Hello. I address you from inside a gimmick.
Come, sit by me – yes, I’ll obey the restraining order but, y’know, don’t flatter yourself – and share this table by the bogs at BrosNando’s, the restaurant chain influenced by the (fowl) films of The Actor Pierce Brosnan. Basically, it serves up turkey. At first glance everything’s superficially well-presented but upon scrutiny all offerings lack substance and prove grim, reheated old slop.
Still, one can amuse one’s self, if few others, in the Karaoke booth. It’ll fail, as gimmicks do, although failure’s built into this particular concept, so it’s beaten its critics to the point there – mamma mia! (a greasy broth stewed from puffin beaks and fiddled-with gristle; might contain traces of nuts, won’t contain traces of food. Can be enjoyed, but out of sight of anybody who will mock you for so doing (i.e. every single thing that has ever lived or ever will, including at monocelluar level, despite that being its target audience)).
Fighting back salt-rich tears of consistent misery, and mutually masticating the deucedly suspect amuse-bouche “The Lung Good Fryday”, we shall contemplate whether “Grey Owl” (74% reconstituted owl meat, 25% owl-regurgitated meat; 1% cress) might taste less of crap after digestion than before it, and also dwell upon the James Bond series’ predisposition for copying any rubbish from anywhere as long as it makes money, tugging cruelly at the blood-blistered udders of the dead-eyed cash cow again, to squeeze out that One Last…ngggh….nggghhh… Coin… Oh, poor Daisy. Don’t look. Just… don’t. Will no-one think of the children (beyond their likely disposable income)?
James Bond ran its course many years ago. Stretching the Bond films beyond any sensible franchise lifespan of (say) five or six of the bloody things and operating outwith the relevant and explicable environment for the film “character”, the 1960s, has meant Eon waiting for creative people to do original things that prove trendsome and popular, so the placers of product know that sticking their consumer goods into a Bond film that
rips that off plays a similar tune a year or two later is going to be a sure bet. Do you really think it’s about art? What do you mean, “it takes time to devise a story” and/or “no, it’s all to do with MGM and something something something distribution deal”? Sorry, old beauty, but that’s misguided weevil piss (a.k.a the house red). They’re just biding time for the next popular trend upon which to suckle up, saddle up and muck up. If they do end up with a distributor whose other product the film accidentally-on-purpose cross-promotes via homage, so much the better. Meanwhile, here’s some reissued DVDs.
These billionaires can afford to wait, and watch, then spring into inertia with “James Bond does Shaft” a couple of years after Shaft or “James Bond does Star Wars” a couple of years after Star Wars or “James Bond does Lethal Weapon on the Cheap And Fails To Appreciate That Lethal Weapon Was Popular Not Merely For Its Violence But Because Of Three-Dimensional Characters And A Decent Script” a couple of years after Lethal Weapon or “James Bond does Bullet Time and CGI” or “James Bond does Bourne” or “James Bond does Dark Knight” or “James Bond does Marvel Everything’s Connected Oh Dear God We Ballsed That One Up”, all the time deflecting suggestions that such cynicism tacitly recognises that “James Bond does James Bond” ran out of juice, novelty, purpose and story several decades ago, and sticking to that alone wouldn’t shift many wristwatches to the terminally simple. Alcoholic Murderer Does Killing Then Does Knobbing (Occasionally Reversed, Even More Occasionally Coincident) can only last so long. What a magpie series it is (and in passing, “Pie Another Way” does appear to contain magpie; equally possibly thrush).
That the film series has gone on so, so long, isn’t so much a cause of celebration as a reason for suspicion and, frankly, pity. How many “James Bond” films are there, really? About half a dozen, the rest basically genre pictures delivering fleeting popular fads gently dusted with Bond just as I find this serving of wilted broccoli (heavy symbolism) dusted with…well, with dust. This is why it’s consistently now “Bond goes rogue” as that’s much easier, freer, to weave into something otherwise “homaging” yet another Keanu Reeves franchise, than trying to contrive an actual mission or investigation whilst borrowing other concepts that might not lend themselves so easily to that.
Rather than being deprived of Bond film between 1989 and 1995, we were blessed to escape Bond-drizzled versions of Die Hard - “It’s Die Hard! In a Dinner Jacket! Live and Let Die Hard!” - and the baffling 90s trend of casting Julia Ormond in things, but not so fortunate that we could evade the eye-gouging leeching onto archly self-aware piffle like Demolition Man and Last Action Hero then riddled through the Holy Almighty GoldenEye (statutory curtsey).
One way to predict what Bond Twenty-Whatever will be like is to consider what’s popular now. Disney “live” remakes, so live they possess more animation than the originals. Star Wars: no, done that, don’t need to do it again. Ever. Please. Those Fast and Furious “noise” things: all that spavined guff about family and ludicrous car chases aimed at the educationally undernourished… hmm, already driven down that road with SPECTRE. One can see why Eon hit periods of stasis: nothing new worth copying and the basic concept of James Bond on its own merits boiled dry ages ago.
Because with the Craig films they became the quality films of their genre (however much those adapted other popular trends, they did so with style and – here’s the thing – financially top of the game), there’s guff all out there to imitate in the pursuit of yet more cash, nothing against which they’re playing desperate financial catch-up, meaning they could only pinch from and reference themselves, a trick they have played far, far too frequently. Can’t really hitch onto Mission: Impossible, at least not since it did the competent ideas of SPECTRE in its last one (and, amusingly, seventeen times better). Eon might as well wait around for others to produce something critically acclaimed and then hitch their superannuated watch adverts onto that. Given the current trend of “superhero” films, one fears their devising a way of giving Bond some Chinese-appeal superpowers, beyond his semi-regular fluctuation of face, cynical exploitation of one’s fond memories, criticproof overspending, truculent pouting and shilling of blingy grim tat.
Where do we go from, from here? I don’t mean us; I’ll give you your bus fare home (your garb betrays familiarity with public transport) and I don’t do what you’ve just suggested, at least not on a first date. There are advocates for “Bond goes to Australia” (it’s a sort of underfunded Texas) although this seems to be for no better reason than the films have never been there, not that there is an actual story to be told. Likewise, there are those who would suggest finally adapting explicitly some of the continuation tales. Well, they’re entirely gimmick-free, aren’t they?
You appear to be choking. It might be the “food”; it might be your aroma. Equally, it’s a credible reaction to the weak irony posed by that last question. “James Bond in 1981”; “Writing as Ian Fleming”; “Using Pussy Galore for ...nope, still not sure why, and bits of a Fleming short story”; “Bond gets drunk in Africa, discovers nothing of interest”; “Young Bond”… they’re all gimmicks. Mr Deaver’s effort is one long gimmick and Mr Benson’s six are notable for their gimmick of being astonishingly badly written (writes he, unable to create a synonym for “gimmick”), although as they ape the films of their time, this may be a witty, deliberate ruse given how feeble those tended to be: more on that when I get to such… things.
Mr Horowitz’s second is underway and if there’s no spin to it I’d be amazed (and grateful) but one fears “Bond with a bag on his head” or “It’s told from the villain’s perspective” or “Everything happens whilst Bond is hallucinating, seriously injured” or “Bond eats cress”. The continuation of James Bond, be it in films or in prose, and, in continuing, serving up something else to latch onto other than the long-since-done “James Bond”, in equal measure serves up why they shouldn’t bother; all it does is expose how little there was of it in the first place. Even He Who Is Sacred mucked about towards the end, the well of interest in the initial core concept of “secret agent” quite evidently drained by the time of Goldfinger.
There is, though a recognisable (sustainable?) argument that Fleming was a gimmicky, commercially-savvy writer from the off, an economical one (accept all meanings), and therefore rather than bleating into one’s keyboard that an innate purity of concept is now corrupted by shoehorning in the crumbs of other areas of popular fiction, “James Bond” was always – always - about lift and
separate adapt. Accordingly, to whine that it’s been swamped by homage has misunderstood it. What, for instance, is Diamonds are Forever other than bits of Bond shoved atop a molls-and-gangsters tale? Dr No, beyond a homage to Fu Manchu? By Thunderball, he’s helping himself to a whole film, albeit that wasn’t wise. That Bond has been going on so long is because this fluidity to parasite itself onto genres isn’t cynical overmanipulation and changing a set-in-stone vision in the scramble for cash, but because that is what Bond is and always has been. Accordingly, when “We’re going back to Fleming” gets its dusting down prior to every film, it doesn’t ectually mean “We’re going to film [an unfilmed incident]”, rather more “He pinched bits from all over the place, so we will too.” Condensed to an extremity, as all internet arguments must be, those assertions at the time that “Flemming must of been spining in his grave” at the slow-motion Matrix stuff in Die Another Day simply don’t get Fleming’s capacity for liberal… borrowing one little bit. Also, his grave’s tiny.
It’s an argument I’m coming round to, if only because embracing it results in less irritation than wondering what they’re going to rip off next time in exchange for my easily-inherited money. If one accepts that Bond not only does pinch things, but must do so to actually be Bond, then the dilution of that proposition is that it’ll go on forever, which is making a positive out of something creatively arid. This isn’t to assert that this practice of tolling a half-remembered bell at a (pop) culturally-aware audience now jaded into expecting homages, is always successful in execution. Sometimes the balance seems right – Skyfall, say, Live and Let Die (if feeling baity) and perhaps even Tomorrow Never Dies; sometimes the gimmick adds little and helps less: the kung-fu of The Man with the Golden Gun can be excised to neither benefit nor detriment, and desperate splodges of Superman can’t keep A View to a Kill afloat and only exist to create a character for Tanya Roberts to play; never a watertight justification for anything. Then there are those where the “inspiration” seems so overwhelming that it’s not “James Bond does [someone else’s idea made them money, let’s have some of that]” any more, but “[someone else’s idea made them money, let’s have some of that] does James Bond”, and that’s when Licence to Kill and Quantum of Solace sail into view.
Then there’s Win, Lose or Die.
[No, I don’t want to know the Specials. There’s nothing special about this. Nor am I interested in the BrosNando’s set four-course menu. Starter looks appealing but will be considered with hindsight as crashingly unoriginal, thin and with rather too much hair in it; next course seems underwhelming but is the least appalling of the lot; third course is indigestible and possibly illegal and the final course is a total failure and all of it seems so bitter. Why would I be interested in any of that?]
1989’s curiously titled Ken Spoon product (if losing and dying are distinct a ) this is an odd game and b ) I might as well lose, then) could stand as the gimmick di tutti gimmicks: James Bond (If indeed it is he) rejoins the Royal Navy! A service from which he was recruited in the 1940s, but don’t dwell: he might not be able to get up, poor old sod. Yeah, OK, we’ve had Bond in uniform on occasion in the 007 films THAT JOHN DID NOT WATCH, most recently The Actor Pierce Brosnan’s impersonation sporting medal ribbons suggesting his Bond was involved in the Rhodesian campaign, which suggests a choice of costume as off-the-peg-it’ll-do as that of the casting of the person wearing it. On the whole Bond’s military background has merited only occasional references as it’s easier, somehow, to sell the heroism/idolisation of a secretly licensed killer acting for shifting political expediency, a monster on the right side of history, than it is to suggest he fought for an international cause to save lives; hey ho. With the Gardners, it was already ramping up (the SAS training of Scorpius, for example) and here it reaches outbreak. And, arguably, the final breaking away of a new character from the initial source. This might as well be called Captain Boldman and The Crimson Fireball.
Seems like an old man.
He doubtless eats flan.
Talk to you like you’re nine, he will!
In his cavalry twill!
He’s pretty ancient, y’know
Which is why his stories are slow.
Disconnected rambling anecdotes where he can’t remember any of the names, and nor will you.
Drives a SAAB.
Shouldn’t really be on the road.
Tedious old measle.
The biter finally bit, shot by its own gun: James Bond, a concept birthed in using ideas from elsewhere now ironically folds within itself and evolves into a new series occasionally homaging Bond but trying to avoid doing so too overtly lest accusations of total lack of inspiration bandy about. However, it might be an honest move by Mr Gardner to maintain some momentum. His growing ambivalence at the constraints placed upon him a matter of record, this is not necessarily an anti-Bond step, just yet another ahead-of-the-game Gardnerism: that there isn’t any Bond left. Always leave the fans wanting more. What if there is no more? To that question, then, Win, Lose or Die may provide an answer. Bond is out of steam: full steam ahead with something connected-but-not. I suppose these days it would be called “anthology” and we’d get an unnerving CGI’d Peter Cushing shuffling around it. That might be a way of repackaging the latter half of the Gardners to see if they sell a few more copies – rides a current cultural trend in a very Bondy way, and considerably less dubious than proclaiming that James Bond is actually in them. “It’s sort of connected and you can spot the references and little nods and winks but it’s a new set of characters with motivations of their own and more of a tendency to sit down and, y’know, have a sandwich.” Some franchises think this is new: John Gardner was there in 1989. Still the off-chance he was a witch, y’know.
An alternative would be strong confirmation of the notion that, so diverse are the characteristics of these two men by now, that “James Bond” is just a codename. There are plenty of codenames in Mr Gardner’s books (hundreds of the bleedin’ things) so what harm in James Bond being another one? Other than the harm of my hunting down such a proposition’s advocates with a rusty cheesegrater and doing something debased to their dog.
One final angle, of course, is that far from pushing Bond to one side, it is here that Mr Gardner actually does write James Bond, insofar as Bond as a character was intended as a heightened reflection of an author’s own experiences. I’ll ignore transposing the less appealing elements of Gardner’s “Bond” back onto the author – the stifling pomposity, for a start – and I suspect that’s where the argument fails, but consider it just on the level of the environment into which the character is placed here, the “gimmick” if you will, of military service. Fleming, for all the derring-do and occasional syphilis, was not an active combatant, hence not really being able to write anything of Bond experiencing same, preferring instead shrubbery, solitude and spanking, upon all of which he appears to have been an expert (“Ian Fleming’s Birds of the West Indies” isn’t a nature book; startling unnatural, ectually), filling out his leading man with the same. If that’s all Bond is, a heightened version of the author, then Mr Gardner’s military experience is a justifiable component of the character and writing about it with detailed authority potentially chimes most loudly as evidence of his writing “Bond” than any of the by-now-tedious references to May or 007’s breakfast or any of those borrowed moments that are just rote proxy living a long-dead man’s life.
Another aspect that pushes this further, that Mr Gardner is finally taking charge of Bond as his own man (for good or ill) and setting down markers to release him of the subservient shackles of dragging all that old stuff along as well, is the definite date to the adventure – 1989 – and, more especially, the real people in peril. Granted, Fleming made occasional reference to “the contemporaneous real” – Dulles, Kennedy, Ursula Andress – but they were hardly central to matters. Here, they’re the plot. Granted equally, there have been the occasional references that would timestamp earlier Gardners – mentioning The Untouchables in Scorpius, as a recent one – but whilst that book had a fictional Prime Minister in peril, this one gives us (as expressed) “Margaret Hilda Thatcher”. Any book that names that particular person in the same manner as “Ernst Stavro Blofeld” or, if we’re going “real”, Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth or James Earl Ray, and all the connotations of villainy that come with such protocol, can’t help but be rather admired. That it happens to be her some would take as a nod to the end of For Your Eyes Only (a film that JOHN NEVER SAW) where she’s presented as a grim joke: only Gardner, ever prescient amongst us, sees that scene for what it is; the mirror to the daft pre-credits, that the Blofeld ostensibly killed did in fact survive. Chilling.
Other real folks will come – Death is Forever proposes that the safety of John Major was worth anyone’s while – and the ultimate sorry procession towards Princess Diana and EuroDisney commences, although equally the freedom to emit something as atonal to the preconceptions of the series as The Man from Barbarossa emerges if one accept that from here particularly, it isn’t the same thing, it isn’t the same man, it’s just echoes of an expanded universe. The imposition of reality would strike a jarring note in a series that otherwise gave us hook-handed dealers of dung, but then one forgets this is “anthology” and not the same series any more. Quite what the device is meant to be is unclear (other than “trying out” a Day of the Jackal conceit, ramping up the tension even though we know the scheme cannot have worked) – is this a searing historical record suggesting that Landsea ’89 was covered up, or the contrary suggestion, that Margaret Stavro Thatcher was completely fictional? I suppose if this had been written now we’d be presented with a self-aggrandising, bloated, violently nationalist ginger maniac reliant on inherited wealth, with a coven of imported wives, an edifice complex, isolationist policies, a notoriously thin skin and a belligerent, unhelpful attitude towards religious minorities.
But enough about Henry VIII.
This equally self-obsessed and flabby exercise started as seeking to establish what a snapshot of a Bond novel – its 007th Chapter, ho ho – could tell us about “James Bond”. If the conceit articulated above holds (if only for the sake of banging out another one of these pieces) then one might as well abandon that, and see what it has instead to educate us of this new cove, Captain Boldman. That this is itself as gimmick and renders hypocritical any moaning I’ve indulged in about the gimmickry of others is acknowledged and just goes to show how hard it is to maintain any semblance of interest without some trickery. A menu has to change every now and then, doesn’t it? Yes, yes, as well as being wipe-clean and with pictures.
[The waiter cleared away the WordCloud for this one before it had been finished. I expect this was revenge for your being quite so mean with the tip, and that way you hold your knife like a pen. You must learn to be absolutely calm before we can accept you back into polite society. Also, deodorised.]
The 007th Chapter – Win, Lose or Die: Hellkin
It’s an odd phenomenon but similarly to the last few Gardners, one approaches the seventh chapter unsure that anything much has really happened and yet, flicking back through, much has, not least on this occasion, a multitude of characters and their personal arsenals of aliases and codenames and this Captain Boldman tick piloting a Harrier jet. The former reaches a high/low for the Gardners to date, that there can’t be more than one or two of the many, many “characters” who are a ) who they seem to be and b ) go through the tale possessing one identity only. One loses count; one loses interest. The latter, Bond nearly being shot down as a means of escaping So Much Description, would arguably be the sole significant “action” bit of a Fleming Bond but here, in a Gardner Boldman, it’s just another incident of very many bits of business, so many that few really take flight (sorry) and one is left with that disconcerting sense of absence. So much happens that nothing really stands out any more, other than the idea (if you’re deluded enough to think this is one series) of putting a man in his late seventies in the cockpit of such a thing.
Anyway, we’re not in a hotel room, a deviation from a developed norm, although it is a rented villa so not a massive departure. Boldman’s here to prepare for the war game thingy that demonstrates additional evidence that M wants him out of the way for a few months because he can’t think of anything to do with the bloke other than use him as bait for the villains. What a bastard. This, of course, is the major character difference between Boldman and the previous 007: that one always seemed tremendously useful and less likely to be consistently marked for death by his boss.
Various bits of back and forth running about the garden of the villa whilst the assorted faceless hordes of BAST try to do a thing. Ah, BAST, the latest threat, threatening… something. From memory it’s all a ruse but then the revelation that it’s all a ruse might itself be a ruse. Still, ostensibly a huge threat that peters out to little, and led by someone with an alliterative name (some of the time). BAST – Box-ticking And Standard Tropes. Part of me recalls it is all something to do with holding Mrs Thatcher as a hostage and claiming One Beeelion Dollars as ransom. By 1989, not even her own party would have paid it. Perhaps that’s the implicit tension in the scheme.
“He seemed to recall that Hellkin was one of the twelve fork-bearing lesser Demons of Dante’s Inferno. Hellkin – Alchino – the Allurer” Did he recall this? Did he really? Why now, and why stop to do this in the middle of a firefight/chase? I know Dan Brown made a career out of this sort of tat, but this is a bit much for Bond. Unless Boldman shared the same education but actually paid attention, the grotty swot. I suppose Mr Gardner is making a point that a man with Bond’s schooling could/should demonstrate it more often than he otherwise does, but I went to one of the establishments concerned, and I’m right thick, me.
Following Boldman about in real time, every crouch and step getting attention, until he decides to liven things up and falls over. OK, it’s not quite that but rolling about shouting “Halt!” (note to John: he’s a secret agent, not a policeman) doesn’t chime with the caution and stealth that seemed so much in demand at the opening of the chapter. Still, that was absolutely ages ago. “Unless he was greatly mistaken…” - this is Captain Boldman, he’s consistently greatly mistaken, usually over names: there’s not one of these books so far where he hasn’t been taken by surprise at least twice; it’s his defining characteristic. That and the moccasins – “…a whole hit team would be operational…” – my money’s on M sending them – “and, if anything, Beatrice had probably winged the locksmith who had not even got through the single, second, gate.” Not sure about the “if anything” here; nor about the geography of the place, either.
“It took around twenty seconds which seemed like an hour…” No, not touching that one: too easy. Too hypocritical of me.
“For ten minutes or so, they offered themselves as targets.” The tactics are a mess, as shot as the gate’s bolt, smashed by “a carbon dioxide cartridge” because that’s… interesting? “ ‘ M had made a sarcastic one-note laugh’ (Does one “make” a laugh? Or just, y’know, laugh?) “I suppose BAST and its leaders are your fan club, 007. You should send them an autographed picture.” Plainly M is not a member, nor with this sort of stuff does it appear Mr Gardner carries the card. All this achieves is Bond shrugging “in the dark”, where we all are by this stage. “He heard Beatrice come down the stairs…” – urr, but she does seem quite excited – “…two at a time, but wonderfully light on her feet.” Does the “but” work, there? The audiobook version of this 007th Chapter (non-existent, I’d just sound as smug as you’d expect) would make that sound like “butt work”, which we’ll be… coming to, shortly.
A paragraph about fixing a gate and retracing their steps which could have been “They fixed the gate” for all the momentum that’s built by such.
“Bond’s mouth was only inches from hers. He hovered…” He thinks he’s still in the Harrier, the old weirdo – “…then turned away. ‘Coffee’, he said.” Well, there’s yer actual nutshell GardnerBond in all its chaste non-sensuality. All that’s missing are sandwiches and a radio telephone the size of a house.
“I know it’s some crazy terrorist organisation called BAST.” Not that crazy. Pretty bland, when it comes to it. But BLAND isn’t much of a name, although it would have been funny. “I’m the magnet, they are the iron filings.” No mate, they’re the flies and you’re the… “Why do some women automatically think people in our trade are anti-feminist.” They’ve probably read the books and seen the films, that’s why. Also, bit of a dead giveaway that Boldman asserts he’s not “anti-feminist” even though it wasn’t a feminist point being raised, and proceeds to demonstrate he’s not intimidated by saying so at length, whilst laughing. Protesteth too much? He’d know where that’s from; he’s terribly learned. “You were also quicker than I.” Not that learned, though. “Than me.” Unless he’s been spending so much time in Hereford that he’s started to talk loike they.
“I’m the boss, and you do as I say. Understand?” “The smile disappeared from Bond’s face.” Bet it would. That old not-anti-feminist, he. Him? He? Grammar. Cock it. “If you’re worried about taking orders from a woman, why don’t you telephone London.” Good idea – they’ve been used to that for years. She turns up later, bless her. “He could not speak in clear language, but there were enough double-talk phrases for him to get at the truth.” Easy/hypocritical paradigm matrix self-aware scenario, part 2. Coffee, ciphers, calling London and cotton roll-necks: it’s all here, at some length. Half of this chapter seems to be spent walking back and forth to the telephone.
“They told me you were just a blunt, well-trained instrument.” They told me that too, lovey. “A hunk.” Hm. Hunky Captain Boldman, all coffee, traitors and action slacks. Oh, one leaks from all conceivable orifices at this total "hunk". “Now you’re talking literature and poetry.” Yeah; preposterous, isn’t it? Out of character, if the same one; not that appealing, if not the same one. “When their marriage broke up, I was handed over to Mama, who was a lush.” “You’re pretty luscious yourself.” “That’s not funny.” She’s right. He’s so, so clumsy around gurrls. What an absolute pillock. What an absolute “not-at-all-intimidated” pillock.
Oh lovely, she’s something to do with computers. It had to happen. “Rumour had it that all the work would not be completed from past files until the year 2009, or thereabouts, as the crow flies.” Quaint thoughts, there: it probably wasn’t, and the prospect of a time-travelling crow seems to briefly raise one’s hopes of something bizarre about to happen. Nope, it’s mugs of coffee, sitting around indoors, security service protocols and colossal info dumping.
This next section I’ll just quote as a distillation of Boldman. Bear in mind this is ostensibly James Bond talking. “No such thing in our business. We’re T. S. Eliot’s ‘Hollow Man’; we are also rust-stained dinosaurs. Our day has come, and gone. I give us a decade more. After, well we could be sitting in front of computer terminals all day and most of the night. It’s known as the invasion of the killer tomatoes syndrome.” Seriously – what? Try convincing me that this is the same character, that the over-generous conceit of this being “anthology” with a completely different leading man is hopeless, and I’ll just shout the above speech into your face with gushes of manky spittle.
Upon which: “Their mouths met.” An encounter which is not, emphatically not, the sort of thing “graphically described in romantic novels or those historical things known in the trade as “bodice rippers”. Oh. Right. OK. Good. Probably. What a pompous way of putting it. “This was real mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of other emotions”. The emotion that springs to mind is “grieving”. “Beatrice said, with a husky dryness that matched the delightful smell of her…” She smells like a drying husky? We cut away from the prospect of, y’know, “naughty” to be told something about the gate again, its new screaming alarm rather obviously juxtaposed with the “low moans and little screams of joy” from one of the villa’s bedrooms. That might just be the Rottweilers, though. Closing the scene, we have the unnerving thoughts of one of the resident hoods about Beatrice, wondering if she “was vulnerable to a frontal attack. He guessed she was – but not from the hired help.” The sweet tang of rape, eh? Blimey. It’s a bit… underlovely, that. What is Boldman doing to the poor woman? All that locking and unlocking and bolting of gates stuff, and “not being intimidated” and leering, unwanted comments about being “luscious”.… um. Er. Um. Let’s say he might just be reading her some of his poetry, and move along...
…to Plymouth, apparently, in a sudden cutaway from squelchytime. Plymouth, which we are told is “far away” from Naples (we knew this, John). “Three men had spent the night indulging in sins of the flesh.” Sailors. Doesn’t need anything more saying. John notably doesn’t adopt that philosophy. “…with a tall black girl who had done things to, and for, him that had, until now, only been fantasies.” She dressed up as Cyrille Regis. What follows is a most curious scene, basically some extras delivering exposition in the manner one used to see delivered on a soundstage by persons trying those Hollywood-Cockney accents, before the camera found its way over to where Basil Rathbone was standing and we could stop grinding our teeth. “Bill had wrapped his large strong fingers around the Petty Officer’s wrist…” As I said, sailors. I can’t recall if anything very much comes of this scene. Or this book, if you hadn’t guessed.
Meanwhile, back at the Bay of Raples… “A 9mm Browning automatic pistol is not the easiest thing to conceal about your person.” OK then, I won’t. Can’t make me. Anyway, in another “look, this is patently not James Bond” incident, Boldman steers a wobbly trolley around a supermarket, whilst Beatrice works through a shopping list. James Bond. I wonder if they have a Bag for Life (or “matrimony” as it’s otherwise known)? They buy a Christmas tree and Boldman buys her some jewellery. What’s surprising – along with my not chucking this at the wall – is that there’s no mention of St Tracy of the Perpetual Reference in this, which is positively restrained. But then, she married James Bond, not Ken Spoon nor Captain Boldman. So far as we know: she was a smidge loose. Patently, after one (potentially consensual) encounter, we are being drawn into believing the Boldman is falling hard (accept all meanings) for this Beatrice so that’ll make her eventual death – it’s coming – a greater shock and then her eventual twist-not-death-thing-uh? a pleasant outcome. Accusations of spoilerism I would accept if this were the only Gardner. It’s not and by now, we all know such stuff’s coming down the steps… still urr, there. Does it make her any more memorable, in the long run, though?
“Women had come easily to him…” I wonder if John’s realised how often he’s written “come” in this context? – but his own expertise, and the exigencies of his service life, had usually held him back from any deep involvement.” “Deep”. Fnarr. Also – “exigencies” – could there be any more Gardner a word? “Had he really broken the rule of years?” Well, for the sake of imminent drama, yes. Yes he has. Apart from all those others, of course. If this is Boldman and not Bond, though, there are hints here of a past we’ll be so delighted and intrigued to know all about: it suggests he’s an emotional misfit given to crass innuendo and turgid domesticity. I know that when many men of my age look in the mirror they might want to see a bit of Bond there: turns out, all we see is Boldman. So very much Boldman. Christ.
“He’s waving you on, James. For heaven’s sake, move.” Yes, do get on with it; this chapter is a wallow, a meander through Gardnorms but hard to say what it adds, although if any new lady chum of mine (not that I am allowed them) spoke to me in such a way, I’m afraid Christmas’d be cancelled. Curious that the traffic “cop” in Forio is referred to in the American vernacular? Probably not worth worrying about; nor is the sighting of Completely Obvious But Equally Unmemorable Villainess Clover Pennington, which is one of those Gardner coincidences that has Boldman wondering what’s going on despite all his prissy literary knowledge failing to help him realise it's because he’s being written by this author.
Whilst James Bond isn’t.
Captain Boldman will return in the 007th Chapter of Licence to Kill, and trying to reconcile that one with anything literary or filmy will be more of a nightmare than even this "007th Chapter" thing usually presents. Jacques Stewart knows Forio well and therefore should have got a kick out of this one, rather than just kicking at it. Accordingly his current mouth-to-mouth resuscitation of emotion is “lacrimose regret”. Ah, the exigencies of his service life. Or something. He might be suffering from killer tomatoes syndrome. It brings pus.