The Man From Barbarossa (1991) – John Gardner

James Bond is back in John Gardner’s eleventh outing with the secret agent. And it was going to happen sooner or later. I just couldn’t get into this one. While I love the idea of tying Bond in with the real political landscape of the early 90s with events that would lead up to the Gulf War, as well as the collapse and end of the Cold War, Gardner takes too long in getting his story going.

Or rather he takes too long to get Bond’s story going, the novel, despite it’s moderate page count is dense with background information and characters that will layer out the world that Bond exists in doesn’t really add anything to the story or move the plot along.

What I thought would be a fun adventure seeing Bond going after Nazi war criminals and the like, ends up being a wannabe techno-thriller that puts Bond, a Mossad agent, and a KGB officer undercover inside a mercenary group who will do anything for the right amount of cash (a familiar enough Bond trope in the novels), who are working on getting nuclear weapons into Iraq so that they can use them in an offensive capacity before the United Nations moves against them.

M gets lots of the spotlight, as does Chief of Staff, Tanner, though Moneypenny only makes a brief appearance, and neither Q nor Q’ute show up, though Bond has a number of useful gadgets in this outing.

The story is a bit of a slog because Gardner is so intent on sharing background information tying everything in to actual events that were happening (or about to happen) in the real world.

We also need to take into account, even if Gardner never seems to comment on it, that James is getting older. Even with the retcon of the events in the Ian Fleming novels; shifting them from the 50s and 60s to the late 60s and early 70s, James is getting a little on in years, he has to be in his late forties early fifties by now in the Gardner timeline, but that is never really commented on, and I think that is a missed opportunity on the behalf of Gardner.

The sex, and violence when it happens is, as always, enjoyable and Fleming-esque, it’s just that the story itself wasn’t as engaging as it could have been. I mean, lets be clear, its not Moonraker bad, it’s just a little too dense, and not as focused on Bond as I would have liked.

Gardner gets to deliver five more novels yet (including an adaptation of GoldenEye) so we’ll see if this was just a one-off for me, and hopefully I’ll get taken in by the story of the next adventure, when James Bond returns in Death is Forever.

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