SeaFire (1994) – John Gardner

Author John Gardner outs Ian Fleming’s James Bond through his paces again, in SeaFire. Which sees the agent taking on the villainous Max Tarn who has dreams of being Hitler reborn and the restoration of the Nazis. In a globe-trotting adventure that takes Bond, and returning love interest, and potential bride, Flicka across Europe to a climax in Puerto Rico involving an old u-boat, an oil tanker, and an old fort.

Like some of Gardner’s later 007 books, this one took me a while to get into, there’s lots of exposition occasionally interrupted by action beats, and a little bit of politics, as Bond is now in charge of a new 00 section, which like MI5 and MI6 work under the purview of a committee.

Bond and Flicka, who is more than 007’s equal, are determined to track down Tarn, and prove he’s up to no good, even if they have to do so without official permission from the ruling committee, although there may be a mole for Tarn on that very ruling body.

In terms of continuity, we learn that Bond’s old boss, M, has fallen ill, and probably not long for the world, and he’s suggested that James consider taking over his role.

The closer the book drew to its climax the more the story started to feel like a satisfying cross between the literary and cinematic Bond. It just felt like it took forever to get to the enjoyable part of the story.

It should also really come as no surprise that despite Flicka’s survival of the last adventure, and the possible nuptials for her and James, even a passing fan knows that she won’t survive a second story. It’s just not the way these things play out. And while the story isn’t always politically correct, it ends up being pretty damned enjoyable, and the climax is a lot of fun, and decidedly more bloody than anything conveyed in any Bond film to date.

The story also sees the welcome return, even briefly of some beloved characters in addition to M, Ann Reilly is now the head of Q Branch, and Felix Leiter shows up to lend a hand in the last third of the book. And I always enjoy when James and Felix work together.

I like the details that Gardner layers into his stories, much like Fleming did in terms of descriptions of meals, but more importantly locations. It lets the mind travel to these exotic places, even if we can’t for awhile yet.

Gardner has two more James Bond novels to deliver before he passes the torch to another writer. So prepare, because James Bond Will Return in…

GoldenEye.

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