Death is Forever (1992) – John Gardner

After The Man From Barbarossa, I was nervous about digging into another Gardner 007 novel, but this time, the author returns to the Fleming roots of the character and storytelling style, and in Death is Forever, James Bond is back in action. Gardner’s twelfth novel featuring the secret agent is a fast-moving tale that takes us from England to Germany to Venice to Calais, in a tale that makes sure you’re paying attention, because neither you, nor Bond ever know quite who to trust.

James and an inexperienced American agent, find themselves paired together to travel to Germany to investigate a series of murders of a secret network of agents known as Cabal. These Western agents have been dropping like flies, and it’s up to Bond and ‘Easy’ St. John to get the remaining agents out of Germany alive.

Easier said than done because someone knows they are coming, and even with recognition codes, and confirmation of details, they could meet the wrong people. Someone has infiltrated the network and is killing them off as an act of revenge.

Soon, weapons are firing, and there are betrayals aplenty as 007 works to uncover who is who, what is going on, and how far trust can go. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, because whoever is behind this act of revenge is set on wreaking havoc across the face of the European continent, but Bond has no idea what that plan is. He just knows his enemy is a devout communist of the Stalin vein, and that danger and death are everywhere.

After Barbarossa this novel was a fun surprise, it’s gritty, has a few gadgets, embraces a number of locales, and is arguably the one novel, outside of Gardner’s film adaptations that finds a truly reliable balance between the literary and cinematic incarnations of James Bond.

The book races along, and the climax is a matter of moments, but executed brilliantly as James finds himself mired in treachery, deceit, beautiful women, and vicious enemies. This one feels like an old school spy thriller, even though it is set in the 90s, after the Wall has come down, and new political realities are arising. James is getting older, again something that isn’t touched on as much as it should be, even with the 60s/70s retcon, and I wish it would come up in the storylines.

I guess we’ll see if it gets touched on in the next few novels, Gardner has four more, including the adaptation of Pierce Brosnan’s debut film, but first, James Bond will return in…

Never Send Flowers.

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