as the film most likely to provoke violence). Ah, 1791: Mozart dies, legislated gun liberty is born and although The Rights of Man is published as well, it’s the weapons thing that remains of pervasive political potency; something’s amiss with all that. The year’s other clickbait trends of window tax, the sedan chair and cowpox have achieved obsolescence in the face of blissful progress and opportunities for education and cultural enlightenment, so there’s hope yet. In terms of providing constructive solutions, one of them has to go. Insofar as which, I’d suggest – surprise! - it’s the guns that disappear, given that the media permeates into nations where such instruments of Armageddon are banned and the influence of Call of Fruity or whatever it is results only in a stiffly worded letter to the parish council, rather than blasting a life away because something legislated before the wholescale adoption of the flush lavatory permitted access to the means to do so.
However, and here comes the point, it would be foolish to ignore that the blamehounds of films, television, games and the like do tend (…tend) to revel in a fetishising of violence, and James Bond may be as culpable as anything of its ilk in sustaining the perception that one somehow “needs” to be armed. Far from being mutually exclusive, the all-corrupting mass media beamed into a child’s brain by (oh it’s probably) Satan perpetuates the desire to weaponise one’s self. Consider SPECTRE (calm yourself, it’s OK, won’t linger); its most lauded contribution was the World’s biggest filmed explosion - oh good, well done - rather than the film developing us in any way (which, obviously, it didn’t). In the iconography that shorthand sells “James! Bond!” to we poor, exploited dross – the silhouette with the gun, the gunbarrel, the poster poses (with gun(s)), the credits (with gun(s)) etc. – Bond arguably irresponsibly feeds the emaciated imaginations of those who would then seek to emulate his “style” by acquiring a little deathbangybanger to believe that they are participating in this fiction. It’s “licence to kill” not “licence to protect himself from the... um… British”, however. Insofar as participating in reality goes, they might as well acquire ruby slippers but, y’know, not quite as potent since no-one’s ever been homosexualed to death and that won’t sell many guns to swell the coffers of The Corporations that own both the arms manufacturers and the film studios, and are all lizards.
As you might “perceive” (I’ve been subtle), I have a problem with James Bond and his weapons. No euphemism there; I might come (fnarr) to his wet wand in due course, probably by about Brokenclaw, because that’ll divert all of us from Brokenclaw. For those of you still suckling on 1791’s contemporaneous cultural touchstones, if “wet wand” is a smidge witchy and has you reaching for your ducking stool, read “seed drill” – it’s similarly monosyllabic (I know you struggle so) and works just as well as a double-entendre. Possibly better, you heathen: birch thyself and, I dunno, go till the field until cock-crow or some such.
“Bit late to the game, Jimothy”, you could spurt justifiably in my direction; by 1988 or whenever it was that Scorpius was given unto us, we’d had 15 “official” Bond films, a brace of rogue ones, all of Fleming and a handful of others giving it a go. “Surely,” you continue, unwisely pushing at my tolerance, “there had been hours of gun violence in James Bond before the utterly coincidental assault of Scorpius and Licence to Kill over a twelvemonth?” On the one hand, I’d agree with you, albeit forced from fear that your archaic articulation betrays your adherence to 1791 and all that comes with that; on the other hand, once out of range and using one of the more expendable loved ones as a shield, I’d aver that you’re hopelessly wrong. Is there really that much gun violence in Bond? Or, put with greater specificity, so much that it is as sufficiently defining a characteristic as the shorthand aspirational (if one is insane) visual of “man with gun” would suggest?
For the films, the Professor Dent speed date, the deaths of Scaramanga and (especially) Stromberg, that Russian soldier lad in Octopussy and Mr White being taken off at the knees still seem shocking not just because of the innate brutality but because it’s rare for James Bond to ectually shoot someone, at least with his handgun. One tends to zone out of the mass-killing; the regular Brosnan machine-gun cullings are, despite stiff/wooden opposition, the least engaging elements of their films and, magnificent though The Spy who Loved Me is, the tanker fight does go on a smidge. One can sympathise with Sir Roger Lovely wincing at the mine massacre in A View to a Kill, and applaud his consequent handing back of the millions he was paid (note to self: check). The novel Bond struck one as being more of a strangler than a shooter. Might be a harder sell to the desired demographic that to “be like Bond”, along with developing hardened arteries and rampaging xenophobia, one must lay down one’s gun and go off a-throttling instead, although the wrists of the target audience are doubtless sufficiently strengthened through alternative manual exercise. Whatever the absurdity of Dr Kananga’s death, at least it’s interesting. Just lolling around shooting off, isn’t, unless euphemistically inclined.
Even at his most outlandishly bored of it all, Goldfinger say, Fleming is either only suggestive of violence – the buzzsaw threat, the reporting of paint asphyxiation – falling back on old tropes – the strangulation thing – or doing something flamboyant, like sucking off Oddjob or not just grabbing a Pussy but having one eaten. This may, of course, be reflection of its opening chapter’s ennui and distaste for killing, which again doesn’t serve the popular imagery of “Bond”. Not really suggesting that Bond in either written or filmed form is actively “anti-gun” but it’s just not as pervasively “gunny” as the immediately called-to-mind imagery would suggest. This might, of course, be an explanation for its longevity; it is more imaginative than it appears in its approach to the facts of death.
The peculiarity of the gunsmithery aside, as a wider question, is “James Bond” reliant on violence of any sort for its success? The shrug that met the underpar achievement of the SPECTRE explosion suggests no, although it could equally be symptomatic of a jaded audience that will only encourage the filmmongers on to do something even more horrible next time. Tough call: one would equally hope it is not the moral desiccation of the predatory sexuality or the wristwatches that attracts persons to Bond but one would despair at it being “the violence”. Still, there’s a whole host of reasons why Licence to Kill is a (relative) failure and even the promise of greater violence couldn’t save it, and arguably put many off. There are assorted explanations why it didn’t click, but the injection of the more explicitly violent scenes patently didn’t help it to succeed.
From my cod-philosophising, pinch-mouthed liberal perspective this is a good thing but I find my debatable values sore tested when I can’t help but conclude that the ramming of incredibly vicious acts into Scorpius helps it a hell of a lot towards being really rather enjoyable. It is an engaging read not despite the violence, but because of it. I could curse it for perforating my already ragged comfort-blanket of hypocrisy; I could alternatively recognise it as knock-off continuation popular fiction taking my money from me, diminish the threat by trivialising it and its exponents and hoping both go away, albeit not doing anything to stop them, and worry not about their impact whatsoever until an outcome I don’t like occurs, whereupon I shall whine. That stance always works. Were I blessed with a pro-gun / pro-violence-as-solution view I doubt I would feel quite so conflicted; that whilst I gain great entertainment (occasionally) from Bond, more objectively so much of what is represented is utterly reprehensible. It’s just not as simple when one’s not as simple.
The alternative perspective is that without the violence, there’s teat all to recommend Scorpius because if one were to scrape off the thickly spread layer of upsetting brutality it’s just alliterative names, kicking about indoors, a conniving political M, an infighting secret service, clumsy pomposity, the Adoration of Things, abbreviations and acronyms, multiple people in inverse proportion to the amount of character, coffee and sandwiches, hotel rooms, TRAITORS and SECRET COMPARTMENTS and peculiar in-references to Fleming and even more curious ones to the Bond films THAT JOHN DID NOT WATCH; routine Gardner that one could glean from any of his preceding six. The mundanity of the locations is a Gardnorm, but on this occasion actively works to accentuate the horror, particularly of the various suicide bombings around ordinary parts of the UK. I also cheerfully accept that the arms dealing / bogus death-cult religion aspect is an arresting concept, and the one 007 element least likely to be pinched by that eccentric Cruise sprog for his Mission: Impersonate series, so had something similar not turned up tremendously uncannily in the Eon product of the time, it’d be worth the Broccoli people now considering it for their next attempt; indeed, precisely because something similar did turn up in an Eon film before should mean they do use it, built as the series is these days on little more than a heady brew of self-love and self-loathing.
It’s the violence of Scorpius that suppresses the emergence of the routine. Same with Licence to Kill, weirdly, pulling the identical trick of punching one in the head to divert one from its contribution of absolutely nothing in its use of tried tropes seen too many times already and, to an extent, Fleming’s seventh too, with Goldfinger only a listless exercise in ramping up all the elements of the prior books and coasting along on provocative excess without presenting anything novel. Of the three, potentially all critical points each in the development of their respective iterations of Bond, Scorpius is the most enjoyable of itself and within its own qualities, but arguably the least successful of the three in provoking a decision to impactfully alter course thereafter. It might not have been intended to be a change of direction but, looking back, it seems an opportunity lost that its defining callous tone did not herald abandonment of the Gardner elements that, from hereon in, bed in unshakeably for the remainder and encourage an attitude of total indifference towards the rest of the run. I acknowledge that I am advocating the abandonment of one formula for another, but that initial Gardner formula is rapidly going off the boil by this stage and persisting with it led to an ultimately failed experiment. And an overstretched metaphor.
Artistic choices within these corporate events won’t have been Mr Gardner’s alone – that one would be foolish to assert, and equally foolish to ignore Mr Gardner’s frequent, pointed and exculpatory reminders of the constraints placed upon him, including having to bang one of these books out every few months, so some flat-pack, prefabricated stuff had to be there lest madness ensue – but the impression is of a stone-set model for GardnerBond, all hotels, po-faced misery, alliteration and SECRET COMPARTMENTS et cetera and whatnot, at which surface concepts are hurled and seldom stick. One is reminded of the Eon approach from 1971-1989 when they had nothing to say other than to their bankers; here’s the ossified skeleton, don’t rattle it or the bones’ll drop off, but in what shall we clothe it this time? Bond does Top Gun; Bond does Dances with Wolves; Bond does a Le Carre Nuremburg Gulf War Hard Topicality thing (do I really have to read that one?); Bond does Running out of Ideas; Bond does The Silence of the Lambs and Disney at the same time, about as appealing as that description bodes; Bond does Eco-Nazis or something; Bond Gives Up. Here, Bond does bits of The Exorcist (very unsettlingly written; unexpected and troubling) yet at the same time dialling down the fantasy / fictional elements of the secret service and dialling up “real world”. We’re not quite yet at the “real statespeople and Princess Diana” level but its green shoots are peeking through. The Smart Card technology reads as quaint prescience; the suicide bombings less quaint but disturbing forethought nonetheless. You still need that ducking stool; we are in the presence of a witch, O brethren mine.
If you haven’t yet done so and only read one Gardner, read Nobody Lives Forever because it’s great, and might encourage you on to read more; if you only intend to read one Gardner (you might have heard “mixed” views) read this. If this had been stand-alone, a Faulks, Boyd or a Deaver parallel, how so much stronger Scorpius seems, both of itself and against those three (not hard); what a unique, bleak, actively hard vision of Bond, something presenting a challenge, at last. Bond’s possibly not the same man, of course, some sort of reserve SAS blokey kicking around London, but as a vicious spit of brutality against the lazy perceptions of Martinis, tropicality rather than topicality and on-tap lissome jiggaboo, it defies routine. It’s when it is considered alongside the other Gardners and the requisite – and, by now, a touch of a smidge boring - elements are so easily spotted that the originality dissipates and falls back into tune with the tepid, desperate gimmickry of making Bond a fighter pilot or, in Never Send Flowers, an imbecile. For those versed in British children’s television, this isn’t Mr Bond: it’s Mr Benn. For those not so versed, imagine a two-dimensional, stiffly animated character who magically changes clothes each week for a lukewarm adventure – Astronaut (this one always seems to be on)! Native American (not shown as much, can’t imagine why)! Magistrates’ Court Stenographer (I might have misremembered)! - but ultimately returns to mundanity. Look it up on YouTube / equivalent. It has linear plotting and bright colours, so should keep even you out of trouble for a bit.
Another engaging game is Spot the Meta: also ramped up this time, not least in the joke about The Untouchables (which makes the passing of events during 1987 chronologically suspect as the General Election under threat was some time before that film was released: Gardnerdish of me, sorry). The most glorious one is a reflection early on by M (somewhat hypocritically, but he is raw evil) that Bond’s character had recently undergone changes. Splendid as Mr Gardner reflecting on his own output, and perhaps the criticisms of it; even more fab if marking the Moore-Dalton transition but since JOHN NEVER WATCHED THE FILMS it can’t be that, however much it should be. Pity.
What could one make of the vision, were one to approach this as a stand-alone? (I fear running out of angles here, and resorting to desperate gimmickry. Dings a familiar dong, that). The technological detail is vivid, as of course is the book’s signature harshness of events; the closing few chapters read especially cruel, not least in [spoiler – snakes], [spoiler – snakes] and Bond copping off with a traumatised abuse victim which seems unlikely until one recalls The Sainted Tracy. One will have been required to recall The Sainted Tracy anyway due to Bond having to marry for no readily discernible reason. Not all callbacks to Fleming come so unsubtle: the “Father Valentine” thing is fun, although Gardner seems to have trouble creating indelible villains even when they’re called Vlad. The most pleasingly bizarre thing about Scorpius is that he appears to have stolen a lot of hotel towels, which is completely magnificent and precisely the sort of thing that would anger John so.
So, what if this were it? Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try, especially as heaven is a product of imagination anyway. Harder lies the path of imagining no other Gardners, no Gardnorms; that this is it, that the only fair way of really doing any of this and drawing anything from (and any comparisons between and with) Amis and Boyd and the other one-shot Susans is just to take one 007th Chapter from one book from each of the authors no matter how much their output. I probably should have done it that way. I’m not sure this was ever about “fair”, though.
[There was a wordcloud, but some nincompoop appears to have shot it. It was, admittedly, carrying the word “gun” so, y’know, totally justifiable. On second glance / post-mortem, it was actually carrying the word “Spoon”, as in Ken, but they look similar against such a… black background].
The 007th Chapter – Scorpius: Mr Hathaway & Company
Doesn’t go in for exciting chapter titles then, this Gardner chap. A frequent notion on Bond websites is suggesting the name of Fleming chapter titles as appropriate for “the next film”; the desperation may yet reach proposing something from a Fleming shopping list (booze, cigarettes and the Boys Own Book of the Hun; don’t forget the eggs). No-one’s yet suggested this chapter’s title, notably.
This rendition of M seems uncharacteristically emotional, the emotion being charmless grumpiness, beset as he is by a “leathery” face and financial concerns: the auditors are in. It’s all go. For a book that’s already had a long car chase, cod-demonic possession and floating bodies in abundance, this is a nadge of a slow start. Hope it picks up. Good to see this Gardner Bond in a Bentley, and recognition that SAABs are only fit as cannon fodder. Imagine Bond in one of those! Jesus H Corbett, it’s unthinkable.
“It’s all the man knows. Weapons and women.” Ostensibly a comment on Valentine / Scorpius, it’s a neat little observation on Bond himself: picking up the Fleming mantle of the hero and villain being mixed up together. This suggests we’re going to get a really memorable villain, especially as we’ve just had abundant paragraphs telling us all about him! He’s even got a scary name! Were this (say) seven books in rather than the only one from the author, such a comment might be interpreted as embittered piss-taking about the eroded soul of the Bond character, and an author locked in.
“No clues regarding specific aims and objects?”/ “I hope you’ll be the one to discover its direct aims.” Now, this is interesting: an embattled M sending Bond into the field with no real briefing about what to do; also a tremendously cavalier attitude to whether Bond succeeds or gets killed. Of course, it wouldn’t do to keep having this happen, but for a one-off, it’s something of a novelty and adds an element of detective work to the concept. Were Mr Gardner to have done another one, I would have suggested not repeating the trick as it turns M into an ineffective, spiteful, spit-flecked martinet wholly out of control of events, Bond some sort of stupid policeman (which he most definitely is not) whose luck might run out, and an impression of making it all up on the spot and not really knowing where the story is going, as long as it fills a contractual commitment. Adds a nice air of mystery to this book, but repetition would have just annoyed.
“…[O}ne hundred percent legal credit company with assets of ten million pounds sterling.” Doesn’t seem very much. Did Mr Gardner forsee the banking collapse? If he floats, we burn him, is that how it works? Won’t he be moist? It’ll knacker my wood-burning stove, that. It says so in the user manual. I should only use kiln-dried logs otherwise the guarantee’s buggered.
“Get out there and do your best.” For all Bond has actually learned, this briefing has amounted to very little indeed. This does tend to subvert an expectation, set (let’s say) by the likes of Casino Royale and Live and Let Die where we knew what the villain was up to from the off and watched it play out in a linear, blunt, woolliness-free fashion. Strikes me there’s arguable influence on the plotting of the likes of Skyfall and SPECTRE, both universally praised for their clear narrative sense and credible plot construction and rejection of storytelling through the medium of complete frickin’ fluke.
Quite a lot of Bond to-ing and fro-ing around outside the credit card offices – a solid couple of pages filled with “tradecraft” and “surveillance” and, again, a deft reversal of what one might have expected from a Fleming which weren’t remotely interested in reporting this sort of stuff, concentrating on drinking, flagellation, exotic birdies and egg-based din-din. Whilst the information could have been conveyed with “Bond walked around the block a few times to establish who was watching him, and from where”, rather than this step-by-step account, it’s interesting as a one-off to have Bond behave like a spy. Any more of it might come across as merciless padding, though.
“Aerials are dangerous for they can conceal a multitude of devices, including fibre-optic lenses transmitting a clear 360 degree picture onto an internal monitor.” Strikes me that’s the point of an aerial, really. Still, useful barrage of information about aerials. I have never otherwise thought about them, nor needed to. I think I now know all I need to know. I think I now know far more than I need to know. Actually, this information dump is distracting and seemingly shoved in to show the writer knows about aerials, appearing as it does as a blunt sentence in the middle of something else that might still be going on. Hopefully this is just an aberration and any other – alt-reality! – Gardner Bonds wouldn’t have digressed into the Small Print of Stuff. Some might consider it a lucky escape.
The elderly commissionaire sporting medals from WWII is a noted point of time-jumping, of course. Bravely, Scorpius just throws us a Bond who is operating in 1987 without notably aging, despite the vintage of Fleming’s writing of the character and derivation of his baity attitudes. Obviously, a quarter of the book could have been spent telling us in minute detail about
aerials changes in Bond to bring him into the 1980s but not doing so was the wiser choice as that would just have come across about as contrived as this silly notion that Scorpius is the only one of its kind. No, Jimbley, stay strong. OK, OK, by contrasting the age of the commissionaire with the SAS hi-jinks of “Bond” earlier in the book, evidently this “Bond” is a markedly different man to the one created by the original author and whose name is still plastered over the films and the name of the publisher, and again boldly disrupts the expectation of a reader picking up this book expecting to actually read about James Bond.
Lengthy paragraph telling us the other residents of the office block which probably contains some in-references to connections to the author, a Fleming trick and therefore one reassuring touchstone of written Bond, and various other bits of business happen that amount to “Bond went to a building and got into a lift”, but deliciously elongated to subvert… something.
Is Muzak a Proper Noun?
Lengthy reverie on a jazz classic (this is a terribly slow lift, it’s probably that ancient commissionaire operating it by creaking pulley) that Bond has on “an old 78” which tells us all sorts of things about his character, background and age, not many of them consistent. Plainly there to subvert expectations of coherence; hugely successful at that. Bond coming across as a stodgy old fart also disrupts one’s understanding of the character and is terribly effective in appearing throughout the book so whilst it might not be a development I would personally have recommended for a series, it does work for a one-off. In speculating a continuing run of Gardner books, one would have hoped Bond would have reverted to proper type a bit more rather than continue along in this vein as that could have been… awful. Also, the odd trick of having something that couldn’t possibly have reminded Bond of an earlier incident, plot development by startling non-sequitur, whilst intriguing and meriting / requiring an amount of re-reading to half-understand, personally I wouldn’t have recommended it as a consistent storytelling choice unless the aim was to completely bloody annoy and get right on the mammaries of fandom demanding yearly production of “Bond!”. However, credit where due: the choice of jazz to herald something disconnected, discordant and unconstructed in the vain pursuit of an overall sense of a whole is a neat little technique on the author’s part.
Bond is moving terribly slowly, isn’t he? Perhaps in the decades “off” he picked up a debilitating injury, hence not having been on operative service, the revelation of which the author is building to shocking us with at some point. I do hope it’s that; it’ll add a real dimension to the character. He’s just about reached the reception desk now, coughing – which, despite taking the lift and not evidently smoking any more, suggests he’s in desperately poor health. From memory, we get no such surprise in this book, so perhaps this is one intriguing unresolved thread that could have been picked up in another Gardner. I’d propose the titles “BrokenHip” or “The Man from Age Concern”.
Amongst the details about the office, about which we are being told everything including its abundance of semicircular reception areas (two) and workstations, there’s a reference to the claret carpet which reads as a nice little reference to From Russia with Love’s “wine-red floor” and casually promises to a beseeching mind that something exciting could happen, albeit events appear to be currently happening in real time, including the appearance of the heroine as she
emerges from the sea appears in Bond’s bed reads Bond’s mind races Bond through the villages of Northern France walks past some computers. That drabness alone seems puckishly disruptive of the norm, but a representation of the mundane a putative series of these would do well to avoid lest it betray something of a dearth of flamboyant adventure. “The slim figure was attractive, though with slightly large breasts.” Is this a demerit? Again, a bold move to skew the schoolboyish Fleming attitude towards sex to one of muted indifference, and the author hasn’t even mentioned the boyishness of her botty. Wild. Bond seems more interested in her hair. He’s terribly nice. “Her face was not handsome nor pretty in the accepted sense…” is less of a departure, tending towards the Fleming something-slightly-broken approach to Bond’s women, and at least the author has jiggered one’s Eon-bred expectation by refusing to call the character Chesty Munter. If only by dint of repetition of reference, John seems much more interested in her “great mainframe databanks”, unless this is a spectacularly filthy double-entendre. I tend to doubt that. Twice, Mr Gardner refers to the atmosphere in the office as sterile. With Bond completely unbesotted by this girl, it’s not just the atmosphere, is it?
One thing Mr Gardner appears not to have foreseen is receiving thirty invitations per day to one’s email to sign up to credit cards: Bond’s actually had to apply, and in person. Still, the significance of credit companies as pivotal miscreants in the Great Evil Scheme of Things suggests sorcery on John’s part, and the financial disruption aspect of the plot (insofar as it’s developed) harkens back to the likes of Goldfinger and the Fleming Bond’s money worries.
“Boldman’, he said. ‘James Boldman.” Hmm – not sure I like that. In the daydreamy world of more Gardners, this would have to be dropped. The risk in retaining it is that 007 ends up believing far more in his cover’s characteristics (shuffly, ancient and pliant) rather than his own (i.e. “James Bond”). Aliases should be used sparingly, at best. “You see, I’m really as much in the dark as you are.” Now, this is good stuff: Fleming usually gave us everything up front, with From Russia with Love basically delivering practically all its story before Bond gets out of bed. Here, daringly, we’re all having to piece it together at the same time, and still left baffled and trying to do so after the book has ended. Wouldn’t have made that last trick a habit if this had been a series, might have driven many away, but fair enough for a stand-alone experiment.
IBM seems to be getting a lot of namechecking, which plays to a perception of Bond being brandname fixated but ignoring the point that Fleming’s Bond did so out of self-flagellating scorn and shame. Perhaps this
Boldman Bond could start self-flagellating? It would mean something happens. We’ve been hanging around in reception for ages and haven’t even been offered a drink. That might, however, be a good sign, that this Gardner Bond wouldn’t tolerate listless hanging about, passively waiting for things to occur rather than actively making them so, and drinking coffee. Good: such habits would render him an apocalyptic dullard.
I’m not sure we need telling that The Times, The Guardian and The Financial Times are daily newspapers, unless the target audience for this is – boldly deviating from Fleming’s “A”s – somewhere around L. “Bond wanted to check this girl out on the magic machines back in the Regent’s Park HQ.” I bet he does, the dirty old goat. I suspect that’s not what’s meant here, but it might mean some clemency in John’s witch trial that he didn’t foresee the use that post-pubescent males make of their computers when undertaking exercises in personal research.
Reflecting on Harriet Horner’s alliterative name – that’s new, wouldn’t do to repeat it too often though – “It sounded like an alias , but Bond had enough varied experience to know that real names were often like that.” The variety of experience being that sometimes they are and sometimes they are not? That seems self-negating and it might be me, but I’m not at all sure what we are being told here, nor why, other than using words (how it inspires what I hurl out, though). There’s also a Pearly Pearlman kicking about, doing… something. Still, building our wishlist for the Gardner series, as long as this naming protocol doesn’t keep happening that’ll be super, because otherwise it’ll look desperately underinspired and rote.
Just as well Mr Hathaway turns up right on cue to dramatically answer a point, otherwise we might have been shuffling around for pages yet. Odd that Bond seems surprised: he walked willingly into this situation and knew he was being watched, if all that palumphery about entering the building actually meant anything beyond filling obligated space. This Hathaway’s suit “looked possibly Aquascutum”; curious adjective, “possibly”, but it’s another brandname so – good? Not sure why Bond would know about of-the-peg suits but hey ho. Perhaps in a progressed series he would ignore such horrid label fetishism and only have an eye for acceptable tailoring. Mr Hathaway’s accomplices possess “mean, brutal faces one associates with the SS torturers in more extravagant war movies.” A: evidently not one for the avian similie, unlike Fleming. OK, can cope. B: movies? Seems slang-y. Still, Fleming dipped in and out of vernacular to suit, although tended to keep his use of Americanisms in America. Also, shortly, Bond asking “You going to introduce us to your friends…?”, without the “Aren’t you”. Seems a bit casual. C: notably, the reference is not to SS torturers a reader – or Bond himself – might have experienced, but at-a-distance fictions. We are, quite deliberately, not tied to the War any more. Bond’s referencing Shakespeare and Marlowe suggests greater literary awareness than he previously possessed, which again is a charming novelty but again, were this to continue, might be wiser left alone lest suggestions of deviation too far from the core character arise. Bond is a clever and resourceful fellow, but few would really suggest the Fleming Bond as particularly learned.
Apparently Bond can establish that Hathaway’s suit is worth £500. I wasn’t aware that one could buy a suit for that. It sounds ghastly. Alternatively, one’s tailor will be shortly interrogated in a most debased manner. A further peculiarity is a promise that in relation to Hathaway’s “wicked-looking combat shotgun”, Bond will not “dwell on the type”, but proceeds immediately to do precisely that for about a paragraph of stuff about guns (you’ll recall my level of interest in same; veers “low”). This seems a distracting technique to pull in the middle of an action scene. Where were we again? Similar oddness with Bond being put in a headlock; he has plenty of time to contemplate how much damage it’ll do, the smell of the man holding him and yet more technical detail about the bloody gun. Would have been interesting to have seen what the Gardner approach to actively dwelling would have been. I might be fibbing.
“He did not finish the sentence, for something amazing happened.” Jolly good. In truth, something incredibly violent happened involving spraying blood and death by “bank of IBMs”, and at the hands of the girl, on occasion distractingly described as “the girl called Harriet” rather than just “Harriet”. Likewise, Hathaway’s name is accepted as such, and Bond addresses him by it, until the author throws this into some doubt with a “…the man who called himself Hathaway”. Is no-one who they claim to be? Including Bond? Personally, if devising further books from this one onwards, I wouldn’t go down this route of multiple identities too often; it could become ludicrous and utterly counterproductive to telling a story that makes sense, or creating characters that matter.
“Her hands moved like sharp-bladed lawn edgers, down very hard on the sides of the man’s neck.” Hard on; fnarr. Look, someone’s got to bring sexy back into this. And – she’s cut his head off? Told you it was violent.
“I really think we should make one telephone call, then we should get out of here.” How about – in sorta-what-would-be-sensible-mode – getting out first and then making the call? Especially as all “the IBMs” appear to be on fire and – it doesn’t take a genius to work this one out – it’s very likely (and proves the case) that the electricity has shorted. “I think we’d better go very quickly…” – oh, make your mind up. “There’s an awful lot of incompatible hardware in here now.” No. Don’t. Just don’t do jokes. It’s unbecoming. Although it does suggest that Mr Gardner is inspired by the Bond films of the day. I wonder if he watched any of them?
“They moved to the lift which was, miraculously, still working.” Confirms my suspicion that it was man-powered after all; also, should one use a lift when a building’s on fire? I thought that was a big no-no. “Bond hustled the girl to the left… (I assume this is not a political statement) …his head swivelling in search of a taxi.” As if any taxi driver worth their salt is going to pick up an owl-headed man and a woman with secateurs for hands. “He kept one hand firmly on her elbow. He could not afford to lose this one.” Yes he can; she has another elbow. Also, colossal spoiler alert foreshadowing thingybob.
“James, I have a small problem.” Yes; you’re Harriet Scissorhands. Don’t go near his weapon. Interesting idea to make Harriet an IRS agent: did Mr Gardner face a tax bill at the time? Is this, perhaps, why she [spoiler] and [spoiler] and [spoiler] and then dies horribly?
We end the chapter with a warm smile, and a creepy bit of avuncular leering. I’m not sure I’d maintain those as characteristics, either, unless one craves A View to a Kill many, many times.
OK, so it doesn’t work, this pretence at reviewing this one as stand-alone, in feigned ignorance of all else surrounding it. A futile exercise in preened irony, like a modern drama set in the mid-1930s that makes one want to cringe into non-existence when its posh folk a-dining refer to that uppity Herr Hitler as none of their concern; now do pass the Mock Turtle soup, Gervaise. Has this 007th Chapter piece been more aggressive than others in this series (equally contrived, equally dependent on set ingredients)? Well, that's the influence of violence, for sure. I could blame the book, but I would rather blame the teachers. They'll all be on holiday, anyway. I do want to like the 007th Gardner and, despite the evidence of the above, I think I might, but I heartily admit all accusations that I am picking on easy targets with a disproportionate amount of force barely suited to the commensurate, actual disturbance presented to my wellbeing.
Which I think is where I came in.
James Bond will return in the 007th Chapter of Win, Lose or Die. As for Jacques Stewart, if you thought the ill-conceived childish rubbish about gun control was poor, the next book has Special Guest Star: Margaret Thatcher in it. Just imagine his juvenile attitude to that. He’s given enough hints during these pieces about where he lives. Go on: do it. You’d only be acting in self-defence, y’know.