Thursday, June 23, 2011

James Bond: Licence Revisited

When did you fall in love with books? For me it would have been around age 12 or 13. I was in sixth grade, we were preparing for summer, and one of my teachers took us to the library in an effort to get us reading less we spend all summer on the couch watching television (which I'm sure 99% of the kids did anyway).

For me it was a perfect storm. A tradition with me and my father, since 1983, had been to go see the new James Bond film when it came out (Dad always had to see them before me to make sure it wasn't too naughty) and when I found out James Bond had been a book series, I wanted to find an example. This library field trip provided the opportunity.

Well, I found For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, which happened to be two of the most recent Bond films at the time, and my summer was set. I also began reading every action/adventure and spy book I could get my hands on. Ludlum to Forsyth and so on. Some of the books were out of my range of comprehension and I didn't "get" them; reading some of them as an adult, I smile at my naivete of the time and enjoy the heck out of those novels now.

Also on my reading list that summer were the new James Bond adventures written by John Gardner.

Mr. John Gardner
Over the years I have kept my Fleming books but the Bond continuation novels have not survived, being donated or given away, but recent talk of the Gardner books being reprinted sparked my interest in giving him another go. At a Half Price Books in town I found a pristine first edition hardcover of Gardner's Licence Renewed, his first Bond adventure, and one that occupies a special place in my mind. It was during that aforementioned summer that I read Licence Renewed while laying on the living room couch, trying to block out the noise of MTV which my sister insisted on watching at loud volume in the next room. Well, I was hooked. Licence Renewed was a great book. I am enjoying my second reading, but there is little that I remember about the story. Snippets only, really. Bits of dialogue are familiar. So it's as if this is my first time, and it's great fun.

Gardner updated Bond for the 1980s and we can argue whether or not that was necessary (at least he wasn't "rebooted" as he is in the new Deaver monstrosity--I sure hope the new book was printed on recycled paper as I weep at the thought of good trees being sacrificed for that poor excuse for a Bond novel). Gardner turned out a good story, but one of my biggest criticisms is that the author could not decide on how to arm Bond. In the first four books, he changed guns every time, not settling down with an ASP 9mm pistol until Role of Honour, if my memory is correct.

In Licence Renewed the gun described is a seven-shot 9mm Browning. I am a pistol enthusiast and know of no such gun--for me, the Browning nine-millimeter is the Model 1935 Hi-Power with the 13-shot magazine capacity. With some detective work on Google, based on Gardner's description, I have identified the unknown gun as a Browning Model 1903. While I'm sure it does the job it was designed for it's hardly "cool enough" to be a Bond gun and certainly nothing anybody would want to run out and buy, as was (and remains) the case with the Walther PPK. I believe it is in the second or third Gardner book that Bond is issued with a Heckler & Koch P7, a wonderful pistol, and certainly a gun worthy of replacing the Walther (as is the ASP). But a 1903 Browning antique? Good grief, John, what were you thinking? (Coincidentally, the original British first edition features a painting of the 1903 Browning on the cover, thereby confirming my own investigation. Yes, I get quite bored sometimes.)

Unfortunately Mr. Gardner is no longer alive to explain why he chose the Browning, but he left us with a set of entertaining books to read, even if his Bond series was on life-support after Icebreaker. He wrote a lot of good books outside of Bond, and will hopefully, one day, get the proper respect he deserves. I enjoyed his books as a kid, and fully intend on enjoying them again as an adult, and together he and Ian Fleming, that long ago summer, started me on the path to writing my own stories. Gardner will always be aces with me.

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