Win, Lose or Die (1989) – John Gardner

John Gardner’s eighth 007 novel is on the book shelf this week, and honestly, as much as I have been enjoying his take on James Bond, I think this may be my favourite one so far.

Bond finds himself facing off against a terrorist organisation known as BAST who have plans to infiltrate a Russian/American/British naval wargame, and infiltrate the carrier, Invincible where three leaders, the PM, the president of the United States, and Russia are all on hand for a secret four day meeting.

The adventure takes him from England to Italy to the high seas to Gibraltar, and it’s a tightly paces little thriller that delightfully puts James back in his naval uniform with a promotion to captain, as he serves as the security chief for the three VIPs.

Without any of Q branch’s tech, he’s left to his own devices as BAST seems to be everywhere, and have all the recognition codes to make him aware that he can’t trust anyone.

There is no shortage of romantic interests for Bond this time around, and the ending has quite a happy suggestion for the character, though I don’t know what that will mean going forward in the book series. Tightly paced, the book sets up Bond’s training, and re-training, as he learns the ins and outs of the Harrier jump jet, and even engages in some aerial combat.

Everything in this one seems to work, even though the VIPs are actually supposed to be Thatcher, Bush and Gorbachev, putting Bond’s character very much in the real world. It’s not jarring, it just made me smile, and made me think of Tom Clancy’s 1987 novel, Patriot Games, where CIA analyst saves the Prince and Princess of Wales (Charles and Diana) from attack by the IRA.

Gardner has this version of Bond down, and it’s interesting to see how the character settles back into serving on a ship, and the way the romances in the story begin, blossom, change and carry on. I am loving this exploration of the character, and while there are similarities between the literary and big screen version of the characters, the novels, seems weird to say this, feel a little more grounded than the films.

And while some of the other novels by Gardner seem short in terms of missions, set pieces and the like, this one feels like a bigger adventure, perhaps its all the things happening, war games, assassinations, murder, abduction, gunfights, aerial battles! This one is huge! It’s expansive, yet tightly paced, and truly tests the character.

Gardner still has some more adventures for Bond to deliver to my book shelf, but next time, it’s an adaptation of a film, as James Bond will return…

… in Licence to Kill.

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