James Bond returns this week in John Gardner’s adaptation of the 1989 film, Licence to Kill. This is probably the most disjointed of his novels as he tries to marry his version of the literary 007 to the big screen version, and it doesn’t always work. In fact, throughout the book Bond thinks he must look like a movie action hero with the things he’s doing.
Having said that, the book is a fairly faithful adaptation of the film’s screenplay, though there are changes in dialogue, and one wonders if that was Gardner trying to make the story fit his iteration of the character, or of the screenplay’s dialogue was that different originally.
I do like the fact that the Felix Leiter in this book is the one from the novels, he’s already suffered a shark attack, has a replacement leg and arm, and is on the eve of being married to Della with James in attendance when 007 gets pulled into a mission of vengeance against drug lord, Sanchez.
The villain executes Della and Felix is fed to the sharks (again) as payment for his capture. But Sanchez escapes to his South American stronghold, and Bond, against orders, goes after him.
Along the way he works with a CIA pilot named Pam Bouvier, and Q arrives to lend a hand, allowing for the most amount of time the character has appeared either on screen or in the book series.
The story is darker fare for the cinematic Bond, but works thematically very well for the literary version. He infiltrates Sanchez’s organisation, but his mission of vengeance may step on the toes of other agencies that are at work.
The bigger action sequences are all there, lifted from the film, and seem a little larger than most moments in the book series, but Gardner does his best to ground them. And while it’s always a new lady love for the character in each adventure, I was hoping that in the novel version there would be a notation of some sort about what happened to the romance from the previous novel, as it seemed to end pretty well for Bond.
Gardner obviously thinks that some of the moments in the film’s script were a little ludicrous, but attempts to make them work (and he’s not wrong, but they need to be taken within context of the big screen version of the character), this makes Licence to Kill a curious entry, like Christopher Wood’s adaptations of his screenplays, into the world of the literary 007.
But James Bond will return, as John Gardner delivered another novel a year later in 1990…