Sunday, 14 March 2021

Licence Renewed

Author: John Gardner
First Published1981
File size/Pages: 270
Ebook Publisher: Orion
Ebook Date: June 2011

John Gardner was approached by the Gildrose Publication company to take on the writing of a new range of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in 1979. The first of these to see the light of day was Licence Renewed in 1981. Gardner had been set the task of updating the franchise. It was his idea to bring Bond into the modern age of spying, accompanied by the techniques and gadgetry of the time. Garnder ended up writing fourteen original Bond titles as well as two novelisations (Goldeneye and Licence to Kill).

Although Bond is described as having aged (a slight peppering of grey hair around the temples for example) there is no other indication that he is physically feeling the strain of his previous literary history of the 50's and 60's. He brings with him, minor changes to staffing at MI6 and a car that is, shock-horror, not British. M is still Bond's head of the Secret Intelligence Service; Bill Tanner still the Chief of Staff and Miss Moneypenny still acts as M's personal assistant.

Gardner was born in Northumberland, England in 1926 and passed away aged 80, in 2007. As well as writing James Bond novels, Gardner is also well-known for his series of books starring 'Boysie Oakes' (beginning with The Liquidator in 1964) and a number of books about Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty (The Return of Moriarty, 1974). During the Second World War, Gardner served with the Royal Navy and then the Royal Marines. So keen was he to do his bit that before joining the armed services he had even served in the Home Guard at the age of thirteen.

Following the war he was ordained as an Anglican priest, but realised he had made a terrible mistake and left in 1958 to become a drama critic. After reaching rock bottom due to alcoholism he turned to writing and eventually turned out the first of the Boysie Oakes novels in the early sixties. 

This first Bond book of the 80's was originally going to be titled Meltdown, which probably would have served as a better one in my opinion; Licence Renewed does not really cover the topic of the plot, however it does serve to reintroduce James Bond to the public at large I guess. 

It begins with Bond being summoned to London by M. Bond is looking forward to a weekend away at this country home, entertaining his current girlfriend, and is none too pleased to be called back on such short notice. Once there he learns that MI5 have approached M to assist with the investigation of an unstable and extrmely rich nuclear physicist, Anton Murik. Murik has walked out of the Atomic Energy's community, demanding that they listen to his claims that a better and cleaner form of nuclear power can be built. 

What is worrying the secret services is that Murik has been seen in the company of one of the world's most successful terrorists, Franco. M is delighted to be able to help, and dispatches 007 to inflitrate the Murik estate in Scotland to get to the bottom of the riddle. Bond has his old 'status' renewed, lethal force may be enlisted if necessary - but the main aim is to get intel and get out before Murik suspects anything.

Gardner's James Bond books have been harshly criticised; both at the time, and by many Bond fans since. However I found this novel to be a wonderful mix of literary Bond and movie 007 nonsense. Murik is fantastically nuts as all Bond villains on screen tend to be. There is a henchman with a great name (Caber), and there is an ever-so-slightly too young damsel in distress (reminded me of one or two Roger Moore films). Woven within these tropes are some nice touches of Fleming Bond, descriptions of meals, getting dressed and exercising for example. Everything was really fun. I had absolutely no issue with the car being a Saab, I thought it was pretty funky actually - and I really liked the inevitable chase scene.

This one thing I was not very keen on, was the dropping of Q from the MI6 roster, to be replaced by a female equivalent who is then duly labelled as Q'ute' - pretty cringe. And it doesn't stop there... but I won't spoil it...

The plot is straight out of the movies, and was subsequently used by the film-makers for later pictures. There is a fair bit of travelling, and actually my favourite section of the book takes place when Bond and Murik travel to France. This was particularly good and thrilling.

All in all, if you are either on the fence about trying a Gardner 007 book, or don't think you'd like it because of what you've read - I'd say give this one a chance, it's not as bad as you might think. Gardner is a very good author, and he might surprise you. I'd be happy to recommend Licence Renewed.

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